Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I have been having vaginal intercourse with my male partner for the last 5 months. I am very nervous about getting pregnant, and wanted to know more about the different methods of birth control. Can you tell me which method you think would be best for me?
Petrified of Pregnancy
Dear Petrified of Pregnancy,
Thanks for asking! I should start off by saying that I (and the SHCs) cannot tell you which method of birth control would be right for you in particular. You should consult your doctor or gynecologist to see which method of birth control they would think would work best for you and your body. However, I’m happy to give you more information on the many different birth control methods out there.
Abstinence is of course the safest method, but only if you want to use it, and it sounds like you’ve made a decision not to, so we’ll discuss the other methods. Using a male condom is a good choice. Not only are you protecting yourself against pregnancy, but STIs as well! See our previous column in the Daily Gazette for more information about condom use and preventing breakage.
As last week’s column noted, there is also the reality, or female, condom. This, like the male condom, protects against STIs in addition to pregnancy. If you were intending on using the reality/female condom for vaginal intercourse, you would insert the condom into your vagina before intercourse, using the flexible ring to guide your placement. It is also safe for those who have a latex allergy. In addition, the reality/female condom and male condom are good choices if you prefer to not use hormonal methods of birth control.
Speaking of which, there are a variety of hormonal methods of birth control from which you can select. The birth control pill may be the best-known, and Worth can provide you with the pill for $11 per pack. Birth control pills are most effective when you take them at the same time everyday, so I would suggest either setting an alarm or linking it with some other part of your daily routine (like brushing your teeth). While taking the pill, some women experience breast tenderness, as well as nausea and vomiting. If you are intending on taking progestin-only pills (most pills are a combination of progestin and estrogen), you may also have some spotting between periods. If the side effects are too much for you, you and your doctor can try different brands of pills until you find one that works.
You can also decide to use the NuvaRing. It is a tiny plastic ring that rests comfortably in the vagina. It will remain in place during vaginal intercourse (many men and women say that they cannot feel it at all), but it can also be removed for up to 3 hours at a time without decreasing its effectiveness. The ring remains inside the vagina for three weeks, and is then taken out for a week, during which time you will have your period. The NuvaRing has similar side effects to the birth control pill.
Some women choose to use the birth control shot. The shot is effective for three months, so you should plan on going to your doctor to have the shot every 12 weeks. Like the NuvaRing, this method does not require you to remember to take your birth control at the same time every day. The length of your period can fluctuate if you take the shot, and some uncommon side effects include weight gain/appetite change, hair loss/body hair growth, changes in sex drive, and tender breasts.
There are also semi-permanent methods of birth control. First, there is Implanonâ„¢. It is a small plastic rod that you can have inserted into your arm. It continuously releases hormones, preventing pregnancy for up to three years. After the three years, Implanonâ„¢ can be removed, and another can be inserted. Like the birth control shots, Implanonâ„¢ can modify your period, and like the pill, cause some spotting between periods. More infrequent side effects include hair loss, depression, acne, and appetite changes.
You can also choose to have an IUD inserted into your uterus, hence the name, intrauterine device. IUDs are relatively rare in the United States, but over 150 million women world-wide use them, including nearly half of married women in China. There are two main kinds of IUDs, hormonal and non-hormonal. Nonhormonal kinds of IUDs are made out of copper, which acts as a natural spermicide. IUDs can cause spotting between periods, and nonhormonal IUDs can cause a heavy menstrual flow. There are also the rare but potentially serious complications of infections and IUD slippage.
If you have any more questions, feel free to ask me or any of the other SHCs! Also, if you are interested in learning more about this and related sexual health topics, come to our Parlor Party tonight, February 12th. We will have food, condoms, and lube!
Amelia Kidd and the SHCs