Birth Control: An Overview
Ensuring that young women have access to a birth control treatment and other family planning products and resources as necessary is a very important part of catering to both their health and well being. It also allows each woman to make prudent choices about when is the right time to start a family, or expand on an existing one with more offspring.
Society as a whole is fortunate that more recent generations have embraced a more sensitive and accommodating perspective of how a woman chooses to control her reproductive capacities. Most people agree with the wide sweeping consensus that women can and should have the right to make decisions that pertain to her body and her life, and make them entirely on her own.
Birth control pills will likely be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing types of birth control methods for women. The pharmaceutical option is the most common avenue women go down when opting for natural and unencumbered lovemaking while in a long-term, committed relationship. In addition to being able to enjoy intimacy much more spontaneously, women are relieved to have the assurance that birth control medication will not inhibit their ability to conceive a child in the future.
All birth control methods work in 1 of 2 ways. They either fool the body into believing it’s already pregnant and therefore stopping the reproductive process before it starts (birth control pharmaceuticals), or they more simply prevent the egg from being fertilized by a male sperm and forming a zygote (prophylactics and barrier methods, abstinence, surgery etc.)
The Need for Birth Control
There are a whole host of reasons why women must have access to birth control, but the leading of them are as follows:
- Unwanted or unplanned pregnancies can put women at a serious disadvantage regarding life opportunities, and there is a correlation between them and increased risk of poverty and family strife, particularly for young women who become pregnant outside of marriage or a stable, committed relationship.
- The inability to control the number of offspring a woman bears during the course of her reproductive years can have negative ramifications both for the women and each of her children. Children who grow up without the necessary resources for health and well being are at risk of creating a cycle of poverty and a lower quality of life for successive generations
- Pregnancy can be a stepping stone to larger and in some cases life-threatening health complications for women with certain physiologies
- Some cultures and religious denominations have placed taboos on pregnancy for women outside of marriage, and in some cases the repercussions women can face if they become pregnant are particularly harsh and punitive.
Types of Birth Control
We can categorize all birth control methods into 1 of 4 groups: pharmaceutical, physical, sexual alternatives, and surgical. When asking how effective is birth control, it is important for you to first understand that there is only 1 method that is 100% reliable for preventing pregnancy, and that is abstinence (which means to NOT have sexual intercourse at all). Before inquiring about where to get birth control pills, let's look at all the options available today for having sex but avoiding pregnancy.
- Birth control pills – this is most common type of pharmaceutical approach women take as a birth control treatment. As a contraceptive, they are said to be 90+% effective in preventing pregnancy but in rare instances a woman who is taking these pills may still become pregnant. The hormones in these prescription pills (estrogen and progestin) stop the woman from ovulating, as they are hormones that normally would only be present in the blood when a woman is actually pregnant. They also promote a thickening of mucus on the cervix that make it hard for sperm to swim upwards. The pill must be taken every day in order to have this 90+% assurance of preventing pregnancy.
- Transdermal contraceptive patch – This method works much the same way as birth control pills and provide the same hormones estrogen and progestin to convince a woman’s body that it’s already pregnant. It comes with same level of reliability too, upwards of 90%, but the difference is that rather than taking your medication orally you place the patch on your belly, upper arm, buttocks, or back and the drug is absorbed that way. The patch must be replaced with a new one every 3 weeks for reliable effectiveness.
- Spermicide – The name here would suggest that this product prevents pregnancy by killing the sperm contained in a man’s ejaculated semen during sex. Well, the chemicals contained in these products don’t kill the sperm themselves, but they block the entrance to cervix and make it so that the sperm are disabled to the point that they can’t swim well enough to get there anyway. Also, spermicides need to be used in conjunction with 2 physical contraception methods and one of which we’ll discuss shortly; diaphragms.
- Birth control implant – This product is called Nexplanon, and can be usually be purchased once you’ve received a prescription for it from your family doctor. It is a tiny, thin rod about the size of a matchstick that releases the same hormones found in birth control pills to prevent you becoming pregnant. Bear in mind that it is NOT an inexpensive alternative as a birth control treatment, but it is deemed to be 99% effective and is good for up to 4 years once your doctor inserts the implant under the skin of your upper arm. When you choose to have it removed, that must be done by a doctor as well. It’s a simple and painless procedure both ways.
- IUD – IUD stands for Intrauterine Device, and it’s a small piece of flexible plastic shaped in a T. The T shape makes it effective for blocking the entirety of sperm attempting to make their way further into the cervix and towards the egg, and like the implant it’s reported to be 99% effective for preventing pregnancy. It can be located long term, and is easily reversible should a woman decide in the future that she would now like to conceive. There are two types of IUDs; copper IUDs (ParaGard) and hormonal IUDs (Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla most common). ParaGard can work for up to 12 years, and the hormonal ones can work for anywhere between 3 to 6 years.
