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Contraceptive Options – Know Before You Act! (Birth Control)

Options of Preventing Pregnancy

So you may wonder why I have such an odd “non-related” topic on my blog – but in reality, the likelihood is if you’re pregnant, that you’re not going to be getting your period, so I guess in a way, it IS a related matter, lol. What inspired me to write this little blog post (and yes it will be “little” because there is just way too much to cover) is that I was listening on the radio on the drive to work and one of the hosts mentioned that in Canada, they found that many women are actually unaware of the many contraceptive choices that are available to them. I would dare wager that the 2 most well-known contraceptive methods are the pill and condoms. I have done my best to do proper research, but feel free to correct me if mistakes are found as I am more than happy to learn, particularly from those with anecdotal experiences. I have yet to be with a girl who uses such contraception, particularly with a lack of knowledge about the pill and administering techniques other than by hearsay, so my knowledge may be iffy on that.

So many contraceptive choices!! What do you do?

So many contraceptive choices!! What do you do?

Suffice to say, while those two methods are well-known and used by many who choose not to have children at the moment (or never), they are not the only options available at this day in age. In this entry, I hope to gain some insight myself and also help open the world of contraceptive options to men and women. Where do men come into play? Well obviously contraceptive choices between couples or consenting adults is recommended when there is no intention to cause pregnancy. I should mention before I start this post that I’ll be concentrating on avoiding pregnancy in this posting, but should point out that most contraception forms do not protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD).

Birth Control Pill (or “the pill”):

The basis of “the pill” is to prevent ovulation through a mixture of hormones, estrogen and progesterone. By suppressing ovulation, there is no egg released by the ovaries to to be fertilized by male sperm, therefore eliminating the risk of becoming pregnant. In addition to inhibiting the ovulation process, the pill also works by thickening the mucus around the cervix, reducing the likelihood that sperm is able to enter the uterus in the event that a female egg has already been released. Due to the combination of hormones present in the pill, even if fertilization does occur, the changes to the uterus lining much harder for the fertilized egg to attach to the uterus wall.

Most of “the pill” packages come in a 21 or 28 day-use cycle. The pill is administered orally (I should make that clear that “orally” means through the MOUTH) daily and at the same time every day. Users of the 21-day pack is taken 21 days continuously where the user will then stop for 7 days before starting the next 21-day pack. Users of the 28-day pack will continue to take all the pills in the package, but the last 7 pills of the cycle are actually hormone-less, usually called a placebo, which really has no effect on the body other than maintaining regularity and familiarity in maintaining the habit of taking the pill daily. If a single dose is missed (other than the placebo pills), then the chances of contraceptive protection drops considerably, so it is imperative that the pill be taken effectively. For women who start using “the pill” – it takes up to 7 days for it to take effect, therefore those who are sexually active within that 7-day window should continue to use alternate contraceptive methods such as a condom.

There are variants of “the pill” (such as progesterone-only), and your health-care professional will be able to give you the best advice on which suits you the best. There are of course benefits and risks for using “the pill” and making it important for you to consult a professional and to research what is in your best interest to use as contraception. For some women, the use of “the pill” is highly discouraged if they have certain medical conditions, so “the pill” is not recommended for everyone. There are also emergency contraceptives, such as “Plan B” for those “oopsies, we had unprotected sex” scenarios that prevent an embryo from attaching the the uterus wall after fertilization. “The pill” requires a prescription to acquire, but “Plan B” is available over-the-counter.

Birth Control Pills

Birth Control Pills

Contraceptive Patch

The contraceptive patch works similarly to “the pill” by delivering the combined hormones through the skin. A “bandage-like” adhesive is applied to the abdomen, buttocks, upper arm or upper torso. The scheduled usage of the product is like “the pill” and carries generally the same benefits and negative side effects, only that the method of which the hormones enter the body is different.

Contraceptive Patch

Contraceptive Patch

Intrauterine Devices

IUD’s are devices implanted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy by preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg. These “T-shaped” devices can be left in the uterus for several years and are usually composed from plastic and copper. Recent ‘enhancements’ to IUD’s also allow them to be loaded with a hormone-containing device which slowly release hormones over time to help alter the menstrual cycle and suppress conception. The IUD acts as a “physical barrier” which hinders the ability for sperm to meet with an egg and also due to a foreign object (the IUD) irritating the uterus lining, it prevents an embryo from implanting onto the uterus wall. This device is not suitable for those who have reactions to copper as it may cause increase menstrual cramps and flow. On the contrary, hormone-releasing variations of the IUD have been known to reduce menstrual flow and regulate periods. Nevertheless IUD’s have the potential of being pushed out of the vagina due to natural contractions. IUD’s are a great contraceptive choice if a user wants to be able to quickly become fertile again (assuming one was fertile in the first place). IUD’s should be implanted with the skills of an expert practitioner.

