There are roughly 61 million women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44, or considered reproductive age. An estimated 70% of them are at risk for unintended pregnancy–meaning they are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partner fail to correctly or consistently use a contraceptive method. A large contributor to this is an unawareness or irresponsibility regarding the types of contraceptive birth control methods that are available and how to use them effectively.
Types of Birth Control
The type of birth control that is best for you depends on a variety of factors including your personal medical history, age, lifestyle and future family planning goals. Your personal preference even plays a role.
You should always consult a licensed healthcare professional to help determine which birth control option is best for you. The categories of birth control options include:
- Hormonal Birth Control: Hormonal birth control options use synthetic forms of hormones to mimic the naturally-occurring hormones produced in a woman’s body. These hormones work to stop ovulation and prevent sperm from fertilization an egg. This can either be a combination hormonal birth control which contains both estrogen and progestin, or a progestin-only method. These methods are widely popular because with the exception of Depo Provera, they are reversible. Hormonal birth control methods are also convenient, effective and have low failure rates when used as directed. There are intrauterine devices, injections, implants and more. It’s important to note that this type of birth control does not offer any protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Barrier Birth Control: Barrier birth control methods block sperm from entering the uterus entirely. These include condoms for men and women, diaphragms, contraceptive sponges and cervical caps. Male condoms are the most effective at both preventing pregnancy and STIs. Another form of barrier birth control is spermicide–a chemical method that is available as a cream, gel, foam or suppository. Inserted in the vagina before sexual intercourse, spermicide blocks sperm from entering the cervix and slows its ability to swim. Spermicide is often used in combination with condoms and is a mandatory component of diaphragms and cervical caps.
- Natural/ Behavioral Birth Control: Natural methods of preventing pregnancy are another option. This option, which has no side effects, refers to any action that can naturally prevent a pregnancy from happening in the first place such as abstinence, withdrawal, fertility awareness methods, outercourse, and continuous breastfeeding for up to 6 months to postpone ovulation after giving birth. With the exception of abstinence and outercourse, these methods are generally less effective as other types of birth control and require a high level of discipline and self-control. They work best when in a stable relationship when both partners are equally committed to preventing pregnancy.
- Emergency Contraception: Emergency contraception may be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or in situations when a primary method of birth control has failed. Commonly referred to as the morning-after pill or Plan B, emergency contraceptive pills can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after sex. Unlike hormonal birth control pills, morning-after pills are available at most drug stores without a prescription. Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections and should not be used as a regular form of birth control.
- Intrauterine Devices (IUD): Considered a long-term birth control option, an intrauterine device is a t-shaped device made up of flexible plastic and inserted through the vagina and into the uterus. It prevents sperm from reaching and fertilizing eggs. As mentioned, there are hormonal IUDs, but there is also a hormone-free device called ParaGard which uses copper. Depending on which type of device you choose, IUDs may last anywhere from 3 to 10 years before needing to be replaced.
- Permanent Birth Control: For those who know they do not want to have children or are confident they are finished having children, there are two types of permanent birth control. For women, the procedure is called tubal ligation or “having your tubes tied.” For men, this sterilization procedure is called a vasectomy. Both are nearly 100 percent effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy, however, there is a waiting period before it becomes effective that you’ll want to use a secondary method of birth control. Neither method protects against STIs and while in some cases these procedures can be reversed, there are no guarantees and should be considered irreversible.
Deciding which birth control option is best for you is a personal decision and may involve discussion with your partner if you are married or in a committed relationship. Keep in mind that you may try several different options or subtypes within one of these categories before finding which option is right for you. And thankfully this abundance of available birth control options means that women have the ability to change methods throughout their reproductive life depending on their needs during each season of life. To learn more about the pros and cons of each method, call Triangle Physicians for Women at (919) 678-6900 to schedule an appointment at one of our two convenient locations in Cary and Holly Springs, North Carolina.