With so many choices available for birth control, it’s important to know the benefits and side effects of each method. Your choice of a birth control is a personal decision, based on your lifestyle, budget and health concerns.
The basics of birth control
A woman can get pregnant if she has sex around the time of ovulation, which is when one of her ovaries releases an egg into a fallopian tube. For most women from their early teens through their late 40s, ovulation occurs once a month, about 12 to 14 days before the menstrual period starts.
If a sperm joins with an egg in a fallopian tube, the egg becomes fertilized. The fertilized egg then begins moving down the fallopian tube to the uterus where it can attach to the lining of the uterus and begin to grow.
Birth control can work in several ways, including:
- blocking sperm from reaching the egg
- damaging or killing sperm
- preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs
- changing the lining of the uterus to prevent attachment by the fertilized egg
- thickening the mucus in the cervix so that sperm cannot pass through it
Types of birth control
Barrier methods include condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms and sponges. Of these, only condoms made of latex are recommended to prevent transmission of STDs.
Hormonal methods such as surgical implants (Norplant), injections (Depo-Provera), birth control pills (“the Pill”) and birth control patches all work by suppressing ovulation. When used properly, these methods are generally very effective in preventing pregnancy. However, they do not prevent STDs, and side effects can include menstrual cycle changes, weight gain, breast tenderness and loss of bone mass.
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are highly reliable in preventing pregnancy. Since they do not protect against STDs, they are often the choice of women who are in monogamous relationships. IUDs should only be placed in the uterus by a health care professional. Complications are rare but possible.
Spermicides include vaginal lotions, foams, jelly, films, suppositories, and tablets containing sperm-killing chemicals. They are available without a prescription, but they can be less effective than other methods.
Fertility awareness involves abstaining from sex or using a barrier birth control method such as a condom during the time when a woman is at highest risk of becoming pregnant.
Surgical sterilization is highly effective method for both men and women, but since it is difficult or impossible to reverse, it is only recommended when you’re sure you don’t want to become pregnant in the future. Women are sterilized by blocking the fallopian tubes and men with a procedure called a vasectomy, which involves cutting or obstructing the tube that carries sperm to the penis from the testicles. As with all forms of surgery, complications are possible.
Emergency contraception can be used after unprotected sex or if there is a concern that birth control was ineffective (such as a broken condom). There are two types of emergency contraception available. The first is an IUD, placed in the uterus by a health care professional within five days of intercourse. The second method is called Plan B, or “morning-after pills”. Plan B pills should be taken within five days (preferably three or less) of intercourse and are 75–89% effective at preventing pregnancy. Plan B pills may cause nausea, vomiting and other side effects. If you are at least 18 years old, Plan B can be bought in pharmacies without a prescription. Neither emergency contraception method prevents STDs.
What to consider when choosing a method of birth control
Here are some things to consider when choosing a method:
- side effects
- whether you are likely to use it as directed
- whether a prescription is needed
- whether you want to have children later
- your health
- your age
- how frequently you have sex
- number of sexual partners
- STD protection
- your partner’s sexual history
- whether you or your partner has ever used intravenous drugs
- whether you engage in risky sex practices such as anal sex, which can tear skin and mucus membranes
If you need birth control in Connecticut, feel free to contact my office at 203-855-3535. If you’re undecided about the type of birth control that would be best for you, or if you need information about emergency contraception or STDs, give us a call. We can answer your questions and help you find the birth control method that suits your needs and lifestyle.