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Disclaimer: make sure to seek medical advice before you change or stop any medication.

Strangely enough, before I knew I was going to write this article, some course mates and I were having a chat about different methods of birth control – don’t worry, it wasn’t prompted by any sort of ‘scare’, not that we want to discriminate against young mothers because it is absolutely your choice when you want to have a child. That’s the whole point of different medical methods of birth control: being able to decide when, and indeed, if, you ever want to have a baby, and doing that on your terms, in accordance with your lifestyle choices. So, when you go to the doctor requesting access to a pill or implant, why does it feel like the choice has been taken out of your hands entirely?

At least, the inevitability that the doctor was going to decide what birth control you would be prescribed was the feeling I got when I had that consultation with my GP about three years ago now. And when you read women’s accounts on social media about being exasperated with the lack of support they have received regarding birth control options – yes, there are options, it turns out – it seems like little has improved since then. Women’s health has never been the frontline agenda, unfortunately, which leaves women like you and me feeling frustrated and helpless when the contraceptive pill (which appears to be the most commonly prescribed form of birth control for women) simply does not work for our bodies anymore. Why stick with a pill that leads to weight gain and water retention (in my experience) when there are other options available?

The reality is that as women, I believe we are disillusioned into thinking that the contraceptive pill is the only solution out there, and unfortunately, the sexual health education system fails to right this wrong in secondary schools. However, all is not lost: the NHS website has a wealth of information detailing the many birth control options available, so I would highly recommend giving that a read after you’ve finished this article. 

Now back to the birth control chat that I mentioned earlier: it became increasingly clear to me that I had little or no idea how many different birth control options are out there, all for different needs and lifestyles. But I want to advise against idealising the situation, as the fact remains that many forms of birth control have caused various health problems for its users – the coil has recently been in headlines after women have been accused of being ‘wimpy’ about the terrible pain it has caused them. The forms of birth control out there are all flawed for some people’s bodies, and I feel as women we must demand better scientific research to improve the options available. That being said, women do currently have choices available on the NHS, and seeing as doctors are either unable or unwilling to make time to sit down and chat through the options, here is a (very) brief list of possible birth control options available:

  • Combined pill – colloquially known as ‘the pill’, this contains both oestrogen and progesterone hormones in order to prevent pregnancy, and from experience, this is the most commonly prescribed (and known about) form of birth control, aside from using a condom obviously. You can also get progesterone only pills, which is said to reduce some of the side effects of the combined pill, like mood swings and headaches. Not so fun when you want to be living your best life.
  • Implant – a much preferred option for women who know they don’t want to fall pregnant for the next three years. It’s basically a small bit of plastic that releases progesterone underneath the skin of the upper arm, and a massive benefit is that you don’t have to remember to take a pill each day, which arguably gives women much more freedom in their everyday lives. However, it is not so readily recommended by GPs, so you would have to know to ask for the procedure to be done, and I for one had no idea about this before coming to uni.
  • Coil – there are two types of coil, IUD and IUS, and even though they last for longer than an implant (up to 5-10 years), they are much more medically invasive, which is where the health risks come in.
  • Patch – stuck on the upper arm, these hormonal patches last for about a week, and to be completely honest, I had no idea they existed before researching for this article. What that says about the state of the birth control support system in this country… well, you can fill in the blanks.

To sum up, there are clearly more birth control options available than simply the contraceptive pill, though this still remains the prescription of choice by doctors, if you can manage to see your GP these days. GP waiting times have led some people to resort to buying their contraceptive pill over the pharmacy counter, which is a positive development for women in terms of greater convenience of access to birth control, but it seems intrinsically wrong that women should have to pay for the pill when they should be able to receive it for free from the NHS. Regardless of which birth control method you use, just know that there are other options out there, so don’t be afraid to ask for them.

A third year geographer with a passion for all things feminist!
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