The issue of birth control is entirely confronting, daunting, and even more confusing. It is also something that you may not necessarily want to discuss with your mum who still calls you her “precious little angel,” or with your doctor who goes slightly too red in the face when you mention anything remotely sexual. But nevertheless, 50% of the population – correction, 100% of the population are concerned with contraception, and I am going to give you the inside story (pun intended – sorry not sorry) about everything you need to know on the topic, and what your options are.
Oral Contraception AKA “The Pill”
This little guy has to be taken at the exact same time every day (slightly annoying). There are dozens of types, with vivacious and realistic names such as ‘Levlen’ and ‘Yasmin’, and each type has a slightly varied dosage of the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone. It takes 7 days of use for the pill to start working, and if you miss the pill one day, or vomit at all, the pill will not work, and you will need to wait at least 7 days of correct use for this to be your primary contraception. This means, get yourself a cute new watch with an alarm on it, and maybe skip that last shot of tequila at the club with the girls.
Pros: When taken correctly, it is 99.9% effective. Easy to take, non-invasive, can help reduce acne and it regulates your periods.
Cons: Can have some severe side effects. Easy to forget to take, does not protect against STIs and you need a prescription from your doctor.
Side Effects: In some cases, it can include nausea, headaches, weight fluctuation, breast tenderness, and mood changes.
Price: $10-$30 (every 3 months).
Hormonal Intrauterine System (IUS)
Alright this one might look a little bit scarier, and the thought of having a little device sitting inside your uterus is enough to make even the toughest cookies crumble. However, the IUS is actually a really great option for people who can’t be bothered remembering to actively control their potential births day in and day out. It is a small T-shaped device (2.8cmx2.8cm) that is fitted into your uterus by a medical professional, can be removed at any time, and lasts up to 5 years. The device slowly releases the hormone Progesterone (the same hormone used in the pill) which thickens the uterus, protecting you from pregnancy. I won’t get into the gritty details, but this is a good option and will make you feel very part human, part robot vibes.
Pros: Once it is fitted, it stays there and you don’t have to worry about it for 5 years. Can be reversed (taken out) immediately, is 99.9% effective. You may have lighter and shorter periods. In some cases, your period may stop completely.
Cons: Invasive surgical process. There is also a small chance of infection after the device is inserted, but can be healed using antibiotics and pain killers.
Side Effects: Breast tenderness, mood swings, skin breakouts.
Copper Intrauterine Decide (IUD)
This one is quite similar to the IUS, but it doesn’t release any hormones, meaning none of those pesky hormonal side effects. It is a small T-shaped device with copper wire wrapped around it, that essentially prevents sperm from fertilising an egg. However, the major difference with this IUD compared to the IUS is the two plastic tendrils that hang at the base of the implant actually sit inside the vagina, meaning they can sometimes be felt by your partner during intercourse. The plus side to this is that you can feel to check that the device is in place, and these tendrils make it easy for your doctor to remove the device if you have a change of heart. Don’t worry, you won’t beep when walking through airport security.
Pros: More than 99% effective, it lasts up to 5 years, the device can be taken out any time you want, and it doesn’t contain any hormones meaning minimal side effects.
Cons: Can be felt inside your vagina (you may consider this a pro if you want to check that it is in the right spot), invasive surgical process. There is also a small chance of infection after the device is inserted, but can be healed using antibiotics and pain killers.
Side Effects: After insertion, you may experience cramps, spotting, and discomfort.
Male and Female Condoms
These are probably the king and queen of contraceptive options, mostly because they are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to use. Condoms act as a barrier during intercourse, meaning sperm cannot impregnate an egg. If you weren’t lucky enough to have taken part in the whole cucumber condom ensemble during high school sex ed, then don’t worry, condoms are really easy to use, a basic YouTube tutorial will give you a bit of an insight. Now the female condom is one that is a bit more unheard of in terms of the application process. You simply need to push the device inside of you the way you would a tampon and ensure that during intercourse the entrance to the condom isn’t pushed inside of you. Just do not do the double bag, because it will cause the plastic to tear.
Pros: The two not only protect against pregnancy but also protect against STIs. When used correctly condoms are 98% effective and are easy to buy.
Cons: Condoms can sometimes slip off, or tear during intercourse.
Side Effects: No physical side effects, unless you are allergic to latex, in which case there are a variety of alternatives available.
Price: Ranges from $5-$30 a pack.
