Sexplained: An In Depth Look At Contraceptives

For a long time, contraceptives were limited solely to condoms and the pill in the minds of many. While birth control is inclusive of both of those contraceptive options, science has proven that there are many other options for people to choose from. In reality, there are 18 birth contraceptive options that have proven to be safe and effective to an extent. I have already covered five contraceptive options that you have to choose from: traditional condoms, internal/female condoms, outercourse, the withdrawal method, and flat out abstinence. 

While these are all great options for birth control, some obviously better than others, it is easy to pinpoint the major flaws in at least three of the five contraceptive choices. Particularly, these contraceptive options aren’t necessarily the best for everybody considering that medical science isn’t always one size fits all. While doing your research on contraceptives, it’s critical that you have an understanding that there is no method of birth control on the market that offers 100% protection against sexually transmitted diseases, except for abstinence.

Every single method of birth control is based on one of two methods. The first method being the prevention of a sperm cell reaching and entering an ova (the egg cell) which is called fertilization. The second method is preventing the fertilized ova from implanting in the uterus and starting to grow. 

The birth control implant, or Nexplanon, is a tiny thin rod that is about the size of a matchstick. It works by releasing progestin—a hormone—into your system, which then thickens the mucus on the cervix and stops the sperm from going up further into the cavity and fertilizing an ova. Additionally, progestin can stop an ova from leaving the ovaries during ovulation—a step during the menstrual cycle. If it isn’t released, then there’s no possibility of becoming pregnant. 

The great thing about it? Once implanted into your arm by a trained nurse or doctor, it’s effective for up to five years. Not only that, but it’s more than 99% effective. This means that less than 1 out of 100 people will become pregnant each year. If the implant is put in within the first five days of your period, the method is effective immediately. If implanted during any other time during the cycle, the implant is effective within a week. 

An IUD, or an Intrauterine Device, is similar to Nexplanon at more than 99% effective. This method is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a tiny piece of flexible plastic that is shaped like a 'T' and goes inside of your uterus. Basically, there’s two different types: copper and hormonal. Copper IUDs work pretty simply. Sperm doesn’t like copper, therefore meaning that sperm avoids copper, which makes it near impossible for the sperm to get past the IUD and up to the ova for fertilization. Hormonal IUDs work by thickening the mucus on the cervical wall and then preventing the ova from leaving the ovaries in the first place, just like Nexplanon. Additionally, you can use IUDs as an emergency contraceptive if inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex and it will be more than 99.9% effective! 

Copper IUDs can last up to 12 years at prime effectiveness. Hormonal IUDs have different time constraints depending on the type, or brand, that you choose. 

The birth control shot, or Depo-Provera/the Depo shot) also contains progestin. It works exactly like hormonal IUDs and Nexplanon in that it thickens the cervical wall. The Depo shot is an injection that you get once every three months. It’s convenient, private, and works very well (more than 99% effective) if used correctly, which in this case means getting your shots on time, each time, without fail. While you can get your follow-up shots within 10 week after the last shot or as late as 15 weeks after the last shot, it is highly recommended that you get it within three months after—give or take a week. After personally being on the Depo shot for over half a year, I would recommend it as a good form of contraceptive. 

The vaginal ring, birth control patch, and birth control pill can be pooled into a group due to their usage (on a schedule) as well as their effectiveness rate (91%). 

The vaginal ring—or NuvaRing—stops sperm from meeting an egg and works by containing estrogen and progestin. The ring is inserted into the vagina, which then works by the vaginal lining absorbing the hormones in the ring. Additionally, ovulation and mucus thickening creates difficulty for pregnancy to occur. The ring can be inserted at home and is supposed to be pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Plus, you only have to replace it once a month.

The patch is super simple to use considering that its basically just like a Band-Aid and needs to be replaced on an easy weekly schedule. It works by preventing ovulation and thickening the cervical lining. 

The pill is one of the more popular forms of contraceptive methods. It’s safe, affordable, and effective if you’re taking your pill on time each day. The hardest part about this is actually remembering to take a pill every single day. 

Along with condoms and internal condoms, there is another select group of contraceptives that are only effective if used every single time before sex. This group includes lesser known forms of birth control like a diaphragm, spermicide, a cervical cap, and even a birth control sponge. These forms of birth control are less effective than hormonal types and even condoms, coming in at 71-88% effectiveness. 

The diaphragm is an interesting form of birth control that does remind me a bit of internal condoms. Basically, it’s a soft silicone cup (think menstrual cup) that’s shaped like a saucer. Forgive me for this analogy, but it is basically a suction cup for your vagina. All you have to do it bend it in half and insert it into the vagina and cover up the cervix. In order to have it work best, use it in combination with spermicide. The diaphragm will keep the spermicide in place. This can be inserted up to two hours before you have sex and should be taken out at least six hours afterwards. Please don’t leave it in for more than 24 hours, friends. Additionally, although you can buy these at a pharmacy or drugstore, please make sure to see a doctor first. They come in different sizes and you definitely don’t want to get anything jammed in your cervix. Ouch. 

Spermicide basically has chemicals that block the sperm from the egg. This needs to be used in conjunction with either a cervical cap or a diaphragm. This type of birth control comes in either creams, gels, films, foams, or suppositories (an insert that will melt). Like anything that you can buy, please read the directions on the package. They typically come with applicators, or you can use your fingers, just think of it as inserting a tampon. This needs to be put in at least 10-15 minutes before and is only effective for an hour after application. If you’re going to have sex more than once, reapply. Spermicide is available for purchase here

A cervical cap is, like the diaphragm, made from soft silicone. It’s shaped like a sailor’s hat and works exactly like the diaphragm. This should also be used in conjunction with spermicide. Now, it may seem like the diaphragm and cervical cap are synonymous with each other, but you can actually leave a cervical cap in for longer (2 full days). Do take note that diaphragms are slightly more effective at pregnancy prevention. 

The sponge is a small, round sponge that’s made of soft, squishy plastic. It contains spermicide and needs to be inserted into the vagina before sex. To our benefit, this contraceptive actually has a fabric loop attached to help you in removal. You absolutely can, and should, use this in conjunction with condoms. Available for purchase here.

Note: No birth control method other than condoms will help you in the prevention of STDs. Even if you are using a highly effective contraceptive, use condoms every time to prevent the spreading of STDs. 

In conclusion, there are plenty of options for you to choose from. While I didn’t go into depth on these, options even include fertility awareness, using breastfeeding as birth control, sterilization, and vasectomies. Although some non-hormal options are available at drug stores and pharamacies, you should always see a doctor when making a decision on what's going into your body as birth control. It’s important that you contact a physician or see a licensed nurse that has experience with birth control to help you decide on what is best for you. If you cannot afford to see a primary care physician, I would encourage you to reach out to your local Planned Parenthood. If they cannot get you your birth control of choice for free or for very inexpensive, they will help you get insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). This insurance covers a lot of birth control options. While they will provide you with pros and cons to each one you may ask about, it’s important that you do your own research on the ones that interest you. Be aware of the health risks as well as benefits. 

It’s your body and your life. I welcome and encourage you to take charge of your own sexual health. 

Photo Sources: 1, 2.