A Collegiette's Unofficial Guide to Birth Control

 

As a female in college, you either are on birth control yourself, or know someone who’s on it. Whether you’re currently on birth control or not, you may not be aware of the non-contraceptive uses for birth control, the effectiveness of each method, the pros and cons of each method and the accessibility of birth control. Birth control is easy as 1-2-3 when you have a guide like this!

Why do women use birth control?

The most widely known use of birth control is to prevent pregnancy. While some forms of birth control also protect against STDs and STIs, most don’t. A lot of females go on birth control before they’re sexually active, if they’re in a relationship and see the possibility of becoming sexually active with their partner or if they just want to be prepared for when they start having sex.  The non-contraceptive uses for birth control include but are not limited to: hormonal regulation, to help with acne, to make periods lighter and/or more regulated, to help menstrual migraines, to augment breasts or gain weight, to ease menstrual cramps, to get a period, to aid conditions like Endometriosis, primary ovarian insufficiency, polycystic ovary syndrome or simply to make PMS easier.

Abstinence

Abstinence is the active choice of not having sexual intercourse. Some people who practice abstinence still engage in sexual activity that doesn’t lead to pregnancy (i.e. oral sex or anal sex), while others don’t. Many people practice abstinence for moral, religious or cultural reasons. There’s a stigma against both people who practice abstinence and those who are sexually active. Having sex or not is a completely personal choice, so always make sure you respect other ladies’ and femmes' decisions in their choices. Someone else’s absence or presence of sexual activity is none of your business!

Pros: Abstinence is the only form of birth control that’s 100% effective at protecting from pregnancy and it’s free!

Cons: Abstinence doesn’t prevent from the spread of STIs or STDs if you engage in oral or anal sex.

Contaceptive Implant (Implanon and Nexplanon)

A contraceptive implant is a small rod that goes under the skin of your upper arm. Bedsider, a web source for all things birth control says, “The implant releases progestin, a hormone that keeps your ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens your cervical mucus—which helps block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. It prevents pregnancy for up to four years.” The progestin allows the implant to be used by women who can’t have estrogen!

Pros: You get the implant once, it can last up to four years, it’s generally invisible to anyone looking at your arm, most women have lighter periods, it’s free under most insurance plans and it’s over 99% effective!

Cons: Some women complain of irregular bleeding and spotting, scarring and/or discoloration around the site of implantation and headaches. This is the only form of birth control with known instances of weight gain.

Patch

The patch is small and square. It sticks to the skin, like a bandaid, and releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. The patch is replaced once a week. It contains estrogen and progestin. The effectiveness of the patch is 99% for those who use the patch correctly, but 91% for those who don’t. It’s covered by most insurance plans.

Pros: The patch is supposed to lighten and shorten periods and regulate your cycle. It’s extremely effective for those using it properly and you only have to think about it once a week.

Cons: There’s room for error in applying the patch, which reduces effectiveness. Unlike other forms of birth control, you do have to change it every week and it’s visible. Some women also report skin irritation and spotting as side effects of the patch.

Vaginal Ring (NuvaRing) 

NuvaRing is a small ring (about the size of a hair binder) that you insert into the base of your vagina once a month for three weeks, which releases estrogen and progestin. According to Planned Parenthood, “Less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always use NuvaRing as directed”. The ring is very easy to insert and take out, and you can do it at home. While it’s not necessary, some women remove the ring during sexual intercourse. Doing so does not lower the effectiveness of it, as long as you insert it again in a couple of hours.

Pros: Most insurance companies cover the cost of the NuvaRing, you only have to worry about the ring once a month and can be used without a monthly break for your period to skip periods altogether!

Cons: The most common side-effects of the ring are spotting, tenderness of breasts, and nausea. Additionally, some women say removing the ring before sex can “ruin the moment”.

The Pill 

One of the most commonly used forms of birth control is "The Pill." Women using this conraceptive take a pill everyday for three weeks that releases hormones, then for one week users take a sugar pill (some choose to take no pill at all during this week), and during that week they get their period.

Pros: It's 99% effective if taken properly, most insurances cover it, and doesn’t interfere with having sex. The pill is supposed to reduce menstrual cramps and lighten periods

Cons: Some women find it difficult to take a pill at the same time everyday, which can lead to decreased effectiveness. Two of the most common side-effects of the pill are weight gain and extreme mood changes.

Shot (Depo-Provera)

The birth control shot simply injects progestin into the body to prevent pregnancy. You get a shot every 12 weeks and it’s 99% effective if used properly.

Pros: There’s nothing to do before sex, making it a good choice for women who can’t use hormonal birth control, and there’s no daily pill.

Cons: When not used properly and consistently, 6 out of 100 women get pregnant each year, you need to go to the doctor every 12 weeks, some women report weight gain, mood swings or irregular periods.

