A Beginner’s Guide to Birth Control

Date
Dec, 04, 2020

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Welcome to A Beginner’s Guide to Birth Control!

If you have found this article, it probably means that your school’s sex-ed has failed you once again. Instead of teaching you about safe sex and birth control options, they most likely skipped all of that and went straight to abstinence.

In doing my part to fill that gap of knowledge, I have composed this guide. Keep in mind that this guide is a general introduction to the birth control methods available in the United States.

I will eventually be going into more detail regarding each birth control method offered.

 

Definitions Related to Birth Control

So let’s start at the very beginning with everyone’s favorite subject: vocabulary.

I want to make sure that everyone understands the difference between birth control, contraceptives, and contraception because these words are interchangeable. 

First, we have birth control. Defined as 

“The practice of preventing unwanted pregnancies, especially by use of contraception.”

Now contraception is

“Deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.”

Leading directly to contraceptives, which are 

“[A] drug or device [that is] serving to prevent pregnancy.” 

See how they are interchangeable? Now that you understand that contraceptives are devices used to prevent pregnancy and birth control is the practice of preventing it, let’s keep going. 

 

Birth Control Methods

Birth control methods are the practices used to prevent unwanted pregnancies. WebMD broke down these practices into four categories: 

  1. Behavior: An action that is performed by either you or your partner. Example: abstinence
  1. Barrier: This can be a device that goes inside your body or on it before sex to obstruct sperm from swimming up the cervix to find an egg. Example: A condom (stops the sperm from racing up the cervix to find an egg).
  1. Hormonal: This practice uses devices or pills to change how a woman’s hormones react. According to WebMD, “depending on the hormones, it stops ovulation (when ovaries release eggs), thickens the mucus around your cervix to keep sperm from reaching the egg, or thins the lining of the uterus.”  Example: The Birth Control Pill
  1. Medical: This can be a practice that makes an actual change to your body. Example: Tubal Ligation aka getting your tubes tied (Female).

 

Ideal Use vs Typical Use

Have you ever been taught this distinction before in regards to sex?

If so, congrats, and if not, welcome to the club.

I’ve learned that the difference between these two words could impact your decision when choosing the best contraceptives for you.

So being the gracious person that I am, I gave this topic its very own section; that way, you don’t have to learn the hard way like me.  

In short, ideal use and typical use are definitions that are related to the effectiveness of a specific birth control method. Ideal use is defined as using the device “exactly the way it is intended.” Typical use describes how the device is used “by the average person in real life.” 

Real-Life Scenario

Now let’s apply this to a real-life scenario:

Let’s say you are a female and you are about to have sex with this super-hot guy. So you two are getting hot and heavy, and right before y’all have sex, the guy rips the condom out. He then puts it on quickly because he wants to get down to business.

After a while, he cums in you while wearing the condom. You’re cool with it because you were taught that the condom was 98% effective in stopping his swimmers from racing up to your cervix. 

So a few weeks go by, and all of a sudden, you realized that you missed your period. The fear and panic start to set in. So you take to Google.

You do some research and find out that condoms if used correctly every time, are 98% effective (ideal use) at preventing unwanted pregnancy. But since humans are notorious for being imperfect, that brings the condoms’ effectiveness rate down to 85% (typical use).

This means that 15 out of 100 sexually active humans who only use condoms with no other contraceptives will get pregnant each year. Now you are panicking because you could potentially be a part of the 15.

So the odds are not bad, but coming from someone who has suffered from the dread of possibly being pregnant, they could be better. This is why many professionals recommend using more than one form of contraception but more on that later.

The moral of the story is that humans will not use contraceptives exactly how they are supposed to every time. The effectiveness rate fluctuates, and it’s essential to keep that in mind when you are thinking about which contraceptives are right for you. 

 

Other Shit to Consider

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You officially know more about birth control than ½ of the U.S. population.

This section will cover things you want to examine when choosing the best birth control method for you and your lifestyle. 

