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Permanent link for The Wondrous World of Birth Control on March 7, 2021

Part of our Sex-Ed Series

Implants and patches and pills, OH MY! Oh, the wondrous world of birth control. With all the misconceptions, expectations, and varieties, getting the DL on birth control can be difficult on your own. Sadly, you can’t click your heels three times and magically have the perfect birth control method appear- trust me I’ve tried. But, with a little research, an idea of what you want, and an important chat with a healthcare provider, navigating the yellow brick road of birth control can be easy!

Types of Birth Control Methods
Birth control is any method, medicine or device, used to prevent pregnancy, regulate the menstrual cycle, and balance hormones. Birth control methods vary greatly, including 12 different types in total. With so much variety, there is a type for every person and every lifestyle. In this blog, we will go over the most common types of birth control. Whether you’re seriously looking into birth control or are just curious, this post is for you. 

The Pill 

  • Perfect use: 99% effective
  • Typical use: 91% effective

Oral birth control, or the pill, is a contraceptive pill that contains hormones that stop ovulation. Since the hormones stop the ovulation, there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize. There are many different brands of birth control, each one affecting the body a bit differently. In order to do its job successfully, the pill is prescribed to be taken once a day. This can be a pretty big lifestyle change for some people, but there are tips and tricks to help you remember to take your pill: Download a birth control reminder app/set an alarm on your phone, keep your BC pills in a place you see them often (like next to your toothbrush, keys, or in your bag/backpack), or ask friends/partners/family to help keep you on track with taking your pill. Keeping an open conversation with your healthcare provider will make sure your birth control needs are being met.

The Implant

  • Perfect and typical use: 99% effective

The implant is a rod inserted into the upper arm (by a healthcare provider) to prevent pregnancy. The rod releases progestin, which is a hormone that stops the ovaries from releasing eggs. The most common side effect of the implant is irregular bleeding, especially during the first 6-12 months after the implant is inserted. This form of birth control lasts up to four years, which is super convenient and perfect for someone with a busier lifestyle! 

The Patch

  • Perfect use: 99.7% effective
  • Typical use: 93% effective 

The Patch is basically what it sounds like, a patch, similar to a bandaid or sticker material. The patch has hormones on it that enter the bloodstream from the skin. Similarly to the implant and pill, the hormones in the patch stop the ovaries from releasing the egg, as well as strengthen the cervical mucus (which helps block sperm even more). It is important to note that there is a higher likelihood of blood clots while using the patch, so make sure to consider this when talking with a healthcare provider. The patch is applied weekly to the skin anywhere you want, except for the breasts. Similarly to the pill, you wear the patch for 3 weeks on, 1 week off “your period.” (Read more about how withdrawal bleeding on hormonal birth control is different than on a regular menstrual period.) You can also wear the patch four weeks a month, which skips your “period” for that month. Before doing this, make sure you talk to a healthcare provider. 

The IUD

  • Perfect use: 99.4-99.9% effective
  • Typical use: 99.2-99.9% effective 

An IUD is a little T shaped device, about the size of a quarter, that is inserted into the uterus (by a healthcare provider). The IUD is available in two different forms: hormonal and non-hormonal. The hormonal IUD keeps the ovaries from releasing the egg, while the non-hormonal IUD (made of copper) changes the way sperm cells swim, so they cannot reach the egg; sperm and copper do not like each other! The hormonal IUD commonly treats severe cramps during your period and lightens your period significantly, which is always a plus! Depending on your choice of IUD, it can last from 3-10 years. 

The Vaginal Ring

  • Perfect use: 99.7% effective
  • Typical use: 93% effective

The vaginal ring is a malleable, latex free, plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month for 3 weeks at a time. The ring contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone that keep the ovaries from releasing the egg.  Similarly to other hormonal methods, it also thickens the cervical mucus to further protect the uterus from sperm. The vaginal ring also can ease menstrual cramps and lighten your period. Since the vaginal ring has less hormones than other hormonal options (like the pill and patch), side effects tend to be lower.

The Shot

  • Perfect use: 99.8% effective
  • Typical use: 96% effective

The birth control shot is basically an injection of the hormone progestin by a doctor or healthcare professional. It can be given in the arm or the hip, whatever is more comfortable for you. The hormones in the shot keep the ovaries from releasing the egg, but also have positive impacts on the menstrual cycle. The shot can help lessen cramps and lead to lighter periods.

