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Birth Control: Know Your Options by Jen

Birth Control: Know Your Options
by Jen

There are many different kinds of birth control options. They vary in price, difficulty to use, availability, side effects, and cost. Choosing the birth control that is right for you can be an empowering experience. To make an informed choice, you must first know the facts about different types of birth control. What works well for one person may not be a good choice for another, so research your options and talk to your healthcare provider to make a birth control choice that works well for you.

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods are forms of birth control that keep sperm from coming into contact with a woman’s cervix. These include male condoms, female condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and spermicides. Barrier methods are the only form of birth control that offer protection against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Male condoms are worn over a man’s penis during sexual activity. When used correctly and worn for the duration of sex, including foreplay, condoms have an 85% chance of preventing pregnancy, and they also prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms can only be used once. They should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent any tears or cracks from forming. If a condom breaks during sex or foreplay, discard it immediately and use a new one. Only latex or polyurethane condoms protect against STDs. Lambskin condoms have tiny pores, so they do not offer full protection from STDs. Condoms may be used in combination with any other birth control method for added protection. Male condoms can be purchased over the counter at most stores.

Female condoms are worn inside of the woman’s vagina. They can be inserted up to 24 hours before sexual intercourse. Female condoms are 80% effective in preventing pregnancy, and they also offer protection against STDs. Because female condoms are made of polyurethane, they can be used by people with latex allergies. Female condoms can be purchased over the counter at most stores.

Diaphragms are shaped like shallow latex cups. They come in different sizes, and you must see your health care provider to be fitted for one. Diaphragms are inserted inside of the vagina before sexual activity. They need to be treated with spermicide to make them more effective; when treated with spermicide, they also help prevent some STDs. Diaphragms have an effectiveness rate of 80%. Side effects: bladder infections and toxic shock syndrome.

Cervical caps are similar to diaphragms. They are small latex cups that fit over the cervix to prevent sperm from coming in contact with the cervix. You have to visit your healthcare provider to be fitted for a cervical cap. Cervical caps should also be treated with spermicide before use to increase rate of effectiveness and offer prevention against STDs. The cervical cap is and 60-80% effective for women who have had a child, and 80-90% effective at preventing pregnancy for women who have not had a child. Side effects: bladder infections and toxic shock syndrome.

Spermicides may be purchased in several forms: foams, tablets, creams, gels, or suppositories. Spermicides are inserted into the vagina no more than one hour before sex, and are left in place for at least six to eight hours after. Some spermicides include an ingredient called nonoxynol-9, which is effective at preventing the transmission of gonorrhea and chlamydia, but not HIV. Some women are allergic to nonoxynol-9, and should use spermicides that do not contain this ingredient. Spermicides are 72% effective at preventing pregnancy. Spermicides can be bought at most stores.

The Withdrawal Method

The withdrawal method is practiced by many people, but is not a useful method of preventing pregnancy. The withdrawal method is when a man pulls out before he ejaculates. This is not terribly effective, because many men have difficulty pulling out before they ejaculate, or don’t pull out when they say they will. Even if they do pull out before ejaculating, the pre-ejaculate released during sexual arousal can get you pregnant. The withdrawal method is not recommended for anyone.

Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control comes in four forms: pills taken by mouth every day which contain hormones, a patch which contains hormones and is worn on the body, a ring containing hormones that is worn internally around the cervix, and injections of hormones. You must see a healthcare provider to obtain a prescription for hormonal birth control. If you are using the injection form, you must visit a healthcare provider every 1-3 months (depending on which form you use) to get the shot. Side effects of hormonal birth control can include breast cancer risks, spotting, mood swings or depression, decreased libido, and an increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers. If you have a history of depression, talk to your healthcare provider to decide whether or not hormonal birth control is right for you. Hormonal birth control offers no protection against STDs.

Oral contraceptives (also known as The Pill) are small pills, taken daily at the same time of day, that contain two hormones, estrogen and progestin, which stop eggs from being released from the ovaries. The pill is 92% effective at preventing pregnancy. You must see a healthcare provider to get a prescription for the Pill. The Pill can help regulate irregular menstrual cycles, clear up acne, lighten menstrual flow, and lessen the pain of menstrual cramps. The Pill is not usually recommended for heavy smokers because of the increased risk of heart disease.

The mini-pill is a form of hormonal birth control that contains only progestin. It is safe for use by breastfeeding mothers, and it will not decrease milk supply. It is taken daily, and it must be prescribed by a doctor.