IUD 

The IUD is a T-shaped contraceptive device that is inserted into the uterus. It can last anywhere from 3-12 years, but can also be taken out at any point. There are 4 types of IUDs; ParaGard, Liletta, Mirena and Skyla. ParaGard is a copper IUD and Liletta, Mirena and Skyla are hormonal and plastic. A copper IUD can be left in for up to 12 years, whereas a hormonal IUD ranges from 3-6 years in duration.

Pros: It’s one of the most effective forms of birth control, can be taken out at any time, doesn’t require any thought for years, potentially lightens periods and reduces cramps.

Cons: Women complain that the IUD can be very painful while being inserted and for a while after insertion. The copper IUD could makes some periods heavier.

Male/Female Condom 

Condoms are an extremely common form of birth control that are often used in addition to another method like the pill or ring. Since condoms have more room for error, most health professionals strongly suggest using another form of birth control as well! Condoms function by stopping the sperm from meeting the egg. Male condoms fit over the penis and are made of latex or plastic, or even lamb skin for those who are allergic to latex! Female condoms are made of synthetic rubber and are inserted to loosely line the vagina.

Pros: Condoms are the only form of birth control that protect against STDs and STIs, so it’s encouraged that they’re used even if you’re using another form, and especially if your partner has not been tested for STDs and STIs. Condoms only need to be used during sex, and present no serious side-effects. They can be purchased at any drugstore, but are also free at many schools’ health services offices or at Planned Parenthood.

Cons: Using condoms runs the risk of them breaking, slipping off, or sliding into the vagina,  they can become less lubricated making sex less pleasant, and often aren’t covered by insurance.

Pull-Out Method

Many partners use the pull-out method as a form of birth control, but if using, it is encouraged that you use this in addition to another birth control method as you would with condoms. Pulling out in a heterosexual relationship is when the man pulls his penis out of the vagina before he ejaculates. 4-27 out of 100 women will become pregnant each year using the pull-out method, depending on if they perform it correctly.

Pros: Pulling out is a great way to, as I like to put it, “double check.” Ensuring the male doesn’t ejaculate in you, even if it's in a condom, is a way to be (almost) 100% sure that no sperm enters your body! Obviously, pulling out is free, so that’s a plus.

Cons: Pulling out is completely based on trusting the man’s ability to control and properly predict his ejaculation, therefore leaving a lot of room for error. Pre-ejaculator fluid, or pre-cum, often may contain sperm, so there’s still a chance that it can enter a female's body, even if the male does not cum inside of her vagina.

Emergency Contraception 

Emergency contraception can be used up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. There are two types; the more effective copper IUD and the more commonly known, morning-after pill. Note: An abortion pill and the morning-after pill are not the same thing; the morning after pill won’t terminate a pregnancy. Emergency contraception shouldn’t be used as your regular form of birth control, it should only be used in, yes, emergencies (crazy, right?).

Pros: When taken in time, it greatly reduces the risk of pregnancy after having unprotected sex. Some believe that you can become infertile after using emergency contraceptives too often, but that is false. It’s completely safe to take as many times as needed.

Cons: Morning-after pills can get pricey at drugstores and costs can build up if you use them a lot. The longer you wait to take it, the less effective it gets. The morning-after pill is only, at most, 89% effective. Additionally, according to Planned Parenthood, "If you have a body mass index (BMI) that’s higher than 35, it’s less effective (but still worth a shot if you can’t get an IUD)."

Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FAMs) 

FAMs are ways women use to track ovulation so they can prevent pregnancy. Many refer to this as ‘natural family planning’. FAMs helps women track when they’re most fertile (ovulation), and keep sperm out of the vagina during that time. Women are most fertile five days before ovulation, the day of ovulation and a couple days after. Within FAMs, there are the Calendar Method, the Cervical Mucus Method, the Standard Days Method, the Symptothermal Method and the Temperature Method.

Pros: FAMs are completely natural, free, no medication is needed and can be stopped at any time if you would like to try getting pregnant. FAMs are a great option for those not wanting to take medication or those who are unable to take a hormonal birth control.

Cons: FAMs may not be as effective if you have irregular periods, multiple sex partners or if you aren’t able to keep very careful track of your cycle. FAMs do not protect against STI’s/STD’s and are only about 76-88% effective, which is lower than other forms of birth control.

Every woman will have a different experience with any given form of birth control and negative side effects can occur with any form you choose. I encourage you to talk to an OB/GYN about what form of birth control will work best for you based on your body and what you are looking for from birth control. Every form of birth control can offer you something different and it’s important that you find the best fit for you, even if that means trying more than one kind. You know what they say… Better safe than sorry! Am I right ladies?

Resources:

Planned Parenthood: plannedparenthood.org | 1-800-230-7526

Boynton Health Services: bhs.umn.edu | 612-625-8400

Aurora Women’s Center: aurora.umn.edu | 612-626-9111

Obstetrics, Gynecology & Infertility in the Twin Cities: obgynmn.com | 763-255-3400 | 952-920-7090

Informational sites: birthcontrol.com | besider.org