The development of contraceptives was one of the most remarkable and liberating innovations in the history of medicine for women. Back in the day, women didn’t have the power to separate sex from pregnancy and childbearing. Now that we have this invention, it’s important to know the kinds of contraceptive options that are out there so you can make the best choice when you and your partner feel that you’re both ready for this kind of physical intimacy.
- Male condoms: The male condom is a strong contender to the title of most common contraception method. It is easy to use, affordable and offers the best protection against STIs. Condoms are usually made of latex, but if you are allergic to latex, some brands also specialize in condoms made of polyurethane or lambskin. These two are also compatible with lube (latex condoms are not, unless with water-based lubricant.) However, lambskin condoms do not provide protection against STIs. For safety and hygienic reasons, make sure you use a new condom each time you have sex.
- Female condoms: Like the male condom, the female condom is a contraceptive that you can buy over-the-counter at pharmacies and grocery stores without a prescription. It was first introduced twenty years ago and offers 95% effective protection for pregnancy, as well as some protection against STIs. Female condoms are generally more expensive than the male ones but they are less likely to tear. They can also be inserted up to eight hours before sex.
- The diaphragm: You need a prescription for this kind of contraceptive. This is placed inside your vagina so that it prevents the sperm from getting into the uterus. Despite being a barrier method, it doesn’t protect against STIs. The diaphragm must be coated with spermicide each time before sex and a gynecologist needs to show you how to use it. It is inserted at least six hours before sex and it needs to be removed after 24 hours for cleaning. Depending on the material and type of the diaphragm, it can be reused many times.
- The Pill: The contraceptive pill prevents pregnancy 95% of the time. It comes close to providing 99% protection if you take one pill every day as prescribed. The pill can come in two forms: the combined contraceptive pill (containing the hormones estrogen and progestin) or the mini-pill (only progestin). In the case of the mini-pill, it’s important that you take your pill every day at the same time (you should not be late by more than three hours) and you need a doctor’s prescription for this.
- The Cervical Cap (A.K.A, the femcap): The cervical cap is a thimble-shaped latex cup, basically like a diaphragm but smaller. It also needs to be used with a spermicide. The cervical cap must remain in the vagina at least 6 hours after sex, but it also has to be taken out within 48 hours after sex.
- The Intrauterine Device (IUD)/Mareina: You have the choice between two types of IUDs: hormonal or copper-based devices. Hormonal and copper IUDs are part of the few long-term solutions, meaning that you can keep them inside the vagina for up to five or ten years respectively. The effectiveness rate for IUDs is above 99%. However, they provide no protection against STIs. IUDs can be a form of emergency contraception if the device is inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex. You will nonetheless need to visit a doctor to have it properly inserted and follow the prescription (e.g. a few follow-ups and check-ups for possible infection in the first weeks).
- The Contraceptive Implant: This offers long term protection. It lasts for about three years on average. Just like IUDs, the implant does not protect against STIs. The implant is inserted in the arm by a healthcare specialist and must be removed after three years. Since the risk of human mistake is ruled out, the implant has a much higher effectiveness rate than the pill – around 99.99%.
- The Contraceptive Sponge: The sponge is a small, round-shaped foam (polyurethane) placed deep inside the vagina. It contains spermicide so that sperm does not get past the foam. You should leave the sponge inside the vagina for at least six hours after sex, but remove it within 24 hours following sexual intercourse. The sponge does not protect past those 24 hours and does not provide any STI protection. It is sometimes used as a backup for other contraception methods (e.g. when you forget to take the pill) and you can buy it without a prescription from the pharmacy.
- Contraceptive Injections: One shot of hormones lasts in the body for 8 to 12 weeks (3 months) and has the same effect as the pill. Just like the contraceptive pill, contraceptive injections do not protect from STIs.
- The Vaginal Ring: The vaginal contraceptive ring is a small, transparent plastic ring that is inserted in the vagina and kept for three weeks. You should then remove it during your period and replace it with a new one after that. You will need your doctor’s prescription to buy the ring. Just like other hormonal contraception, the vaginal ring does not protect from STIs.
- The Contraceptive Patch: The contraceptive patch is exactly the same thing as the contraceptive pill but in the form of a patch. It provides the same effective protection against pregnancy and has the same side effects (positive and negative). It does not protect from STIs. You wear the patch for three weeks, take it off for one week – allowing your menstrual cycle – then you start with a new patch. The patch is an interesting option because unlike the pill, you don’t need to actively remember to take it every day at the same time. There is however a risk of skin irritation, and a (rare) chance that the patch accidentally comes off.
- Emergency Contraception/ Morning After Pill: Emergency contraception exists to stop you falling pregnant if you have had unprotected sex. This method is for one-off occasions and is not recommended for daily use. It’s particularly useful if a condom breaks, or if you miss one of your contraceptive pills and had unprotected sex. You should take it ideally within 24 hours after unprotected sex (this offers over 95% protection). The longer you wait, the less effective it will be.
- Natural Family Planning/ Rhythm method: Natural family planning relies on knowing the menstrual cycle (periods) so that couples avoid having sex when the woman is fertile. The effectiveness of this type of contraception varies between 75% to 85% with the higher uncertainty due to the fact that most women do not have a perfectly regular menstrual cycle.Now that you know various types of contraceptive methods, here are some of the benefits of contraceptives too (other than avoiding unplanned pregnancy, of course):
Firstly, contraceptives that contains hormones (everything else besides condoms) can make your period regular, allowing you to have the same period at the same time every month. Secondly, your discharge becomes regular too as it becomes clear and stretchy at a certain time every month to signal that you’re ovulating. Thirdly, if you’re on the pill, you can miss your period if you skip the 1 week of different coloured tablets in your pack that onsets your period – this is completely safe. Finally, contraceptives regulate and suppresses certain hormones responsible for period pains and other period related side effects, like pimples or acne too, making these side effects quite rare.
We say, make the smart choice ladies and take control of your own intimate safety. Pop us any questions if you want to know more!
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