Birth control is the use of various treatments or methods to prevent pregnancy. The decision to use birth control, as well as the choice of which birth control method to use, is important and personal. Learn more about your birth control options for preventing conception or pregnancy.
Why Birth Control?
Birth control allows sexually active individuals to prevent unwanted conception and pregnancy. Birth control is important because it allows people to choose when they want to have kids. Certain birth control methods can also help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Complete abstinence (never having sexual contact) is the only way to be 100% sure of avoiding pregnancy. So if you are sexually active (or considering becoming sexually active) you need to think about and choose a birth control method.
Ask Yourself These Questions
When choosing a birth control method, there is no right or wrong. It is good to learn about all the options and make a choice that fits you best. Some important questions to ask yourself include:
- Do I want to have kids at any point in the future?
- Does the birth control method I’m choosing to use provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
- Which birth control methods do I feel most comfortable with?
- What are the potential risks, benefits, and side effects?
- Are there methods that are or are not compatible with my religious and cultural beliefs?
- How much does the method cost?
- How difficult is it to get or use the supplies, services, or medication needed to stay on this form of birth control?
- How does my partner feel?
Birth Control Methods and Side Effects
Birth control options generally fall into each of the following categories or methods. Talk you your healthcare provider if side effects become bothersome. They can help you choose the birth control that works best for you.
Natural: Natural methods do not require any outside devices or medications. Options include abstinence, withdrawal, and fertility awareness planning. Fertility awareness planning involves knowing which days of your cycle you are most likely to get pregnant. This may also be called periodic abstinence, natural family planning, or the rhythm method. Natural birth control methods may not feel convenient, but they are free and have few side effects. Apart from complete abstinence, natural birth control methods are also generally the least reliable form of birth control.
Pharmaceutical: Birth control in this category includes anything that requires a doctor’s assistance or a prescription. Common types are birth control pills, patches, implants, vaginal rings, or devices inserted by a doctor such as an intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD is a T-shaped device that is inserted by a doctor through your vagina. Birth control pills require a prescription and have to be taken every day. One week of pills in a 28-day packet does not contain hormones to prevent ovulation, so you will still have your period during these days. Patches and implants release hormones into the bloodstream that prevent ovulation. A vaginal ring requires a prescription but can be inserted by you at home. The small ring is inserted into the vagina. It is left there for three weeks. Then it is removed for a week, and you will have your period. Then a new ring is inserted. All pharmaceutical birth control options contain hormones that may help regulate menstrual cycles and improve symptoms of PMS. However, they can also cause side effects such as headache, nausea, sore breasts, and changes in weight. IUDs are one of the most effective and commonly used forms of birth control around the world.
Barrier: These are birth control devices you can purchase and use on your own without a healthcare provider’s prescription. They physically block the sperm from coming into contact with the egg cells. Options include male and female condoms, diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps. A male condom is put on over the penis to prevent the sperm from entering the vagina. A female or internal condom is similar but is placed inside the vagina and removed after sex. A diaphragm, cervical cap, or sponge is inserted through the vagina before sex to cover the cervix. Spermicides can be used with barrier methods in order to make them more effective. Side effects are low, and effectiveness varies depending on how they are used.
Injections: An injection is a shot. Injections such as Depo-Provera inject a hormone, progestin, which causes your body to not release an egg. Without an egg to be fertilized, pregnancy cannot occur. Most injections wear off and become less effective over time. This means you must get a new shot about every three months. Side effects are similar to other hormonal methods.
Permanent: If you know you are finished having kids, or are sure you never want to have children, there are permanent birth control options available. Permanent methods of birth control should be considered carefully. They are generally not reversible. In women, permanent birth control involves tubal ligation or tubal implant. Tubal ligation blocks the fallopian tubes so that an egg cannot travel from the ovaries. Males typically undergo a surgery called a vasectomy. A vasectomy blocks the sperm from reaching the semen so sperm is not released during ejaculation.
Emergency Contraception: This is the only method of birth control that is used after (rather than before or during) sex. A copper IUD can be effective in preventing pregnancy if it is inserted within five days after having sex. There are also emergency contraceptive pills that can be taken up to five days after sex. However, the earlier they are taken, the more likely they are to be successful in preventing pregnancy.
Is It Effective?
Remember, no birth control except complete abstinence is 100% effective. But many are more than 90% effective. This makes them powerful tools to help prevent unwanted pregnancy.
The effectiveness always depends on correct and careful use. Sometimes you can combine more than one method to increase the effectiveness. For example, a male condom and a diaphragm with spermicide will provide extra protection. However, pregnancy rates can actually increase with the use of more than one condom at a time, or male and female condoms together, as tearing is more likely to happen.
There are many myths about birth control that can seem confusing. You may hear people talk about ways to avoid conception that simply do not work. One myth is that you can’t get pregnant if you are having your period. While you may be less likely to get pregnant at certain times, pregnancy is still possible. Sperm can actually live in the female reproductive system for a few days, making pregnancy possible at any point in your cycle. You may have also heard that you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. Again, the changes are lower but pregnancy can occur.
There is no location (including a hot tub) or sexual position that prevents pregnancy. It is also false that sexual contact which doesn’t involve orgasm, ejaculation, or penetration is always safe. In fact, a woman can get pregnant anytime any amount of sperm comes into contact with the vagina.
Does it Protect Against STDs?
Sexually transmitted diseases are a real risk with any sexual contact. Common STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV can cause serious and permanent damage. Condoms are the only form of birth control that protects against STDs. Regular testing for STDs is recommended. Whatever your stage of life, the doctors and staff at The Woman’s Clinic are here to help. We are committed to providing the women of Mississippi with state-of-the-art, high-quality care in a comfortable, private, and secure setting. Contact us today to make an appointment to talk about birth control, or to address any other obstetrics and gynecology healthcare needs.