If you are deciding whether to use birth control, know that you have many options ranging from natural family planning, to over-the-counter products, to prescription birth control, or sterilization.
We are going to focus on prescription contraception here as barrier methods can be purchased over the counter from your local pharmacy and you should talk to your doctor about whether sterilization is a good option for you.
When deciding which birth control option is best for you think about your lifestyle, health status, and personal preference. Consider your feelings on: inserting birth control devices into your body, planning for sex, tracking fertility, or taking a pill at the same time daily.
There are different considerations depending on the status of your relationship and whether you’re monogamous or if you have multiple partners, ideally if you have consistent partners you will discuss together and decide which method works best for both of you.
Types of Birth Control
Birth Control Pills
One of the most popular contraception methods is the birth control pill. There are different varieties of pills which have different side effects, benefits and potential risks.
There are conventional birth control packs which contain either 21 active and 7 inactive pills or 24 active and 4 inactive pills. Bleeding occurs every month when you are taking the inactive pills.
Combination birth control pills can also be divided by whether the hormone amounts are the same in every pill or if it varies. Monophasic combination birth control pills all contain the same amount of progestin and estrogen. Multiphasic has varying amounts of each hormone in the active pills.
Combination pills work by suppressing ovulation – they keep your ovaries from releasing an egg. They also thin your uterine lining and thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from joining the egg.
There is also the minipill which does not contain estrogen and has a lower amount of progestin than a normal contraceptive. This kind of pill thins the endometrium as well as thickening cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. The minipill can also suppress ovulation sometimes. The pill does not prevent STI’s.
Birth Control Patch
The birth control patch is a kind of contraception for women that contains estrogen and progestin. You take it by placing the patch on your skin once a week for 3 consecutive weeks and then take the fourth week off. Your menstrual bleeding will occur the week you don’t wear the patch.
The patch works in a similar way to combination birth control pills. The patch prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones into your bloodstream which prevent ovulation. It also thickens cervical mucus to keep sperm from getting to the egg. The patch does not prevent against STI’s.
Long Acting Reversible Contraception
There are a few kinds of Intrauterine devices (IUDs) that act for a long time to prevent pregnancy but are completely reversible.
The first kind is the Copper IUD (or non-hormonal IUD) which is a plastic device in the shape of a T with copper wire coiled around it. The copper wire causes an inflammatory reaction that is toxic to eggs and sperm, killing them and preventing pregnancy.
The second kind of IUD is a Hormonal IUD which is also a T-shaped plastic frame that gets inserted into the uterus. It releases progestin which works to thicken the cervical mucus (preventing sperm from getting through to the eggs) and also thins the uterine lining to suppress ovulation altogether.
IUDs are beneficial for many reasons including: they can remain in place for up to 5 years to prevent pregnancy, can be used while breast-feeding, don’t require partner participation, they eliminate the need to interrupt sex for contraception, don’t carry the same risks of side effects that birth control with estrogen do.
Birth Control Shot
Another option is a birth control shot which contains progestin. As stated above, progestin prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation so that pregnancy is not possible. It also thickens the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot get through. The shot has to be taken regularly, about every 12-13 weeks. Usually a doctor or a nurse will administer the shot so you’ll have to make an appointment at your local clinic to get the shot. You can also get a supply of the shot to take home with you and self-administer if you are too busy or too far from a clinic to get the shot yourself. Bear in mind that the shot does not prevent STIs so it is recommended that you use condoms or other barrier contraceptives in addition to the shot.