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Choosing the Right Birth Control for You

By EmpowHER
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Are you confused by the sheer variety of birth control methods available today? Factoring in convenience, cost, hormonal or material sensitivities, potential side effects, as well as lifestyle and personal preferences makes the decision anything but simple. Here’s a summary of some common forms of birth control that may help you identify the right choice for you.

Hormonal Birth Control Methods

The Pill
The birth control pill is an oral contraceptive that employs hormones to stop ovulation and prevent sperm from reaching an egg. It may lighten your periods, clear your acne, or help protect you from certain cancers, pelvic inflammatory disease, and ovarian cysts. Since you take the pill daily, there’s no need to remember to have it with you before sex.

The pill can only be procured from a physician or health clinic. You must remember to take it daily, as skipping a day can result in increased chance of pregnancy. The hormones have side effects for some users, including nausea, vomiting and spotting. The pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the hormones in the pill are known to increase the risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.

The Contraceptive Vaginal Ring
This newer form of birth control is a small plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina, around the cervix, for three weeks of each month and removed for the fourth week. It releases hormones continuously preventing ovulation and fertilization.

The contraceptive ring can have both the positive and negative side effects of other forms of hormonal birth control, like the pill. Furthermore, insertion may take some practice, and remembering to remove the ring every fourth week can be inconvenient. The vaginal ring does not protect against STIs.

The Shot
Administered by a doctor once every three months, the shot releases a hormone that prevents sperm from joining with an egg. It can reduce menstrual bleeding and cramping and has fewer side effects than the pill.

One downside of the shot is that you have to make an appointment with your doctor every three months. The shot may also have more long-lasting effects than other forms of hormonal birth control and therefore may not be the best option for women thinking of getting pregnant in the near future. The shot does not protect against STIs.

The Implant
The implant is a small piece of plastic that’s implanted into your upper arm by a doctor and barely visible once in place. It releases hormones that prevent sperm from meeting an egg. It’s one form of birth control that you don’t have to think about before sex.

The up-front cost of the implant may preclude some women from this option. Women who are averse to needles may also forgo this option, as it requires minor surgery. As a hormonal form of birth control, it also comes with both positive and negative side effects, as previously mentioned with the pill. The implant does not protect against STIs.

The Patch
The patch is essentially a hormone sticker that you apply to your skin for one month at a time. It is fairly low maintenance since you only apply a new patch once a month.

The patch carries the same types of positive and negative hormonal side effects as the pill and can be seen on the skin. The patch does not protect against STIs.

Hormonal Intrauterine Device (IUD)
There are two types of IUD’s: a small hormonal T-shaped plastic device and a copper non-hormonal device specified below. Both IUDs are inserted into the uterus, however the hormonal IUD will release hormones on a regular schedule for up to five years to prevent pregnancy. The hormones in the IUD may lighten your periods, and the IUD cannot be felt during intercourse.

Although it’s long lasting, the hormonal IUD is costly up front. The IUD can be painful to insert and can cause cramping, spotting, and irregular periods for the first 3-6 months. It does not protect you against STIs.

The Morning After Pill: Emergency Contraception
The morning after pill is the only form of birth control taken up to five days after intercourse. It uses increased levels of hormones to prevent pregnancy. It’s available at most drugstores without a prescription for women over 17 years of age.

This is your best option in the case of emergency but should not be treated as your regular form of birth control because it can cause irregular periods when used too often. Furthermore, 50 percent of women who take it experience side effects like nausea. The morning after pill does not protect against STIs.

Hormonal Birth Control Options Rate of Effectiveness Costs (plannedparenthood.com)
The Pill 92% $14-$50/month
Contraceptive Ring 92% $15-$50/month
Shot 97% $35-$75/every 3 months
Implant 99% $400-$800/3 years
Patch 92% $14-$50/month
Hormonal IUD 99.8% $250-$950/5 years
Morning After Pill 89% $10-$70/per use

Non-hormonal Birth Control Methods

Condoms are a popular birth control method because they are inexpensive and conveniently available in most drug and convenience stores. They are typically made of a thin sheet of latex that acts as a barrier, collecting semen to prevent it from entering the vagina. Condoms can be combined with other forms of birth control, such as the pill, to increase their effectiveness. Condoms also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

One downside of condoms is that approximately one in 75 people are allergic to latex. Non-latex condoms are available but may be more expensive and are not recommended for use by the CDC.

The Sponge
The sponge is made of soft foam and covers the cervix to block sperm. It does not contain hormones and can be purchased over-the-counter. It is inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse and can stay in place for 30 hours, during which you can have intercourse multiple times if desired.

The sponge can be a bit tricky to insert and remove and may interfere with lubrication during intercourse. The sponge may affect vaginal pH, increasing the chance of bacterial infection. The sponge does not protect against STIs.

Female Condom
A female condom is a plastic pouch with a flexible plastic ring at each end. The ring at the closed end of the condom is inserted into the vagina before sex and holds the pouch inside the vaginal canal, while the ring at the open end stays outside the vaginal opening during sex. You can buy female condoms at drugstores. They also decrease the risk of STIs.

The female condom can be tricky to place properly and can sometimes be noisy or irritating during sex. It may also reduce sensation for both partners during intercourse.

A diaphragm is a dome-shaped latex cup with a flexible rim that is placed in the vagina to cover the cervix and block sperm. It can be inserted hours before intercourse and usually can’t be felt during sex. It must be accompanied by spermicide to be fully effective.

A diaphragm can only be acquired with a prescription. Some women are sensitive to spermicide and may experience irritation or urinary tract infections as a result of diaphragm use.

Copper IUD
A copper IUD is a T-shaped device made of plastic and copper that is non-hormonal. Placed in the uterus, the copper IUD can last up to 12 years. It prevents sperm from joining with an egg.

Insertion must be done by a physician or nurse practitioner and can be painful. Cramping, spotting, and irregular periods can occur for 3-6 months following insertion. The copper IUD does not protect against STIs.

Cervical Cap
A cervical cap is a silicone cup that fits over the cervix to block sperm from entering the uterus. It can be inserted up to six hours before sex and does not contain hormones.

The cervical cap comes in three sizes and requires a prescription. It can be difficult to insert properly and can’t be used during menstruation.

Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options Rate of Effectiveness Costs
Condoms 85% $1/each
The Sponge 84% pre pregnancy-64% post pregnancy% $13-$19/each
Female Condom 79% $4/each
Diaphragm 84% $15-$75/each (can last for 2 years)
Cooper IUD 99.2% $175-$650/12 years
Cervical Cap 84% pre pregnancy, 71% post pregnancy $60-$75/2 years

When you are ready to choose a birth control method, discuss your choice with your doctor. She may have some good advice about which methods fit best with your personal goals and lifestyle. Make sure to take the necessary steps to protect yourself.

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