Birth Control

GirlBirth control and the issues that surround it have always been controversial, whether for political, religious, or socioeconomic reasons. Some religions condone birth control and the government puts certain limitations on birth control—through prescription-only varieties and limitations on abortion procedures, which continue to be a hot topic in the current health care debate.

If you’re deciding to use birth control, consider the following facts, courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute:

  • Approximately 50% of all pregnancies that occur in the U.S. are unintended
  • 42% of those unintended pregnancies end in abortion
  • Women who are sexually active for one year and do not use birth control have an 85% chance of becoming pregnant

Any type of birth control is a significant lifestyle commitment, and you should ask yourself the following questions before beginning any birth control method:

  • What method of birth control seems most comfortable to you?
  • Are you comfortable about planning for sex?
  • Would you be comfortable inserting a birth control device into your body?
  • How does your partner feel about using a condom?
  • How would you feel about taking a pill every day?
  • Do you want to have sole control over your method of birth control?
  • Do you need to protect yourself from STDs?
  • What type of relationship are you in?
  • Do you want to have children?

The most natural types of birth control are abstinence and natural family planning.  While these methods may be attractive to some because they do not use any hormones or barriers, abstinence is not practical if you’re going to be sexually active and natural family planning is not always effective.

Two of the most common types of birth control methods are (1) barriers and (2) hormonal treatments.  Barrier methods physically or chemically block sperm from entering a women’s uterus.  Male condoms are the most common barrier method and the most effective.  Male latex condoms are also the only protection against HIV/AIDS and other STDs besides complete abstinence.

Condoms are inexpensive—and even free at some planned parenthood clinics—and available in almost any grocery store, drug store, or gas station, and are about 85% effective.   Condoms do however, require planning and the full cooperation of your partner, and this may not be a possibility or something you want to rely on.  There are other barrier methods available, such as female condoms and spermicides, however, they are not nearly as effective as the male condom.

If you want complete control over your birth control methods and do not want to undergo surgical methods such as sterilization, hormonal birth control may be the right choice for you.  The most common method of hormonal birth control is the birth control pill.  Conventional birth control pills contain 21 active pills and 7 inactive pills.  The active pills contain a combination of estrogen and progestin.  These hormones prevent your ovaries from ovulating—releasing an egg—and also thicken the mucus lining in the cervix and thin the mucus lining in the uterus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.

The good news about the pill is that it’s approximately 95% effective, you do not have to rely on your partner’s cooperation to wear a condom, and many of the birth control brands are very inexpensive (some are around $10/month).  Birth control pills can also help ease the severity of menstrual cramps, PMS symptoms, migraines, heavy bleeding, and acne.

The pill is more of a commitment, however: you must take the pill at the same time everyday for it to be most effective.  You will also need a doctor’s prescription to get the pill.  Birth control does NOT protect you from HIV/AIDs and STDs.

Some of the most common side effects of the pill include dizziness, nausea, moodiness, weight gain, high blood pressure, breast tenderness, and irregular bleeding.  Most of these symptoms will disappear within the first few months of taking the pill.  More serious side effects include blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.  Be sure to talk to your doctor if you want to use the birth control pill to determine if this is a good decision for you and to choose the best type.

As a woman, birth control is up to you.  If you’re sexually active and not using birth control, think about whether now is a good time for you to become pregnant and potentially support children.  If you’re thinking about which birth control method would be the best for you, consider your lifestyle and whether you want to be in control of your birth control or if you can rely on a partner’s commitment to use a barrier.

Here are some helpful resources:
Planned Parenthood
American Pregnancy Association

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