If you’re considering having sex for the first time, know that you are making a very, very smart and healthy choice by exploring birth-control options in advance!
Decisions made (or not made) in the heat of passion can have life-long repercussions. You are the ultimate shepherd of your own sexual health. Starting out on the right course will go a long way toward keeping you safe and protected.
Unfortunately, the only sex that is 100 percent safe is the kind you don’t have. You can never completely protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — which I also like to refer to now as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Across the board when it comes to STI stats, women are more at risk for developing them than are men because the physiology of the female genitals makes them more susceptible to bacteria and infection.
The good news is that finding birth control to fit your specific needs and lifestyle has never been easier. Today women (and men) have more choices available to them than ever before. You’ll want to visit your gynecologist to further discuss your options and make sure you’re in good sexual health, but here’s a primer on some of the options available to you.
Make “no glove, no love” your motto
While it may be your first time, it may not be his! Unless you’re both virgins, you both need to have had a clean complete STI panel for at least six months; it’s not worth the risk to skip this step. Condoms should be your first line of prevention as they have an 85 percent to 98 percent success rate at preventing pregnancy when used correctly, and they are the only way to help prevent the spread of STIs.
If your boyfriend doesn’t like the idea of wearing a condom, let him know that condoms now are more fun than they’ve ever been and they come in a wide variety of flavors. Many of the condoms on the market today are created with the enjoyment of both partners in mind.
Remember, you can contract an STI through oral sex, just as you can through penetrative sex. So you will want to incorporate condoms when you are performing oral sex — or a dental dam, when on the receiving end.
The Benefits of Oral Contraceptives
You may already be taking the pill, since many young women and adolescent girls are frequently prescribed oral contraceptive pills for other reasons including irregular or absent menstrual periods, menstrual cramps, acne, and PMS. If you aren’t, the pill is considered by many young women to be a simple and unobtrusive way to protect against unwanted pregnancy. It contains estrogen and progesterone, which work together to prevent fertilization. The pill can have a 99 percent efficacy rate if taken correctly and won’t impact your future fertility.
Thanks to medical advances, there are a number of different types of pills with different pros and cons. In the past many women who took the pill had unpleasant side effects, including weight gain, mood swings, and decreased libido. Newer low-dose progesterone pills have fewer side effects. In fact, with some new pills, you can get your period only four times a year. Other pills are specifically targeted to reduce acne. It’s important to have a gynecologist, a clinic, or someone at your university health center discuss which pill may be best for you and whether a pill is even the right choice for you. Be aware that just because you are having side effects from one pill formula, it doesn’t mean you should rule out oral contraceptives entirely. But remember, the pill doesn’t protect against STIs, so you must make your partner wear a condom.
The IUC is a small T-shaped device which is implanted into your uterus by your ob-gyn. They prevent pregnancy by damaging or killing sperm before it reaches the egg, and once implanted, they are effective for anywhere from 5 to 10 years, depending on the IUC you select.
There are two forms of IUC, including hormonal IUCs and non-hormonal IUCs. Non-hormonal IUCs are made of copper, which is fatal for sperm and hence prevents pregnancy. This is a great option for women who are very sensitive to or want to avoid all hormones. Paraguard, a hormonal IUC, has a small dose of progestin and can help to decrease risk of pelvic inflammatory disease as well as help to decrease PMS symptoms. The IUC can be removed at any time and it does not negatively affect fertility if you plan to become pregnant in the future.
The IUC has many benefits, including the fact that is a one-time procedure and therefore less expensive than costly birth control prescriptions. It also allows for spontaneity and requires no prior preparation. One caveat: It should only be used by couples in a long-term and monogamous relationship as IUCs can worsen the effects of STDs.
Contraceptive rings are small, transparent rings that are inserted into the vagina once a month, and then removed during your period. Like the pill, the ring releases a small dose of hormones throughout the month. This might be a good option for you if you’re looking for an easy method but have sensitivity to hormones, since users of the ring may suffer fewer side effects than those who use oral contraceptives. You even leave them in during sex (most men report that they can’t feel it, or that it feels similar to the cervix and isn’t disruptive in any way). You are too busy or too forgetful to take the pill at the same time everyday, then the ring might be a viable option for you…but, remember, neither the ring nor the pill protects against STDs.
The diaphragm is a latex cup that you insert into your vagina before sex. If used correctly with spermicide it has around an 85 percent efficacy rate. While it may seem cumbersome and difficult, it’s another option that works for women who don’t want to use long-term birth control like an IUC. You should also use spermicide with your diaphragm in order to increase its efficacy rate. Spermicide is made up of chemicals which prevent the sperm from moving or reaching the egg, and you insert the product into your vagina with your fingers or an applicator. It comes in many forms, including liquid, foam, and gel form, but they all consist of the same basic chemicals.
With these methods of birth control as well, you will still need to use condoms to protect against STIs.
As your relationship changes, you may want to change your contraceptive. Remember at every age and at every stage of your sex life, you need to protect your sexual and reproductive health!