Condoms are a must for safer sex, but when it comes to preventing pregnancy, most women prefer to pair condoms with another method as well. Thankfully, we are fortunate to live in a society in which birth-control options are plentiful, legal, and affordable.
If you aren’t sure which option is best for you and your individual needs, consider the following pros and cons of each
Hormonal Birth-Control Pills
Birth-control pills work by stopping ovulation; without ovulation there is no egg to fertilize. There are a wide range of birth-control pills on the market today, and some promise to do everything from improving your skin to decreasing PMS symptoms. There are even birth-control pills that can decrease your periods to only four times a year. However, there are some risks involved with hormonal birth control, including blood clots, weight gain, and decreased libido.
While birth-control pills have an efficacy rate of 85 percent to 87 percent on average, there is also plenty of room for human error. It’s important to take your birth control at the same time each and every day, and you should also remember that some medications (such as antibiotics like ampicillin and some diabetes medications) can interfere with the effectiveness of your birth-control pills.
Vaginal Contraceptive Rings
Contraceptive rings are small, transparent rings that you insert into your vagina once a month to prevent pregnancies. They release small doses of hormones throughout the month and work in a way that is similar to the birth-control pill; however, you don’t have to worry about taking a pill every day.
Vaginal contraceptive rings also have benefits that are similar to that of the pill (decreased PMS symptoms, for example), but they have similar side effects (like weight gain and blood clots) as well; and some women experience yeast infections or vaginal discomfort as a result of using the ring. If you are too busy or too forgetful to take the pill at the same time every day, then the ring might be a viable option for you…but, remember, neither the ring nor the pill protects against STDs.
Barrier Methods: Diaphragms and Sponges
Although the pill and the ring have become popular options, some prefer the barrier methods, like the diaphragm and the sponge. The barrier methods prevent the sperm from reaching the egg, as opposed to how the pill and ring work, which is by hormonally changing a woman’s body to prevent pregnancy.
The sponge is a small, doughnut-shaped barrier that is inserted into the vagina before sex. If used correctly, it has an 87 percent efficacy rate; however, human error can decrease this percentage. It is important to insert it correctly every time (if inserted correctly, neither the man nor the woman should feel it during sex). Sponges come with spermicide, which kills sperm.
The diaphragm is a latex cup that you insert into your vagina before sex, and it prevents sperm from reaching the egg. Diaphragms are around 85 percent effective if used correctly; however, human error tends to decrease this figure. You should also use spermicide with your diaphragm to increase its efficacy rate.
The IUD is a small T-shaped device that is implanted into your uterus by your ob-gyn. IUDs prevent pregnancy by damaging or killing sperm before they reach the egg. Once implanted, IUDs are effective for anywhere from five to ten years, depending on the type you select.
There are two forms of IUDs: hormonal IUDs and non-hormonal IUDs. Non-hormonal IUDs are made of copper, which creates changes in the mucus and uterus that kills sperm or makes them immobile, thus preventing pregnancy. This is a great option for women who are very sensitive to or want to avoid all hormones. There is also a plastic IUD that contains a small dose of progestin; it can help to decrease the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as well as help to decrease PMS symptoms.
However, choosing the IUD is advisable only if you are in a monogamous relationship. If you contract an STD while you are using an IUD, the device could cause the STD to move into the uterus and potentially cause PID. Hence, it is recommended only for those in committed relationships. Also noteworthy is the fact that the IUD can be removed at any time and it does not negatively affect fertility if you plan to become pregnant in the future.
As you can see, there are many birth-control methods on the market today, and each of them come with their own pros and cons. Choosing which one works best for you might require a bit of trial and error. Keep in mind that this is a very important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Talk to your doctor about your options, and remember, none of these methods protect against STDs! Only condoms can do that.