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Molly Longest / Her Campus
Sex + Relationships

Valentine’s Day Special: Which Birth Control Method Should You Choose?

Being a woman can be really overwhelming, especially when it comes to sexual health. Ensuring a safe sex life inevitably comes with having to choose from a myriad of contraceptive options. Unfortunately, birth control methods are not one-size-fits-all. Depending on your preferences, lifestyle and overall health, some methods may work for you and some may not.

From the pill to the implant, let’s break down the pros and cons of the most commonly available methods of contraception.

IUD (Intrauterine Device) 

The IUD is a T-shaped device inserted into your uterus. It releases copper, which affects the cervical mucus and creates an unfavourable environment for a sperm to reach the egg.

The IUD is a great option for women who have a hectic lifestyle as once the IUD is inserted, it can last 5 to 10 years and is 99% effective! Also, for those uncomfortable with hormonal contraceptives, the IUD doesn’t release any hormones so you won’t be getting side effects like headaches or acne. 

However, a huge downside for many ladies is that the IUD can actually make periods longer, heavier and more painful. Also, the IUD only protects you from pregnancy, not Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). So, if you have multiple sexual partners, stay safe and remember to always use a condom!

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/iud-coil/

IUS (Intrauterine System)

Similar to the IUD, the IUS is a plastic T-shaped device that is inserted into the womb but unlike the IUD, the IUS releases the hormone progesterone which prevents pregnancy. 

Once inserted, the IUS can last 3 to 5 years and is 99% effective. If you suffer from painful cramping during your period, the IUS could be a great choice as it makes your periods shorter, lighter and less painful. 

However, because the IUS contains hormones, some women might experience mood swings, acne and headaches when using it. Also, like the IUD, the IUS does not protect you from STIs, so always have a condom on hand.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/ius-intrauterine-system/

Implant

The contraceptive implant is a thin plastic rod that is inserted under the skin on the upper arm. It contains the hormone progesterone, which prevents an egg from releasing every month. 

The implant is a hassle-free method as once inserted, it can last up to 3 years and is more than 99% effective. 

However, a common side effect is a complete stop to your period, which some women may not be comfortable with. Also, because of the hormones, acne, mood swings and breast tenderness can occur. The upside is that the implant is reversible, so if the side effects are too bothersome, you can always have it removed. If you are in a casual relationship, always carry around condoms as the implant only prevents pregnancy and not STIs.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/contraceptive-implant/

Injection

The contraceptive injection is injected into your arm or your bottom, and the hormone progesterone is released to prevent pregnancy.

The most common type of injection can last up to 13 weeks before having to renew it again and is more than 99% effective. 

However, it could come with a pretty extensive list of side effects such as irregular periods, mood swings, headaches, weight gain, acne and hair loss. Unfortunately, if you experience these side effects, they cannot be stopped immediately as the injection is irreversible. Like many of the other contraceptives, the injection only prevents pregnancy and not STIs.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/contraceptive-injection/

Patch

The contraceptive patch is a small, square-shaped sticky patch that is stuck on the skin and produces oestrogen and progestogen to prevent pregnancy. 

The patch has to be changed every week for 3 weeks and during the off-week, your period usually arrives. This method of contraception requires a weekly reminder but is more than 99% effective. If you suffer from irregular periods, the patch can help to regulate them while also making them lighter and less painful. Temporary side effects such as headaches and mood changes are common when first used but they usually stop after a few months.

Unfortunately, the patch is not suitable for women who smoke or are overweight as it could cause blood clots in the veins. It also does not protect you from STIs. 

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/contraceptive-patch/

Birth Control Pill

The birth control pill is a commonly used contraceptive method that contains hormones to prevent pregnancy. There are 2 different types of pills, the progestogen-only pill and the combined pill, which have slight differences that make them suitable for different women. 

Progestogen-only pill: The progestogen-only pill contains the progestogen hormone and not oestrogen. The pill must be taken every day, at the same time, without any breaks in between and if taken consistently, it can be more than 99% effective. However, because it doesn’t have a break week, your period might become irregular or could even stop completely.

Combined pill: The combined pill releases both the progestogen and oestrogen hormone. Similarly, it must be taken every day at the same time, but there is a 7-day break after 3 weeks of taking the pill consistently. During this break, your period should arrive but you have to continue the next set of pills immediately after the break for maximum effectiveness. Besides being 99% effective, the combined pill also helps to regulate your period, lighten them, and can also improve acne.

Both these pills require strict reminders because if they are not taken at the same time daily, their effectiveness will be reduced, making you more vulnerable to pregnancy. Also, they may not be suitable for ladies who are prescribed other types of medication, so always check with your doctor before opting for the pill. The birth control pill also doesn’t protect you from STIs. 

Sources: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/the-pill-progestogen-only/ and https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/combined-contraceptive-pill/

Vaginal Ring

The vaginal ring is a flexible plastic ring that is inserted into your vagina and produces the hormones oestrogen and progestogen to prevent pregnancy.

The ring can be inserted on your own and must be taken out after 21 days for a 7-day break. If used correctly, the vaginal ring is 99% effective and can prevent pregnancy for a month before a new ring is inserted. 

When first used, the ring may cause temporary side effects like headaches and nausea but in the long run, it helps with premenstrual symptoms and also makes periods less painful. However, sometimes the ring can come out by itself, but it can also be inserted back in just as easily. It doesn’t prevent STIs as well.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/vaginal-ring/

Male Condom

Probably the most common and accessible form of contraceptive on the list, the male condom is a thin latex barrier worn on the penis which can protect you from both pregnancy and STIs. 

However, it is only 98% effective as many complications can happen during sexual intercourse, such as the condom breaking or slipping off. It is a great option for ladies who are uncomfortable with hormonal contraceptives, but if you have a latex allergy, this may not be a suitable option. When it comes to using lubricants, always opt for water-based ones as oil-based lubricants can damage the condom, making it less effective. Condoms are always great to have on hand and they make sex extra safe if doubled up with another form of contraception.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/male-condoms/

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This list provides a gist of these common methods of contraception so you can get a better idea of what might be suitable for you. However, do always speak to your doctor before choosing your method of birth control, as your medical history could affect your choice.

Engaging in sexual activity and keeping yourself safe come hand-in-hand. Always make sure you keep yourself protected to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs!

Shona Menon

Nanyang Tech '22

English undergraduate, Social Media Director at HC Nanyang Tech and freelance copywriter. Find me at @shonamenon on Instagram.
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