Birth control options may include oral contraceptives, barrier methods or natural family planning. In making the choice of which method of birth control is best, certain points should be considered.
1. What options are available:
- Barrier methods: Include male and female condoms, as well as the diaphragm, cervical cap and contraceptive sponge.
- Hormonal methods: Include birth control pills, as well as the vaginal ring (NuvaRing), contraceptive implant (Implanon), contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera) and contraceptive patch (Ortho Evra).
- IntraIntrauterine Devices (IUD): Include the copper IUD and the hormonal IUD (Mirena).
- Sterilization: Include tubal ligation, Essure and Adiana for women, and vasectomy for men.
- Natural family planning: Include the rhythm, basal body temperature and cervical mucus methods.
It is also important to be aware of emergency contraception methods, such as the morning-after pill (Contraplan II), which usually contain levonorgestrel and can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex (usually within 72-hours).
2. How do they work?
Various types of birth control work in different ways. Birth control methods may:
- Prevent sperm from reaching the egg.
- Inactivate or damage the sperm.
- Prevent an egg from being released each month.
- Alter the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg doesn’t attach to it.
- Thicken cervical mucus so sperm can’t easily pass through it.
3. Which method is effective?
In order to be effective, any method of contraception must be used consistently and correctly. Contraceptives requiring little effort on the patient’s part, such as IUDs, contraceptive implants and sterilization, carry lower pregnancy rates; while methods requiring monitoring fertility or periodic abstinence are associated with higher pregnancy rates.
4. Is it reversible?
The method of contraception a couple chooses depends upon their reproductive goals. If pregnancy is desired in the near future, one may want a method that is easily stopped or quickly reversed, such as an oral contraceptive or a barrier method. If there are no plans for pregnancy in the near future, an IUD may be considered. An IUD has a quick return to fertility, though it is expensive if it is going to be used for a short time period. If it is certain one does not want to have children, a more permanent method may be opted for, such as sterilization. A person may find that different contraceptive options work for them at different stages of their life.
5. Is it compatible with one’s religious beliefs and traditions?
Some forms of birth control, such as sterilization, are considered a violation of certain religious laws or cultural traditions.
6. Is it convenient and affordable?
For some people, convenient suggests ease of use, lack of side effects or disruption of sexual experience. For others, convenience means that no prescription is required.
While a majority of methods of contraception are inexpensive, some could be quite costly. It is thus important to decide upon a method that both suits the person’s lifestyle and income.
7. What are the possible side effects?
Certain methods, particularly those containing estrogen or progesterone, have more side effects, some of which are potentially serious, compared to others, such as barrier methods and natural family planning. One should speak with their healthcare provider about their current medical state and history and which birth control method suits them best.
8. Does it protect against sexually transmitted diseases?
Male and female condoms are the only method that protect against sexually transmitted infections. These should thus be the method of choice if such a risk is eminent.
9. Does it offer any other benefits?
In addition to preventing pregnancy, some contraceptives provide benefits such as more predictable, lighter menstrual cycles, a decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections or a reduction in the risk of some cancers.
10. What is the bottom line?
When choosing a birth control method, may factors should be considered, including age, health, emotional maturity, marital status and religious convictions. Knowing your options are part of the decision process, though an honest assessment of yourself, your partner and your relationship is just as important.