Intrauterine Device

Intrauterine Device

Vaginal Ring

The vaginal ring works similarly to “the pill” by delivering the combined hormones through the vagina. A “ring-like” device is inserted into the vaginal which stops ovulation, thickens cervical mucus and creates a barrier to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. The scheduled usage of the product is like “the pill” and carries generally the same benefits and negative side effects, only that the method of which the hormones enter the body is different. It is possible for the ring to fall out and may cause vaginal irritation. If the ring is left outside the body for more than 3 hours, pregnancy once against becomes a risk and requires a 7-day window to become effective again. The vaginal ring can be inserted/removed without professional intervention.

Vaginal Ring

Vaginal Ring

Contraceptive Injections

Contraceptive injections containing synthetic hormones can be absorbed into the body via intramuscular injection. The hormones contained within prevent ovulation, thickens the mucus in the cervix and also makes the womb lining thinner to prevent an embryo from attaching to the uterus wall. Initial injections prevented pregnancy from 8 to 12 weeks, however, newer shots are said to last up to several months. Unfortunately, because hormones are injected directly into the body, they may stay resident in the body for up to 2 years, therefore resuming fertility is not as fast as other methods. Also, there have been riskier “aftermaths” even after discontinued use of contraceptive injections. With the use of contraceptive injections, menstrual periods completely stop (other than spot-bleeding) and do not become regular until a year or more of discontinued use of the product.

Contraceptive Injection

Contraceptive Injection

Implants

Capsules which release fertility-inhibiting hormones were implanted into a woman’s arm which could prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years. It was highly effective, however, side-effects were not properly communicated to customers which resulted in several class-action lawsuits. I’m not going to talk a lot about this method since it has been pulled off the shelves in North America.

Contraceptive Implants

Contraceptive Implants

Diaphragm

A diaphragm is the “female equivalent” of a condom, a barrier contraceptive method. A diaphragm is a latex or silicon device shaped in a dome which is inserted into the vagina to “block off” the contact of sperm and a released egg. Just like a condom, a diaphragm is inserted prior to sexual intercourse, however, unlike a condom, the device should be left in the vagina for another 6 to 8 hours (although debated due to lack of evidence/conclusion) from the last male ejaculation within the vagina. It is common that spermicide be applied to the rim and/or dome of the diaphragm prior to insertion. Diaphragms can be reused as long as they are properly cleansed and can be reused immediately if required. Care should be taken to avoid contact with oil, whether it is oil-based vaginal medication of lube as it causes the deterioration of the diaphragm. Depending on the material used to make the diaphragm, it may be used from anywhere between 1 to 10 years.

A fitting appointment is recommended with your health-care professional to assist in finding a diaphragm that fits each woman’s size and needs. Whether a diaphragm is too large or too small may affect the woman’s health and may increase the risk of pregnancy if a seal is not properly formed. The diaphragm covers the cervix and physically prevents sperm from entering the uterus. It should be noted that like tampons, diaphragms are susceptible to causing TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) when it is worn for periods of greater than 24 hours. A diaphragm does not affect future fertility opportunity and does not affect hormones or regular menstrual cycle in any way.

Diaphragm

Diaphragm

Closing

I hope this helps shed some light on the various birth-control options for everyone. For those of us who are in relationships, please be reminded that birth-control is not a one-sided decision and it’s best made with both parties involved. If you are having sex outside of a monogamous relationship, then it’s a totally different story. While it is rightful and legal for a woman to make a sole decision on birth-control methods, please do be considerate and include or at least consult with her partner on his/her feelings and objectives.

Your choice of birth-control may have irreversible or long-term effects, thus, it is advisable to also seek the opinion of your health-care professional. Also, some medical conditions you may have may exempt you from the opportunity to safely utilize some of these methods. There are many risks and rewards to using the above options and I have hardly even touched on the advantages and side-effects of the choices. It is also in your best interest to do prior research and then consult your medical specialist to help make the best decision, fitting to your scenario.

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