This is a small dome-shaped silicone contraption that sits inside the vagina and covers the cervix. Essentially it does the same thing a condom does, except for the fact that this one needs to be fitted for you by a doctor or health professional. Once it is fitted in place, your cervical muscles keep it sitting in the right spot and you are good to go. You need to put this in place every single time you have sex, and considering it is a little harder to put on than a condom, you should aim to do this well before you’re about to do the deed. Take it out within 24 hours of intercourse, and wash it thoroughly. Preferably do that last part in the dead of night when your housemates are asleep to avoid a very uncomfortable situation.
Pros: If you use this one right every single time, it is 94% effective, you can use it when you have your period, and you can reuse it for up to 2 years! More sustainable and less expensive in the long run = a win win.
Cons: If you don’t clean it well then you have a higher risk of a urinary tract infection. Some women find it hard to put in, or uncomfortable to wear.
Side Effects: Can be uncomfortable to have fitted and to insert, but virtually no other side effects.
Vaginal Ring (NuvaRing)
A small silicone ring that sits inside your vagina, and contains the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone. The slow release of these hormones absorbed through the vagina act similarly to how the pill does, the only difference being how the body actually absorbs the hormones. You keep the ring in for 3 weeks and then take it out for a week allowing yourself to bleed, before putting in another ring. You can put it in yourself – it is easy to do, and is a good idea for people who want an option which is relatively long term, but also easily reversible.
Pros: It is 99.7% effective, you can put it in yourself, side effects are not as severe as the pill as the hormones are not digested, and when you decide to stop using it, your hormone levels will go back to normal almost instantaneously.
Cons: Some people have trouble putting the ring in place, and you have to make sure that it is applied hygienically in order to avoid infection. Can be more expensive than the pill. You also should not use this if you smoke.
Side Effects: Nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness.
Price: 3 rings cost $92.
Contraceptive Implant (Implanon)
This tiny little matchstick-sized rod containing the hormone Etonogestrel sits in your arm for 3 years and works in a couple different ways. It a) prevents ovulation, b) thins the lining of the uterus to prevent a fertilised egg attaching and c) thickens discharge from the uterus to stop sperm getting through. A doctor inserts it into your arm, you’ll probably have bruising in that spot for a couple of weeks and then you get to relax and forget about contraception for 3 years! If you get this one inserted, it’s basically a lucky dip as to what side effects you will get. Some women have bleeding for months after it is inserted, some women stop getting their period altogether, and some experience hormonal changes such as breast tenderness and mood swings. Whatever you do, just don’t let people touch and feel this little bugger sitting in your arm, it’s really weird.
Pros: You don’t have to remember to take anything, it lasts up to 3 years, is easily removed, and is more than 99.9% effective.
Cons: Invasive, does not protect against STIs and can alter your menstrual cycle.
Side Effects: Breast tenderness, mood swings, unpredictable bleeding pattern.
Price: $5-$25 for the rod, plus the cost of insertion by your medical practitioner.
Also known as the easily identifiable drug Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DMPA), this contraceptive is injected into your arm and will protect you for 12-14 weeks. It stops your body from releasing an egg (ovulating) and is 99.7% effective! If you continue to use it, the drug could potentially stop you from getting your period. You may see this as either a pro or a con, just be ready to comfort eat your way through this because the drug increases your appetite which is why some women experience weight gain.
Pros: It is a discreet method of contraception, convenient as you don’t have to remember to regularly take or apply anything, and is extremely effective.
Cons: Cannot be removed from your body, so once it is injected, you have to ride that wave for 12 weeks no matter what. It does not protect against STIs, and also needles suck.
Side Effects: Weight gain, irregular or unpredictable periods.
Emergency Contraception AKA “The Morning After Pill”
I can’t stress enough that this should not be your primary option for contraception. However effective that this pill is, it’s got a lot of very strong drugs that can affect your body in a variety of ways. Despite the name you can take this up to 3 days after the intercourse with a chance of it working, obviously the sooner you take it, the higher the chance that it will work properly. You can get this one from your GP, pharmacy, family planning clinic or the hospital, but get ready to answer a lot of personal questions about the circumstances of the intercourse, in order to determine whether this is your best option for contraception and to avoid you using it again in the future.
Pros: Easy to acquire, and a good solution to any accidental occurrences during intercourse, eg. a broken condom.
Cons: Not always effective, can have strong side effects.
Side Effects: Nausea, headaches, diziness and abdominal pain.
*Please note that this article should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a doctor regarding any of the aforementioned contraceptive options.