Orthro-Evra (also known as The Patch) is a patch worn on the skin. It releases progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. You put on a new patch once a week for three weeks, then do not wear a patch during the fourth week in order to have a period. The patch is up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

The NuvaRing is a ring that is worn internally, on the opening of the cervix. It releases hormones which help to protect against pregnancy. The ring is worn for three weeks a month, then taken out for one week in order to have a period. You must use a new ring every month. The NuvaRing is up to 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Lunelle is a shot of hormones that is given once a month by a healthcare provider. It is up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Lunelle can be a good choice for individuals who want to use hormonal birth control, but can’t remember to take a pill daily.

Depo-Provera is a shot of hormones that is given every three months by a healthcare provider. It is up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Depo-Provera can be a good choice for individuals who want to use hormonal birth control, but can’t remember to take a pill daily. When first starting Depo-Provera, a common side effect is constant menstrual bleeding, which can last up to several months. After being on Depo-Provera for a while, you may have a very light and short period, or you may not experience any bleeding at all.

IUDs (Intrauterine Devices)

An IUD is a small device shaped like a T. It is placed inside of the uterus and it releases a small amount of hormones, which help to prevent pregnancy. The arms of the IUD contain copper, which prevent sperm from entering the uterus. The IUD can stay in your uterus for up to 10 years. It is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. An IUD requires visits with a health care provider to have it inserted and to check to make sure it stays in place.

Fertility Awareness Method

The fertility awareness method (FAM) works best for individuals who have a regular menstrual cycle, with ONE faithful sex partner, and people who are willing and able to deal with a pregnancy should one happen. FAM is a method in which women learn to chart their cycles to see which times are most fertile. The three major signs that are used to determine fertile times are changes in cervical fluid, changes in body temperature, and changes in cervical position. During fertile times, women abstain from sex or use a barrier method; the rest of the month, they do not. FAM is generally not recommended until at least five years after a woman’s first period, and is usually more effective in becoming pregnant than avoiding pregnancy. When used properly and in combination with barrier methods at fertile times, FAM can be 75-90% effective at preventing pregnancy. (editor's note: GirlMom.com does not endorse FAM for teens, due to the intense nature of the method.)

Birth Control While Breastfeeding

The mini-pill is a form of hormonal birth control that contains only progestin. It is safe for use by breastfeeding mothers, and it will not decrease milk supply. It is taken daily, and it must be prescribed by a doctor.

Barrier methods may be used while breastfeeding to protect against pregnancy and STDs. However, if using a diaphragm or cervical cap, they must be re-fitted after you give birth to accommodate your new body.

The lactation amennorhea method (LAM) is only effective when a breastfeeding mother’s periods have not returned (not including spotting during the first two months), the baby is less than six months old, and the baby is exclusively breastfed, with no supplementation. Ideally, the time between feedings should be no longer than four hours during the day and six hours at night for maximum effectiveness of this method. If all of these conditions are met, LAM can be effective. However, it is a good idea to use a condom as well, just to be safe.

IUDs that do not contain hormones are safe while nursing.

Hormone injections such as Depo-Provera are safe for use while nursing, but can decrease milk supply in some cases. Once the injection is received, it cannot be reversed, so consult with your healthcare practitioner if breastfeeding to decide if this method is right for you. Hormone injections should not be given until at least six weeks after childbirth.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is an extra strength dose of birth control pills, which is taken orally. It is around 80% effective at preventing pregnancy. Emergency contraception can be used when other methods of birth control fail or were not used. It has side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and headaches. You must obtain a prescription for emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is only effective for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex occurs, so you must act immediately to obtain this method.

Permanent Birth Control

Permanent birth control, or sterilization, is only recommended if you are absolutely sure you do not want any children, or if you have had children and do not wish to have any more. It can be reversible, but it is a difficult process that doesn’t always work.

A vasectomy keeps sperm from traveling to a man’s penis, so his ejaculate does not contain any sperm. It is up to 99.5% effective at preventing pregnancy. Vasectomy is a non-invasive, low-risk operation. It does not protect against STDs.

A tubal ligation stops eggs from traveling to a woman’s uterus. It is up to 99.5% effective at preventing pregnancy. It is a surgical procedure, and it has more risks than vasectomy. It does not protect against the transmission of STDs.

Sources: www.scarleteen.com, www.plannedparenthood.org, www.beyondfertility.com