A guide to birth control!
Other contraception resources:
In human beings, conception occurs when an egg cell (or “ovum”) fuses with a sperm cell to create what will eventually become an embryo and then a fetus and then a baby. Contraception, also known as birth control, is what we use to prevent this pregnancy from occurring. Because babies can be inconvenient.
Pregnancy typically occurs through penetrative sex wherein a penis ejaculates sperm-carrying semen into a vagina. When it comes to contraception, there are two main types out there: barrier methods and hormonal methods. Barrier methods put a physical barrier between the penis and the cervix, the pathway between the vagina and the uterus, preventing sperm from entering to meet an egg.
The most common barrier method is the external condom, which goes over the penis and collects the semen. If used correctly, external condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. Different materials external condoms can be made out of include latex, polyisoprene, polyurethane, and lambskin, and all of those except for the lambskin also protect against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are great because they’re widely available in shops for cheap, and are often free at schools, health clinics, or bars.
The other type of condom out there is the internal condom, which does the exact same jobs, except instead of putting is over the penis, this is inserted into the vagina. It’s got a ring at the closed end to hold it in place, it’s made of nitrile, and it’s 95% effective if used correctly.
The other barrier methods are all inserted inside the vagina to cover the cervix and are combined with spermicides, which stop the sperm from moving. These include the sponge, which is a foam sponge that comes with spermicide inside of it (80-91% effective if used correctly), the cervical cap, a silicone cap you apply spermicide to (86% effective if used correctly), and the diaphragm, a silicone cup you apply spermicide to (94% effective if used correctly). You pop them in, do the sex, and then you have to leave them in for six hours. Keep in mind that condoms are the only methods of contraception that also protect against sexually transmitted infections, and that spermicide can actually irritate genital tissue and increase your risk for HIV and other STIs.
Now we also have hormonal methods, which prevent pregnancy by keeping the eggs from leaving the ovaries and thickening the cervical mucous to block sperm from getting through. These might have unpleasant side effects like nausea, bleeding between periods, mood swings, etc. and/or pleasant side effects like more regulated or reduced periods.
The most common form of hormonal method is the birth control pill. These are pills that the receptive partner takes daily that, for most brands, contain a combination of estrogen and progestin hormones (though some are progestin only). The pill is 99% effective if used as directed, but certain supplements and medications can decrease its effectiveness, as can your weight, so that’s something to watch out for.
Other hormonal methods include the implant, a small plastic rod inserted into the arm that lasts for 3 years and is over 99% effective. Then there’s the patch, a small Band-Aid-style sticker that you stick on the body for three weeks, remove for a week for your period, and then replace. It’s 99% effective if used as directed. There’s the shot, also known as Depo-Provera, which is a hormone injection that lasts 3 months and is 99% effective if taken correctly. And there’s the NuvaRing, a flexible ring placed in the vagina that releases hormones. Like, the patch, you leave it for 3 weeks, remove for a week for your period, and then replace it. Also like the patch, it’s 99% effective if used correctly. As with the pill, all of these hormonal methods can have decreased effectiveness if used with certain medications and supplements, and none of them protect against STI’s.
Then we have the IUD, which is a small device shaped like the letter T that is actually inserted into the uterus. There are currently two hormonal brands of IUD, Skyla and Mirena, which are effective for 3 and 5 years respectively. And then there is the copper IUD, ParaGard, which is unique in that is has no hormones in it but is just as effective and lasts for 12 years. This is great for people who want a long-term birth control method but don’t want any hormones messing with their body. All three IUDs are over 99% effective, and the ParaGard can also function as emergency contraception and is 99.9% effective if inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex.
So those are all of the common items available as methods of contraception. There are also of course natural methods like fertility awareness (typically around 76% effective) and pulling out (96% effective if done perfectly every time, 78% effective if not), the permanent method of sterilization (over 99% effective), and the emergency method the Morning After Pill, which varies in effectiveness based on the brand, your BMI, and how long after sex you take it. There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to pregnancy prevention.
If you’d like more information on any of these methods, I highly recommend checking out Bedsider.org or the Planned Parenthood website, both of which unfortunately use binarist language but do contain a wealth of great information.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or, if you’ve used any of these methods, what your experiences were.
Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time!