Sex Ed 2.0: Safe Sex and Contraceptives

As college women, most of you have probably heard of a few different contraceptives. However, chances are you don’t know everything about any of them. When facing the mantras of “practice safe sex!” or maybe just “abstinence is the only way!” it can be difficult to make sure you have all your bases covered if you don’t know what questions to ask or what options are available to you.

So, buckle your seatbelts and get ready to get a crash course on how to practice safe sex and what contraceptive options are out there. 

First off, practicing safe sex just means taking steps to protect yourself and your partner from STIs when you have ANY genital skin-to-skin contact. That includes oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

So here’s what you can do:

 

Use a Barrier

One of the best ways to practice safe sex is to use a physical barrier. Most of you have probably heard of traditional condoms(Helpful hint: If he says it doesn’t fit, leave.) You can usually find these for FREE in your local health center (we have one on campus here at Tech). Also, if you’re using lube with a latex condom, make sure it’s water-based to reduce the risk of breakage.

But there are also other barriers you can take advantage of such as female condoms and dental dams. Female condoms are small plastic pouch-like devices that can be purchased over the counter at some pharmacies. Proponents like them because they give women power over their sexual health even if their partners are unwilling to wear a condom. 

Dental Dams are thin, flexible latex or polyurethane squares that can be used to protect you or your partner during oral sex (mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus). 

 

Get Tested

Another really important part of safe sex is getting tested regularly if you are sexually active. Many STIs are asymptomatic, especially for women. So, you may not even realize you have one before you’ve spread it and/or caused irreversible damage to your reproductive system. 

 

The nearest local STI testing resource is listed below, but you can find more resources and information at:

Lincoln Parish Health Unit

405 E. Georgia Avenue

Ruston, LA 71270 

(318) 251-4120

 

You can also talk to your gynecologist or a nurse practitioner about getting tested when you go in for periodic check-ups.  

 

Speaking of check-ups, what brings many of us to the gyno for the first time is birth control. Often, women just opt for the pill; however, there are several other options available to you. Refer to the chart below for an overview.

 

Combined Oral Contraceptive Pills

What is in it?

Oestrogen and progestogen

Effectiveness*

91-99%

Frequency of Replacement 

1 pill per day (4-7 blanks) (28 pills per pack)

Short-term side Effects

Headache, breast tenderness, bloating, mood swings, cramps, spotting

Long-term Risks

Increased blood pressure, blood clots, and breast cancer

Notes

May help reduce PMS symptoms, regulate periods, reduce acne, protect against pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, ovarian cysts. Reduces the risk of cancer in the ovaries, womb, and colon

 

Vaginal Ring

What is in it?

Oestrogen and progestogen

Effectiveness*

91-99%

Frequency of Replacement 

3 weeks in + 1 week off

Short-term side Effects

Vaginal discharge, breast tenderness, headaches, spotting

Long-term Risks

Blood clotting, cervical cancer

Notes

No long-term effect on fertility

 

Progesterone-only pills

What is in it?

Norethisterone or desogestrel

Effectiveness*

91-99%

Frequency of Replacement 

1 pill per day (no blanks) (28 pills per pack)

Short-term side Effects

Spotty skin, breast tenderness, acne, libido changes, nausea

Long-term Risks

Ovarian cysts, breast cancer 

Notes

Best for women over 30

Slightly less effective than the Combined Pill

 

Contraceptive Patch

What is in it?

Oestrogen and progestogen

Effectiveness*

91-99%

Frequency of Replacement 

1 patch/week for 3 weeks +  1 week off

Short-term side Effects

Skin irritation, itching, soreness, nausea, headaches, moodiness, spotting

Long-term Risks

Blood clotting, cervical cancer

Notes

May help with heavy/painful periods or protect against ovarian, womb, and bowel cancer.

 

 

 

Contraceptive Injection

What is in it?

progestogen

Effectiveness*

94-99%

Frequency of Replacement 

3 months (8-12 weeks)

Short-term side Effects

Weight gain, headaches, mood swings, tenderness, spotting, low libido, acne

Long-term Risks

Hair loss, infection, bone thinning (minor)

Notes

Good for women who can’t remember a daily pill

May take up to a year for fertility to return to normal

 

Implant

What is in it?

progestogen

Effectiveness*

99%

Frequency of Replacement 

3 years

Short-term side Effects

Bruising, tenderness, swelling, period irregularities, headaches, nausea

Long-term Risks

Amenorrhoea, acne, infection

Notes

Can be removed anytime with a small medical procedure

 

Copper Intrauterine devices (IUD/IUCD)

What is in it?

(hormone free)

Copper T380  (varies)

Effectiveness*

99%

Frequency of Replacement 

5-10 years

Short-term Side Effects

Heavy/painful periods, spotting, discomfort

Long-term Risks

Infection, womb damage, rejection, ectopic pregnancy, bleeding

Notes

Better for women with a light-to-moderate flow and mostly pain-free periods

 

Intrauterine Systems (IUS)

What is in it?

progestogen

Effectiveness*

99%

Frequency of Replacement 

3-5 years

Short-term side Effects

Mood swings, breast tenderness, skin problems

Long-term Risks

Infection, discomfort, shorter/less painful periods, ovarian cysts (rare), womb damage, ectopic pregnancy

Notes

Mostly for older women or women who’ve had children

May be rejected or displaced in womb

 

Male Condom

 

Effectiveness*

82-98%

Frequency of Replacement 

1 use

Notes

Please use these! No other birth control method also protects against STDs!

(except for the next one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Female Condom

Effectiveness*

79-95%

Frequency of Replacement 

1 use

Notes

Less effective than male condoms.

 

 

 

 

 

Withdrawal/Pull-Out

 

Effectiveness*

78%

Notes

If you are attempting to not get pregnant, please do not use this method alone as a form of birth control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spermicide

Effectiveness*

varies

72%

Frequency of Replacement 

A few hours

Notes

Often combined with other contraceptive methods

 

Fertility-Awareness/ Natural Family Planning

Effectiveness*

76/99%

Notes

Involves tracking periods and abstaining when fertile

* dashes indicate variations between typical and perfect use

 Information per the CDC & NHS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always ask your doctor about which contraceptive methods would best suit your medical history. Schedule regular appointments to build rapport with him or her to make sure you have someone you feel comfortable with should a problem arise; it’s worth the initial awkwardness.

 

For more information on your contraceptive options, check out the following websites:

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/preventing-pregnancy-stds/what-do-i-need-know-about-birth-control

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/how-effective-contraception/