  1. Side Effects: Every birth control method has side effects, even abstinence (whose side effect is not being able to have sex). This is super important to consider because some contraceptives make their presence known in your life. Be clear about what you are willing to deal with. 
  1.  STD Protection: Most contraceptives do not protect against STIs or STDs. They just protect against unwanted pregnancy. This is why many providers will recommend using more than only one form of contraception.  For example, you could have a copper IUD which is 99% effective in protecting against unwanted pregnancy; combined with a condom that will protect against STDs.
  1. Fits Your Lifestyle: Do you want something that is low maintenance? Or do you want something on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? If you want a method you do not have to worry about, then a Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) may be for you. It’s hassle-free, and you don’t have to remember to do anything once it is in you. If you don’t want something that includes an invasive procedure like a LARC, then maybe the pill is for you. Or perhaps you don’t want something that has hormones, so maybe you consider a cervical cap or a diaphragm. 
  1. Medication: If you are on any type of medication, then it’s critical that you consult with your doctor before choosing a birth control method. This is due to the fact that some contraceptives and medications cancel each other out. The last thing you want is to have unprotected sex thinking you’re safe from getting pregnant because you are taking the birth control pill only to find out that your medication cancels out the birth control. So please talk to your doctor.  

 

Birth Control Table

Finally, the moment everyone has waited for and probably skipped too—the list of the different types of birth control methods available in the U.S.

I have separated the methods from most effective to least effective, but I recommend familiarizing yourself with each one just in case. 

 DOWNLOAD THE BIRTH CONTROL GUIDE!

Method

How to Use

Effectiveness

Possible Side Effects 

More to Consider

Costs

Permanent Methods

Female Sterilization
(Tubal Ligation)
Surgical Procedure

99%

No impact on period; possible risk of pain, pain, bleeding
Does not protect against STDs/STIs; Permanent
$0- $6000
Male Sterilization
(Vasectomy)
Surgical Procedure

99%

Possible risk of infections, pain, bleeding
Does not protect against STDs/STIs; Permanent
$0- $1000

Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC)

LevonorgestrelIUD 
(Hormonal IUD)

Placed in uterus 

99%

Spotting, lighter/ no periods, cramping 

Lasts 3-6 years; invasive procedure; no estrogen; may reduce cramps 

$0- $1300

Copper IUD

Placed in uterus

99%

May cause heavier bleeding during periods; cramping or backaches

Lasts 12 years; invasive procedure; no hormones

$0- $1300

Birth Control Implant

Placed in upper arm

99%

Spotting, lighter/ no periods, cramping; irregular periods

Lasts up to 5 years; insertion pain; no estrogen; may reduce cramps; contains hormones

$0- $1300

Birth Control Shot

Shot in arm or hip or butt

94%

Irregular periods, spotting, no periods; possible weight gain

Get every 3 months; no estrogen; may reduce cramps; contains hormones

$0- $150

Short Acting Hormonal Methods

Birth Control Pill

Take daily by mouth at the same time

91%

Nausea, Breast tenderness, spotting, lighter periods

Non-invasive, may reduce period cramps, lowers risk for some cancers and PMS symptoms

$0-$50

Birth Control Patch

Placed on lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body

91%

Spotting; Lighter Periods; Nausea; Breast tenderness

Must be replaced weekly; non-invasive; may improve acne; reduce menstrual cramps; Lowers risk for some cancers

$0- $150

Vaginal Ring

Placed inside vagina

91%

Nausea; Breast Tenderness; Lighter Periods; Spotting

Replace monthly; must be super friendly with vagina; reduce period cramps; improve acne; lowers risk for some cancers

$0- $200

Barrier Methods

Male Condom

Placed over penis 

85%

Allergic reaction, irritation

Must use every time you have sex; prevents against STDs; no hormones; user error; less sensation

$0-$2

Internal (Female) Condom

Placed inside of vagina

79%

Allergic reaction; irritation

Use every time you have sex; comfortable with vagina; prevents agaist STDs; no hormones

$0- $3

Diaphragm

Placed inside vagina with spermicide

88%

Allergic reaction; irritation

Must use every time you have sex; discomfort; no hormones

$0- $75

Birth Control Sponge

Put inside vagina

76-88%

Allergic reaction; irritation

Must use every time you have sex; discomfort; no hormones

$0 -$15

Cervical Cap

Put inside vagina

71-86%

Allergic reaction; irritation

Must use every time you have sex; discomfort;  no hormones

$0- $90

Spermicide

Put inside vagina

71%

Allergic reaction; irritation

Must use every time you have sex; discomfort;   no hormones; best used with another contraceptive