- Birth Control Shot – Depo-Provera is the name of the injection you can get from a health care professional every 3 months to prevent pregnancy. Again, it does this by means of stopping ovulation with the hormone Progestin and making the mucus on the cervix walls especially thick. A new shot will be required every 3 months or so, and the reliability of this birth control treatment is entirely dependent on getting your follow-up shots on time. Experts state that the birth control shot is 94% effective.
- Birth Control Ring – This product is also called the NuvaRing, and it is a safe and reliable contraception method that releases hormones to prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus. The appeal of this alternative is that the ring is easy to insert on your own, and they’re not particularly expensive most of the time. The ring offers also offers 90+% level of reliability, and you’re advised to put any rings you’re saving for future use into the refrigerator.
- Diaphragm – This is a shallow, bendable cup that you place inside your vagina to cover your cervix and block entry to it to prevent pregnancy. Placing it is as simple as bending it in half and inserting it. Diaphragms work best when paired with a spermicide, and this does make it much more effective.
- Condom – condoms are not just only for men, there are also female condoms too and together they are the most economical and widely used form of birth control worldwide. The premise of the condom is quite simple; it provides and impervious barrier and contains the entirety of the man’s sperm within it after he ejaculates, thus preventing any from entering the woman’s cervix and possibly reaching the egg for semination. Both types of condoms have 75+% effectiveness but be forewarned that condoms can break and also that they should never be washed and reused. Also inspect the condom for any irregularities or deficiencies before using. Condoms can be purchased at any pharmacy and most drug or box stores, making them the most common of the different types of birth control.
- Fertility Awareness – This involves becoming explicitly aware of your ovulation cycle and the different stages of it. This is also called ‘natural family planning’ and the ‘rhythm method’, and the latter of those two terms is very appropriate for how you use good timing to prevent pregnancy. It is possible to learn how to track your fertility, and once you’ve done so you’ll know nearly exactly what time of the month your ovaries will release an egg. You learn what are the ‘unsafe’ days where unprotected sex may lead to pregnancy, and which ones are ‘safe’ days where unprotected sex is not as risky because the prime egg fertilization window has closed for a short period of time. This method is NOT as reliable as others and should be used with caution.
- Withdrawal – This method is also called the ‘pull out’ method, and it is fairly self explanatory. The couple enjoys sex as normal, but the man withdraws himself from the woman and climaxes outside of her body. Of course, this method is 100% effective IF done correctly, but there is a very big risk in trying it if the man is not entirely sure of his ability to control his ejaculation and have withdrawn from the woman entirely. For this reason, this method is NOT recommended.
- Breastfeeding – Yes, breastfeeding a newborn can also prevent you from becoming pregnant with another child. The technical term for this is the ‘lactational amenorrhea method’ and it must be done in a very specific way though. Understand first though that when you are nursing every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night then your body stops ovulating. No ovulation, no egg present, and thus no chance of pregnancy. Done correctly, this method is just as effective as hormonal birth control methods.
- Abstinence and Outercourse – We conclude the sexual alternatives with the most reliable methods of preventing pregnancy, and they have that distinction for the fact that both involve no sexual intercourse whatsoever. Abstinence is to abstain from having sex, and that means quite simply to not have sex at all. Outercourse can refer to any type of sexual intimacy that does not involve a man’s penis entering a woman’s vagina.
- Sterilization – Becoming sterilized makes it so that a woman is permanently unable to conceive a child. This surgery is called tubal litigation, or ‘getting your tubes tied’ as it’s commonly known. It is a safe procedure that will prevent you becoming pregnant for the rest of your life, but as it is elective surgery it can be expensive and the cost is prohibitive for some. Obviously, it is highly inadvisable for any woman sees even the slightest possibility that she may want to have a child in the future.
- Vasectomy – This procedure is a permanent contraceptive method undertaken by a man. The tubes that carry semen from the scrotum to the urethra so that it can be ejaculated from the penis are cut. It’s 99% effective for preventing pregnancies in women who have sex with a man who’s undergone the procedure, but again it is elective surgery and comes with a cost.
- NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) – Teen Pregnancy Prevention
- Nexplanon – NEXPLANON is a birth control implant that lasts for up to 3 years,* and is over 99% effective
- Paragard – How PARAGARD Works
- WebMD – How Effective Is Depo-Provera for Birth Control?
- Planned Parenthood – Abstinence and Outercourse