Get Physical

The Ins and Outs of Birth Control and Everything Your School Should Have Taught You

by Raven Ishak

Last week, women across the web expressed their frustrations and concerns over the comments that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh made during his confirmation hearing. His conservative perception of contraceptives, especially women’s birth control, sparked outrage as he claimed that some forms of birth control are “abortion-inducing drugs,” after Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz inquired about his dissent of Priests for Life v. the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While it’s not 100 percent certain that Kavanaugh is said to believe in these arguments himself, as people are claiming he was just reiterating the statements made by Priests for Life, it is concerning to hear these words in conjunction with his other views of women’s rights issues during such a tumultuous time for women.

For most women who are sexually active, birth control is a safe way to prevent pregnancy or help some who are dealing with ovarian/uterine issues such as endometriosis or PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). “Birth control allows you to take ‘control’ to prevent pregnancy and to get pregnant on your own terms,” says Dr. Sherry A. Ross, Women’s Health Expert and Author of she-ologyThe Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “Luckily, we have many choices in selecting a birth control that works best for a woman and her specific concerns.”

While we have the accessibility to acquire these forms of birth control as of right now, it’s imperative that we continue to educate ourselves about the kinds of contraceptives that are available, how you can use them and if you should.

If you’ve been considering talking with your OBGYN doctor about birth control, but don’t exactly know where to start or if you simply just want to know more about what you’re putting inside your body, you can scroll below to get a basic rundown from Dr. Ross herself of all the different types of birth control that are available and how they work, including Plan B One-Step.

What different types of birth control are out there and how does someone know which one to try?

If a woman has concerns about side effects from the hormonal forms of birth control such as the pill, I may talk to her about considering the IUD. If a woman doesn’t like taking a pill every day because she is forgetful, she may want to consider any of the long-acting birth control methods or the Nuvaring. If the cost is a concern, the pill may be the least costly and most effective option depending on her insurance coverage. I find it useful to go through each of the methods to see if the woman might not have considered one of the forms she knew very little about.

The other long-acting birth control method is Nexplanon which is made of the hormone progesterone and is an arm implant that lasts for three years. The Nexplanon protects you from getting pregnant for three years and makes your period light or non-existent without having to ingest a pill every day.

Barrier methods including the diaphragm, cervical cap and condoms are not as reliable in preventing pregnancy but are alternatives for those women who are sensitive to the hormonal effects of other birth control options.

The Rhythm Method relies on you tracking your menstrual cycle and avoiding sex during your most fertile days. It’s a non-hormonal option with the high chance of [accidentally] getting pregnant.

The Pull-Out method also known as “Pull and Pray”, is where your male partner doesn’t ejaculate inside the vagina. Since there is a small amount of sperm released prior to a man ejaculating this method also has a high failure rate and is not a reliable birth control option.

Let’s break it down: how exactly does birth control work? 

Depending on the type of birth control you feel most comfortable with will determine how it prevents pregnancy. If you are using a hormonal method, such as the pill, it will prevent ovulation, the IUD’s and barrier methods prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg.

What are some stigma’s you wish people would no longer think of when they hear that someone is taking birth control or Plan B One-Step?

The most common stigma or myth is that Plan B One-Step will induce an abortion which is completely untrue. Another one is that Plan B One-Step will make it hard to get pregnant later or make you sterile if you use it repeatedly.

What about Plan B One-Step? How exactly does that work? Some people believe it can actually terminate the fetus; however, it doesn’t work like that, correct?

The most common emergency contraception is a high dose of hormones taken ideally within 72 hours of having vagina-penis sex to prevent pregnancy in 89 percent of the time. Pregnancy is prevented by delaying the ovary from releasing an egg so you do not ovulate. If the egg is not released the sperm cannot fertilize the egg and pregnancy will not occur.

If someone wants to learn more about the different types and ways they can take contraceptives, where are some of the best resources they can use?

If your health care provider is your best resource for information on birth control and how it will personally affect you. You should definitely do some “online” research at reputable medical sites like Web MD or Mayo Clinic before going to your health care provider so you can have a productive conversation on what method is best for you.

Other reliable sites include Planned Parenthood or Go Ask Alice to get relatable information on the variety of birth control methods available.

Are there types of women out there who shouldn’t use birth control or Plan B?

If you smoke cigarettes after the age of 35 years old, have thrombophilia, a history or a family history of blood clots, a genetic problem that causes clotting or are having surgery or any condition that prevents you from moving around or getting up, you are even more at risk for blood clots and should not use the pill or Plan B as a form of contraception.

If you have high blood pressure you should not be taking the birth control pill with estrogen and progesterone.

If you have any risk factors that prevent you from taking the pill or Plan B, the IUD is a safe birth control alternative.

Women who are not a good candidate for an IUD those who have had PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), may be pregnant or have had or at risk of having an ectopic pregnancy, may have breast, cervical or uterine cancer, have uterine fibroids, or may have an allergy to the components in the Skyla, Mirana, Liletta or Paragard IUD.

Women who want a birth control method that will help control acne, premenstrual symptoms, balance hormonal levels, protect against ovarian cancer or ovarian cysts or want a birth control covered by insurance policies should not use IUD’s.

Are there any harmful side effects to these forms of contraceptives?

The most common side effects [of] the birth control pill include irregular bleeding, nausea, breast tenderness, bloating and headaches. It’s important to know these side effects are temporary and if they don’t go away in two to three months, you should change to another type of pill—because there are many different types and combinations of estrogen and progesterone depending on your side effects and body type. Study after study does not show weight gain to be a side effect of the pill.

The cause of these side effects depends on how sensitive you are to these man-made or synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormones. There are many different brands of OCP’s each varying in the types and doses of these two key hormones. Some women are more sensitive to one or both of these hormones exacerbating these side effects.

Women who have a hard time with the Nexplanon hormonal implant or IUD have side effects that are disruptive in their daily life. Women using the copper IUD may experience heavier, longer and more painful periods. Those using the progesterone IUD may experience irregular bleeding and cramping during the first three to six months and some women will not have a period at all, which is often a welcomed side effect but for some, this is not an ok side effect. If these side effects are persistent and disruptive, you may not want to use the Nexplanon hormonal implant or IUD as your form of birth control.

Barrier methods such as the diaphragm and cervical cap can make you more prone to yeast and bacterial infections.

Feature image via Vanessa Granda

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