When your method of contraception fails, it can create a sense of urgency and crisis. Luckily, emergency contraception is available as a backup option — but it is not the answer to all your contraception needs. It is usually called upon to avert a crisis; once the emergency passes, it’s important to take a moment to step back, reexamine your current sexual-health practices, and make new choices for the future.
Obviously, the first issue to address is whether you have confidence in your current form of birth control. Has it become troublesome or even unreliable? If that’s the case, it might be time to talk to your doctor about other options for preventing pregnancy. Also, it is important to keep in mind that these birth-control methods for women do not prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
Here are some of the best contraceptive methods available today:
Hormonal birth-control pills. Also known“the pill” or OC (oral contraceptive), the hormonal birth-control pill comes in a variety of options, but they are all formulated with hormones such as progestin. These hormones prevent the body from releasing an egg, which in turn prevents possible fertilization and pregnancy.
Hormonal contraceptives have greatly evolved in recent years. They range from pills formulated with folic acid to those that allow you to have your period just four times a year. Side effects of hormonal birth control are not uncommon and can sometimes be problematic. Some women report changes in mood, weight gain, and even loss of libido. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the different brands and formulations of birth-control pills and realize that it might take some trial and error to discover the brand that works best for you and your body. If you decide you want to discontinue a brand you are taking and try another, talk to your doctor first before stopping; timing can be tricky, and you don’t want to leave yourself unprotected. If you repeatedly encounter unpleasant side effects on oral contraceptives, then you might want to consider another method of contraception altogether.
Vaginal contraceptive rings. Vaginal contraceptive rings are inserted once a month and worn for three weeks. When it is time for your period, you remove the ring. When inserted correctly, the ring is comfortable and most women report that they can’t feel it. The hormones in vaginal contraceptive rings are the same as those in birth-control pills (such as progestin), and they prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg for fertilization. If you have trouble remembering to take a pill every day, then a vaginal contraceptive ring might be a good option for you. Some people also believe that women suffer fewer hormonal side effects from vaginal contraceptive rings, since the hormones are localized and not circulated throughout the entire body.
Intrauterine devices. An intrauterine device, or the “IUD” as it is more commonly known, is an implant that is placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The IUD prevents sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg, and the hormonal IUD includes progestin that also keeps the ovaries from releasing an egg. The hormonal IUD is a good option for women who prefer a small amount of hormones to help control their menstrual cycles. However, if you suffer from unpleasant side effects as a result of hormones, then the nonhormonal IUD might be the best option for you. Either option requires a doctor’s visit and the implantation of this small, T-shaped device. Once implanted, it works for years, and it does not negatively impact fertility once it is removed.
There are many other options when it comes to preventing pregnancy, including the birth-control sponge, the birth-control shot, and the diaphragmmethod.
The birth-control sponge. A small, foamy sponge that is inserted into the vagina before intercourse, it prevents the sperm from reaching the egg and is also formulated with spermicide that helps to stop sperm from moving. The sponge has many benefits (such as the fact that it is nonhormonal), but it can also be problematic: Some women report that it makes sex uncomfortable or dry. It can also be difficult for some women to insert or remove, and improper placement of the sponge can lead to unwanted pregnancy.
The birth-control shot. A hormonal injection that prevents pregnancy for up to three months, the birth-control shot offers women a no-hassle way to prevent pregnancy without having to worry about taking a pill or carrying a sponge or diaphragm; but it can also have unpleasant hormonal side effects, such as weight gain, changes in menstruation, and loss of sex drive.
The diaphragm. A barrier-method option, the diaphragm is a small cup that is inserted into the vagina before sex and fits over the cervix. It works by preventing sperm from reaching the uterus, and many women also use spermicide in conjunction with the diaphragm to prevent sperm motility. The diaphragm is comfortable when inserted correctly, and it is a hormone-free method, so it does not have side effects associated with hormonal contraceptives. However, it can be difficult to insert in the correct way, and it can also become dislodged during intercourse.
There are many other forms of birth control, including methods for men. Condoms are a reliable and simple way to help prevent pregnancy; however, as with all the methods listed above, there is some risk of failure. Men can also undergo vasectomy, which is considered a permanent form of birth control (and is quite effective after all remaining sperm is absorbed or ejaculated and a sample sperm count is shown to be zero). However, the only way to completely prevent pregnancy is abstinence. You can also consider other methods of sexual intimacy that do not come with the risk of pregnancy, such as manual stimulation and oral sex. But, remember, you should still use protection, as sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs/STDs) can be transmitted during oral sex.
Talk to your doctor about which method of contraception is best for you, and familiarize yourself with emergency contraception so you know where to turn if you have a mishap. And always, always practice safer sex.