The Best Contraceptive Options: How to Choose What’s Right For You
Worrying about contraception is one of the least fun parts of being a sexually active human. But for better or worse, we are each responsible for taking care of our own birth control. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way from relying solely on condoms or even birth control pills, and there are new contraceptive options emerging every year that give us more control over our own bodies.
At Pelvic Pain Doc, we take sexual health seriously and we know that contraception is never a one-size-fits-all topic. While one person will respond great to a hormonal pill, another will have a host of unpleasant side effects that make it unsustainable. That’s why we’re breaking down the most common types of contraceptives available to help you make the most informed decision. And hey, maybe one day a male birth control pill will become reality. Until then, we all have to take contraception into our own hands to make sure we’re getting the protection we need. Read on!
Birth Control Arm Implant
Hormonal: Yes, progestin only
Lasts for: Up to 5 years
The birth control implant, also known as Nexplanon, is a tiny plastic rod about the size of a matchstick. Your doctor inserts the implant into your arm where it then releases a small amount of the hormone progestin into your body to prevent you from getting pregnant. The good news? Since it lasts for up to five years, Nexplanon is super low maintenance. It’s also one of the most effective birth control options available but if you decide you want to get pregnant, you just have it removed and you’ll be back to normal fertility immediately. The bad news? The birth control implant does not protect you against STIs, so you’ll need to use condoms as a back-up if this is a concern.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Lasts for: Up to 3-12 years (brand dependent)
An IUD is a small piece of flexible plastic that is inserted into the uterus. Similar to the arm implant, most IUDs release hormones into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. In the United States, there are five brands of IUDs to choose from: Paragard, Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla. Paragard is a copper IUD that is free from any hormones, while the other four brands all use the hormone progestin. The advantages of IUDs include high effectiveness, low maintenance and you can basically set it and forget it. The side effects, though, can be difficult for some people. With the copper IUD, many people experience heavier than normal periods and extreme menstrual cramps. With hormonal IUDs, these side effects are less common. In fact, some people get a hormonal IUD to regulate their menstrual cycles, and to treat chronic pelvic pain conditions like endometriosis and PCOS. Lastly, no IUD can protect against STIs, so be sure to use condoms for added protection.
Scheduled Birth Control Options
(including birth control shot, vaginal ring, patch and contraceptive pills)
Maintenance: Medium to high
Hormonal: Yes, progestin and/or estrogen (brand dependent)
Lasts for: As long as you continue to use it
Not everyone likes the idea of inserting something into their body to prevent pregnancy. That’s why the birth control shot, vaginal ring, patch and pills all continue to be popular contraceptive options, even though they require a bit more maintenance and accountability to be effective. Each of these options relies on a strict schedule to work, as follows:
- Birth control shot: one shot every three months
- Vaginal ring: replace every month
- Birth control patch: replace weekly
- Birth control pills: take daily
So if you’re considering one of these types of birth control, you’ll need to bear in mind how likely you are to comply with the schedule. Benefits of these options include less painful and more regular periods, discretion (no one has to know you’re using them!), and they’re temporary, meaning you can get pregnant after you stop using them. Disadvantages include having to remember to take your pill every day or to get your next dose, varied side effects, and they are not effective against STIs. Talk to your doctor about which type of birth control is best for you and will work best for your lifestyle.
Natural Birth Control Methods
You might be wondering: aren’t they any natural birth control methods? Do my only options include either hormones or an implant? The short answer is yes, there are natural, non-hormonal birth control options. The long answer is that they are significantly less effective and are far from foolproof.
Fertility awareness methods (FAMs)
FAMs include tracking your own cycle, your basal body temperature and changes in your cervical mucus to watch for signs of fertility. In other words, this will help you determine when you’re most likely to be ovulating so you can avoid sex during this time to prevent pregnancy.
The withdrawal method (a.k.a. “pulling out”) refers to withdrawing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation occurs. For this method to be effective, you must use it every single time you have sex to avoid getting pregnant.
Breastfeeding as Birth Control
Breastfeeding can work as a natural birth control method, but only when done in a certain way. If you are exclusively breastfeeding at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night, your body stops ovulating, meaning you cannot get pregnant. When done perfectly, breastfeeding can be nearly as effective as other popular methods, but only for the first six months or so. Talk to your doctor before relying on breastfeeding as birth control.
Clearly, there are a lot of different types of birth control methods available and this list is not exhaustive. We haven’t covered barrier methods, such as condoms, because most people already understand how they work. But when it comes to choosing the best birth control method for, it’s important to weigh all your options and consult with your doctor. And if you need further information on any of the contraceptive methods we’ve discussed here, don’t hesitate to book a consultation with Dr. Sonia Bahlani today. We’re here to help.