Birth control (contraception)
When we think of birth control for women, we might often only think about something to put in our body, like the pill, intrauterine device (IUD) or condoms. But, there are other kinds of birth control as well, like the rhythm method, vasectomy , tubal ligation — even abstinence. (The oldest trick in the book, literally). Think of birth control as any pregnancy prevention method — temporary or permanent.1
If you’ve never looked into the history of contraception, take a five-minute break for an entertaining history lesson. Humans have tried all sorts of things to avoid pregnancy over time, but it wasn’t until the 1960s when the first form of contraception hit the American market — the pill. Since the birth control pill, there have been lots of advances in contraceptives. If you’re sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant, a method of birth control may be a smart choice. You’ve got lots to choose from.
What are the different types of birth control?
Your overall health, future plans to have kids and personal preference will help determine the method of birth control that’s best for you. Be sure to do your research. Your doctor can answer any questions you have to help you decide.
Here are some options:2, 3
- Abstinence: The most effective birth control is to not have sex. Plain and simple, right? Abstaining from sex is a personal choice that should be respected — and it’s 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.
- Sterilization: A permanent, surgical method to preventing pregnancy is sterilization. Women have their tubes tied (called a tubal ligation) and men get their vasa deferentia cut and sealed (called a vasectomy). This might be something a husband or wife might choose after they’ve had the number of children they want. Or certain health conditions may require one of these procedures to help keep someone healthy.
- Long-acting reversible contraceptives: These are put inside your body and last anywhere from 3 to 10 years, depending on the method you choose. IUDs and hormonal implants are examples of this kind of contraception.
- Short-acting hormonal contraceptives: These are methods you use regularly — sometimes daily. The birth control pill, patch, injection and vaginal ring are all short-acting hormonal contraceptives.
- Barrier methods: These are things you use every time you have sex, like condoms, diaphragms, sponge and cervical cap.
- Natural rhythm methods: Also called natural family planning, this method tracks a woman’s menstrual cycle history to predict ovulation. This helps determine when she’ll likely be most fertile and able to get pregnant. Couples may also use this method to try and get pregnant.4
Most women start hormonal birth control as a way to help prevent pregnancy, but there are a handful of other women who choose it for other health reasons. Here’s a list of other ways hormonal contraceptives might help you:5
- Regular and lighter periods: The hormones in some birth control methods help regulate your cycle, so you know when your next period will be. For example, the pill makes the lining of your uterus thinner, which could help with heavy periods. Lighter periods reduce your risk of getting iron-deficiency anemia from heavy flows.
- Reduced PMS: It could help with things like cramping, mood swings, bloating, tender breasts and menstrual migraines.
- Clear skin and reduce unwanted hair: It may help reduce levels of male hormones in your ovaries, which could help clear up your skin and lessen some unwanted hair on your body (think upper lip, between breasts or down the inner thigh).
- Relief from endometriosis symptoms: It might help with painful periods and cramps from endometriosis.
- A lower risk of some cancers: Hormonal birth may lower your risk of getting some cancers, like ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.
Hormonal contraception includes anything that changes your body’s natural hormone levels, like the pill, patch, injection and any other hormonal implant. These contraceptives create a stable hormonal environment and this consistent level helps to prevent ovulation (release of an egg). Any chemicals or medications in your body might cause some unwanted side effects and pose certain risks. Be sure to do your research and talk with your doctor about all the possible side effects. Short-term side effects could be things like:5, 6
- Sore breasts
- Spotting between periods
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood changes
Long-term side effects can be more serious, so be sure to spend time learning about them. If you have a chronic medical condition, certain hormonal contraception methods maybe be preferred over others. Long-term effects of certain hormonal birth controls may include increased risk of high blood pressure or blood clots, which could lead to stroke or heart attack.
Every woman’s body will react differently to hormonal birth control. If you try one and notice negative side effects, talk to your doctor about switching to a birth control that might work better with your body.
Emergency contraception (often referred to as “the morning after pill”) is a controversial form of contraception. It’s often used after forgetting to take some birth control pills in a row, after a condom breaks during sex or if you’re not using a birth control method at all. It’s important to know that emergency contraception doesn’t cause an abortion, nor will it harm a growing fetus if you take it while pregnant.7 Emergency contraception prevents a pregnancy before it happens. If your current method of birth control fails during sex and you choose to take emergency contraception, be sure to read any risks and side-effects beforehand. You can often find a form of emergency contraception at your local pharmacy. Use that time to ask the professionals behind the counter what you should consider before taking it.
Emergency contraception isn’t a long-term form of birth control and shouldn’t be taken regularly. If you need a reliable method of birth control, visit your doctor to discuss your options.7
How to get birth control
In the market for new birth control or ready to start one? Schedule a visit with your primary care provider (the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly physical). The type of birth control your doctor recommends will be based on your age, overall health, lifestyle, personal preference and family history. Be sure to write down your questions and concerns before you head out.