Contraception Options

November 12, 2010

Contraception has come a long way in recent years.  The pill is still available in several forms, but women now have many other options to choose from too.  We understand that the variety and sheer number of contraception methods available is confusing, so we’ve put together a guide to help you better understand the options that are available today.

Contraception methods fall into two main groups—hormonal and non-hormonal.  Hormonal contraception relies on hormones that are released into your body to prevent pregnancy.  Non-hormonal contraception prevents pregnancy without the use of hormones, by either creating a barrier between the egg and sperm or by killing the sperm.  Here is a breakdown of the different methods:

Hormonal

  • Oral Contraceptives:  This is “the pill.”  Pills that contain hormones are taken every day to prevent ovulation.  (99% effective rate)
  • The Patch:  A new hormonal patch is applied to your skin every week to prevent ovulation.  You wear the patch for three weeks out of the month, and then you take a week off in order to have your period.  (99% effective rate)
  • Intrauterine Device (IUD):  A device which has a hormonal coating that does not allow conception to occur is placed in the uterus by your doctor.  It is effective for up to five years.  (99% effective rate)
  • Vaginal Ring:  You insert a hormonal ring that prevents ovulation into your vagina and leave it in place for three weeks out of every month.  You take it out the fourth week in order to have your period.  (99% effective rate)
  • Subdermal Implant:  This is a small, hormonal rod which is inserted under the skin of your upper arm by your doctor.  It prevents ovulation and is effective for three years.  (99% effective rate)

Non-Hormonal

  • Intrauterine Device (IUD):  A copper device that does not allow conception to occur is placed in the uterus by your doctor.  It is effective for up to 10 years.  (99% effective rate)
  • Diaphragm:  This is a device placed into the vagina before sex that prevents sperm from entering the uterus.  Your doctor will fit you for the correct size and teach you how to use it.  This is always used with spermicide.  (94% effective rate)
  • Cervical Cap:  This is a device placed into the vagina before sex that prevents sperm from entering the uterus.  Your doctor will fit you for the correct size and teach you how to use it.  This is always used with spermicide.  (84% effective rate if you’ve had a baby; 91% effective rate if you have not had a baby) 
  • Spermicide:  This is a substance that kills sperm, which is placed in the vagina no more than one hour before sex.  It comes in foams, jellies, creams, and vaginal suppositories, and it is more effective when used with a diaphragm, cervical cap, or condom.  (94% effective rate)
  • Condom:  This is a device that is placed over the penis before sex but after the penis has become erect.  It catches the sperm and prevents it from entering a woman’s body.  A new condom must be used every time you have sex.  (97% effective rate)
  • Female Condom:  This is a device that is placed in the vagina up to eight hours before sex.  It catches the sperm and prevents it from entering a woman’s body.  A new female condom must be used every time you have sex.  (95% effective rate)  
  • Sterilization:  Men and women can be sterilized through surgery.  Men can have a vasectomy, a surgery which interrupts the vas deferens and prevents the sperm from entering the semen so that semen is ejaculated without sperm.  Women have two surgery options.  They can have a tubal ligation to cut or pinch shut their fallopian tubes, or they can have coils placed inside their fallopian tubes to create blockage and scarring.  Both methods prevent the egg from getting to the uterus.  Sterilization is a permanent form of birth control.  (Greater than 99% effective rate) 

How do I decide which contraception method is best for me?

Choosing the best method for you depends on whether or not you can take hormones, and whether or not you want to take hormones.  Women who are 35 or older and smoke, and women with certain medical conditions, should not take hormones.  Your doctor can tell you whether hormonal contraception methods are safe for you. 

Once you know whether you’ll be using hormonal or non-hormonal contraception, become informed about how the different methods work, and take several things into consideration when deciding which exact method to use.  Since some hormonal methods are long lasting, think about whether or not you want to become pregnant in the future, and if so, when you would like to become pregnant.  For each method you are considering, think about how likely you are to use it correctly, how safe it is, how effective it is, how much it costs, and whether it offers protection from STD’s.  Keep in mind that more than one method can be used at the same time.  For example, a hormonal method is often used with condoms.

No matter which method you and your doctor choose, make sure you know how it works, how to use it correctly, and what possible side effects you might experience.  Keep in mind that as your needs change, you may want to look at the options again and choose a different method. 

We hope you find the above information about contraception options helpful.  Our next blog entry will address why contraception methods sometimes fail and how to maximize the effectiveness of different methods.