Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned and it’s easy to become overwhelmed when choosing contraception. Understanding the options available is the first step in choosing a contraception method that’s right for you.
Contraception options can fall into two key categories, contraception for birth control, or contraception that aims to prevent both pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Both parties in a sexual relationship should be aware and in agreement about the method of contraception you decide to use.
Short-Term Contraception Options:
Abstinence is a decision to refrain from sexual intercourse for a period, or completely.
Pros: A natural, free method and the only contraception method that is 100% effective.
Cons: Abstinence needs to be practiced consistently to be effective, which can be a difficult decision for individuals or couples to maintain. You should be prepared to use other contraception should you decide to end a period of abstinence.
Male condoms are a well-known contraception option which also help prevent against STIs, they act as a barrier to stop sperm during sex.
Pros: Condoms protect against pregnancy and STIs most of the time, although they are not 100% effective, and should always be used in-date and checked for any rips. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to apply.
Cons: Some men and women may have an allergic reaction to common latex condoms and may need to use non-latex versions. You need to have a condom handy in moments of spontaneity, so you should keep well-stocked.
Female condoms are plastic pouches that are inserted into the vagina to prevent sperm entering, similar to the male condom.
Pros: These are widely available and can be inserted up to 8 hours before having intercourse.
Cons: These do not protect completely from STIs and are less effective than male condoms. Like male condoms, female condoms can’t be re-used.
If you are confident that both yourself and sexual partner have undergone STI checks and are clear of any infections, then you may wish to use one of the following contraception only options:
Natural Family Planning:
Natural family planning, or fertility awareness, involves monitoring a women’s natural fertility cycle and abstaining from sex at the times she is fertile.
Pros: A free and natural option which may suit women who are opposed to taking drugs, have previously suffered from side effects of other options, or for women who are taking other medication which might interfere with contraceptive drugs.
Cons: Successfully monitoring your cycle can be difficult and WebMD reports around 25% of women still get pregnant. Speak to your doctor to gain more information on managing your fertility cycle.
Spermicide is a gel or foam that is inserted into the vagina before sex.
Pros: An easy to use option which is relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Regular use can cause irritation or tissue damage, which can increase your risks of contracting an STI if not used alongside a condom.
Diaphragm or Cervical Cap:
Diaphragms and cervical caps are fitted into the vagina and used alongside spermicide to prevent sperm reaching the cervix. The cervical cap is slightly smaller and has a higher failure rate for women who have previously had children.
Pros: Can be reused and are cost effective over time.
Cons: Both options need to be fitted by a doctor and they do not offer STI protection. They can’t be used during your period as it may increase your risk of toxic shock syndrome. Both the diaphragm and cervical cap have failure rates of 15% or more, and a higher likelihood of failure if you have previously had children.
Birth Control Pills:
This is a medication taken daily to prevent pregnancy. There are many different options on the market, with varying side effects or benefits. The side effects and benefits of birth control can differ between individuals.
Pros: Many women find birth control helps to regulate periods and diminishes period flow, period pain, cramps or acne. Some women can stop their periods completely while using birth control pills.
Cons: Birth control pills can be more expensive than other contraception, depending on the type of pill you’re using and how often you are having sex. Some women experience side effects of the medication, including weight gain, breast tenderness, blood clotting or increased blood pressure.
You should always speak to your doctor about taking birth control pills, as some women may be pre-disposed to increased side effects. Women over 35 who smoke are often advised to avoid contraceptive pills.
Withdrawal is a technique where the man withdraws or ‘pulls out’ from intercourse before ejaculating.
Pros: This is a natural and free birth control option.
Cons: Withdrawal can be difficult to time properly and is often ineffective, especially if practiced incorrectly.
Long Term Birth Control Options:
If you are looking for long term birth control then there are several options available, however these do not protect against STIs.
- Vaginal Ring: lasts one month
- Birth Control Shot: lasts three months
- Birth Control Implant: lasts three years
- IUD: lasts four to 10 years
Permanent Birth Control:
If you never want to have children, or have decided not to expand your family, then you may consider permanent birth control options such as:
- Tubal Ligation
- Tubal Implants
- Vasectomy (Male)
Emergency contraception pills can be taken up to 5 days after intercourse. Over the counter pills usually need to be taken within 72 hours. Prescription varieties can be taken up to 5 days after intercourse. Both options are more effective if taken as soon as possible. Emergency contraception is not as effective as condoms or birth control pills. They should not be taken as your regular contraceptive, but are back-up when other methods have failed, for example if a condom breaks.
- Your Birth Control Options
- Contraception Choices in Women with Underlying Medical Conditions
- Birth control methods
To learn more about women’s health services and family planning options, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.