$0- $8

Behavior Methods

Fertility Awareness

Monitor fertility and abstain from sex on fertile days or use condoms

76-88%

No side effects 

Must monitor daily; no hormones

$0-$20

Withdrawal (Pull Out Method)

Pull penis out of vagina before cumming

78%

No side effects

Use every time you have sex; big user error; no hormones

$0

Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) (Breastfeeding as Birth Control)

Body stops ovulating while exclusively breasting feeding 

98%

Lower vaginal lubrication; difficult to breastfeed 4 hrs in the day and 6 hrs at night

Do every 4-5 hours; only prevents pregnancy up to 6 months

$0

Abstinence

Do not have any type of sex

100%

No side effects

Not having intercourse

$0

Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraceptive pills           
(Like Plan B)

Used only after unprotected sex

75-89%

Spotting; irregular period; heavier or lighter period; lightheaded; tender breasts

Must take within 5        days of unprotected sex; may not work if over 150 lbs for some brands

$30- $65

Copper IUD

Placed in uterus

99%

May cause heavier bleeding during periods; cramping or backaches

Must be inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex

$0- $1300

*Table is composed from expert resources linked below*

 

More than Just Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy

So you may have noticed that there are many different birth control methods. You can choose one with hormones or without. You can choose one that is low maintenance or one just as high maintenance as you are. There is no one size fits all and can be tailored to whatever you need. But I think it’s important for people to recognize that while birth control is this amazing invention that lets us have great sex and not worry about popping out the demon spawns from our one night stands, many people use it for more than just that. According to WebMD, birth control can help with…

  • Preventing ovarian cysts
  • Clear up acne
  • Stop unwanted hair growth 
  • Regulating periods
  • Lower risks of Ovarian and Uterine cancers
  • Help with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Help relieve cramps and symptoms of…
    • PMS
    • Anemia
    • Endometriosis 

And I think this is incredible! But no one talks about it. I didn’t know that hormonal birth control could be so important to one individual. It could be a critical aspect of how someone experiences their life, and everyone should be aware of the wide impact these medications have because they certainly do more than just prevent babies.

 

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

As you all should know, I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be one. I am simply a humble messenger that is spreading information (that should be common knowledge) that could save lives in a mildly entertaining way. So if you have any questions, you should talk to your doctor because they went to medical school. But if you are unsure of how to start that conversation, here are some questions you can ask them.

  1. Which birth control method will be best for me?
    • Remember: There is no “one-size-fits-all.” 
  2. Will the medications/vitamins I am taking interfere with the birth control I choose?
  3. Will I get my period while on birth control?
  4. How does my birth control work?
    • It’s important to know whether your birth control is attacking the sperm or changing the chemistry of your uterine lining. 
  5. What happens if I make a mistake or miss a day?
    • This is super important if you are considering a contraceptive that is required to be taken or inserted daily, weekly, or even monthly. 

Well, I hope you guys now know a little more about preventing unwanted pregnancy and have a better understanding of the types of birth control methods that are available. Feel free to comment down below and let me know what you think of the different contraceptives and what experiences you have had with them!

 

Sources:

  1. Planned Parenthood | What is the Plan B Morning-After Pill?
  2. Family Planning National Training Center: Birth Control Method Options PDF 
  3. Bustle: Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Birth Control
  4. Slutty Girl Problems: Birth Control 101
  5. CDC| Contraception: Reproductive Health
  6. WebMD | Best Birth Control: Types, Effectiveness, and How It Works
  7. FDA | Birth Control
  8. Planned Parenthood| Birth Control Methods & Options
  9. Planned Parenthood | How Does the Copper IUD Work as Emergency Contraception?

Mía

Hi, I am Mia! I am Sex Education Enthusiast and I love bringing people the knowledge they need to make their sex lives better! I always preach that having a healthy sex life is a part of a healthy life overall.

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