Condoms

  • Perfect use: 98% effective
  • Typical use: 87% effective

Condoms (external and internal) are the only form of birth control that can prevent STDs! Which is VERY important! For all things condoms, visit our Sex Ed Series post on them!

Withdrawal

  • Perfect use: 96% effective
  • Typical use: 80% effective

The withdrawal or “pull out” method is basically how it sounds; the person with the penis pulls out of the vagina before they ejaculate. This is the oldest trick in the book. It’s free, but it's not the most effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy. (This method does not prevent STDs, so getting tested regularly is important.) You or your partner(s) would have to be a pulling out pro, since this method involves total body awareness, which can be pretty hard to accomplish. 

Emergency Contraception

  • Perfect use: 85% effective
  • Typical use: 75% effective

An emergency contraceptive is a form of birth control used after unprotected sex. This form of BC is commonly found in an oral pill, well known as “the morning after pill.” It can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex, but this form of contraceotive works best the sooner you take it. It is important to note, if you weigh more than 195 pounds, the pill may not work as well. It is great to have this option as an emergency, but using birth control before engaging in sex (like an oral birth control) or during sexual activity (by using condoms) is the best way to prevent pregnancy. 

How to Find What’s Best For You
Before you take the BC journey, it is important to ask yourself a few questions. Knowing yourself, your lifestyle, and your BC goals will guide you when searching for the best birth control method. If you can, grab a pen/pencil and paper!

  • What is your lifestyle? Do you have time for an everyday form of birth control? Would a less frequent method be best for you? Grab a pen and paper and write down your everyday schedule. What birth control method fits it best? 
  • What are you looking for? Pregnancy prevention, less painful period cramps, hormonal balance, lighter menstrual flow, reduced acne, non-hormonal method? Write which ones you are looking for down. 
  • Does your birth control choice affect your partner(s)? It can. It is important to keep an open communication with your partner(s) if you are planning on adding birth control or changing yours up. Many people have latex allergies, reactions to hormones like estrogen and progestin, or ingredients like dyes inside oral contraceptives. Remember, it is your body! Do what is best for you, but if your birth control needs include a partner, make sure to talk with them! 
  • Blood clots are more common (particularly for those over 35, or people who smoke) when taking birth control, due to the higher level of estrogen in hormonal contraceptives. It is very important to acknowledge this when deciding on a method. Do you smoke? Are you over 35 years old? Do you have a family history of blood clots?  If you can, talk to family and/or do some quick research on clotting. Make sure you write down any questions or concerns you can bring up to a healthcare professional. 
  • For more info about birth control effects on cisgender and trans men take a look at this article

Now, you've got all your birth control goals! This piece of paper is a great way to open communication with your doctor/healthcare provider if you don’t know where to start, since all your wants, needs, questions, and concerns are written down. 

Next Steps
Now it is time to talk to a healthcare provider. This can be pretty daunting; we aren’t in Kansas anymore… But do not fret! Healthcare professionals are here to support you and should have your best interest. When you go in for a birth control consultation, make sure to voice your birth control goals: wants, needs, questions, and concerns. From there, you and the healthcare provider will work together to get you the best birth control for you.

Now, how do you pay for birth control? With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most health insurance companies have been required to cover birth control at no copay in their plans. If you are on your parent’s insurance, you can call the insurance company and ask them about what happens after you make an appointment (ie. do they send an explanation of benefits that will show the service?). You can also ask your healthcare provider about billing for health insurance. They have lots of experience with this exact thing! You can also choose to not use your health insurance, it will likely cost between $15 and $50 a month.

Birth Control Break-Down
Whew! The wondrous world of birth control can be a lot. Thankfully, by breaking it down, finding your birth control goals, and having open conversations with your partner(s) and healthcare providers, it can be much more simple. In any journey, there will always be bumps in the road. Whether it was flying monkeys, giant ditches, a roaring river, or a deadly poppy field, Dorothy had her friends to get her through it. The GVSU Wellness Information Team (WIT) is here for you too! We are not known for our poppy field maintenance or flying monkey wrangling, but if you have any questions, comments, or concerns please reach out to us using Ask WIT. For common questions on birth control, visit our website.

By: Annie Seeber, WIT Peer Educator

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Page last modified March 7, 2021