Birth Control Options
Sex & Relationships

Birth control: Weighing the options

As well as family planning and preventing pregnancy, birth control can empower you to take control over your sexual health and overall wellbeing.

There's a wide range birth control varieties available, which makes choosing one that works for you is a very personal experience. Your decision can be guided by several different factors such as effectiveness in preventing pregnancy, STI prevention, period pain management and many other lifestyle factors. The truth is, there's no perfect for of birth control but this article can help you find one that works for you.

Some of the most common methods of birth control are:

  • Combined Control Pill
  • Progestogen-Only Pill
  • Birth Control Implant
  • Birth Control Vaginal Ring
  • Condoms
  • Copper IUD (Intrauterine Device)
  • Hormonal IUD (Intrauterine Device)
  • Fertility Awareness
  • Emergency Contraception

Each of the above forms of birth control have unique pros and cons in terms of effectiveness and sexual health management. Below you'll find a simplified guide to these options, so you can get an idea of what feels right for you πŸ‘‡

Combined Birth Control Pill

Commonly know as 'the pill', it works by preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) each month in order to prevent conception. It also thickens the mucus in the womb, as well as the womb lining, making it harder for conception to happen even if you do ovulate.

Pros:

  • Convenient (if you can remember to take a pill everyday, at the same time)
  • Can help with acne by regulating your hormones
  • Can help ease heavy and painful periods
  • About 99% effective when taken correctly

Cons:

  • Does not prevent STIs or STDs
  • Have to remember to take it everyday at the same time
  • Some people who take the pill report low moods and loss of libido
  • A very low risk of serious side effects, such as blood clots

Progestogen-Only Pill

Also known as the mini pill, this contraceptive prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm reaching an egg, but can also stop ovulation for some people.

Pros:

  • Combined Control Pill
  • Safe if you can't use contraceptives that contain estrogen
  • About 99% effective when taken correctly

Cons:

  • Must be taken at exactly the same time everyday (even a 3 hour delay can reduce its effectiveness)
  • Does not prevent STIs or STDs
  • Can cause acne outbreaks and reduce libido

Birth Control Implant

It is a tiny thin rod (about the size of a matchstick) that’s inserted into your arm and releases hormones that prevent pregnancy.

Pros:

  • Very low maintenance (once inserted, it can remain there for up to 5 years)
  • Takes 5 minutes to implant (can be done by a nurse or at a Sexual Health Clinic)
  • More than 99% effective

Cons:

  • Can be expensive, ranging from $0-1,300 depending on health insurance options
  • Does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections STIs
  • Can have very rare but serious side effects (ask your doctor for more information)
  • Effectiveness decreases overtime
  • Need a nurse to remove it

Birth Control Vaginal Ring

Also known as a β€˜NuvaRing’, it prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from meeting the egg. It also thickens the mucus that lives on the cervix so that it makes it harder for the sperm to swim to an egg. You have to insert the ring into your vagina once a month, at the right time every month.

Pros:

  • About 91% effective
  • Can help treat hormonal acne, PMS and make your period more regular
  • You can leave it in all the time (ie. during sex, sports, etc.)

Cons:

  • Certain medicines can make it less effective
  • Prices vary, ranging between $0-200 (on top of the cost of the visit to the doctor to get a prescription)
  • Risk of some rare health complications (ask your doctor during your appointment)
  • Does not prevent against STIs

Condoms

External (or male) condoms are made from thin latex prevent pregnancy and STIs by preventing bodily fluids coming into contact. Be sure to check the label for storage instructions and the expiry date, as these can affect the effectiveness of condoms.

Pros:

  • 98% effective when used perfectly
  • Can prevent STIs (when used properly)
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Risk of the condom breaking or slipping off during sex
  • Oil-based products like lotion and moisturizer can damage latex condoms, making them ineffective.

Copper IUD (Intrauterine Device)

Sometimes referred to as a non hormonal IUD, it’s a tiny T-shaped plastic device wrapped in copper wire and inserted into the uterus through your cervix. The copper causes an inflammatory reaction making it difficult for sperm to survive or an egg to implant in the womb.

Pros:

  • It's around 99% effective
  • Once implanted by a doctor or nurse, it can work for up to 10 years
  • Simple and safe procedure (takes about 5 minutes)

Cons:

  • Does not prevent against STIs
  • Insertion can be painful
  • There can be some mild short-term side effects (bleeding between periods, cramps, severe bleeding or menstrual pain)
  • Slight risk of expelling the IUD from your uterus (eliminating its effectiveness)
  • May cause an allergic reaction

Hormonal IUD (Intrauterine Device)

A tiny T-shaped plastic device implanted into your uterus through your cervix releasing the hormone progestin. Progestin thickens the mucus in the cervix making it difficult for sperm to reach, and thins the lining of the uterus so the egg is less able to be able to attach to it.

Pros:

  • One of the most effective birth controls at 99% effective
  • Convenient. Once implanted by a nurse, it works for up to 5 years
  • Simple and safe procedure (takes about 5 minutes)

Cons:

  • Does not prevent against STIs
  • Insertion can be painful
  • There can be some mild short-term side effects including headaches, acne, breast tenderness, mood changes, cramping and irregular bleeding
  • Slight risk of expelling the IUD from your uterus (eliminating its effectiveness)

Fertility Awareness

Fertility awareness helps to reduce the risk of pregnancy by avoiding unprotected sex during your most fertile days every month. On average, the 5-7 days leading up to and including the ovulation day are the most fertile, but this varies for everyone.

Pros:

  • About 76-88% effective
  • An opportunity to learn more about your reproductive health
  • A 'natural' option

Cons:

  • Not effective for STI or STD prevention
  • When not practiced perfectly, the effectiveness is much lower
  • Requires commitment, a full understanding of the menstrual cycle and patience to get it right
  • Fertility signals can be affected by sickness, stress or other lifestyle factors
  • You'll need to use another method of contraceptive such as condoms during your fertile window in order to avoid pregnancy

Considering fertility tracking? Here are the signals to look out for.

Emergency Contraception

Also known as the 'morning after pill', emergency contraception can be taken after unprotected sex, or if the contraception you have used has failed (for example, a broken condom). Emergency contraception is not intended as a preventative birth control, and won't prevent a pregnancy if you have sex again after taking it. The most common brands are Plan B and ellaOne, which can be taken for up to a 5 days after unprotected sex.

Pros

  • If taken properly and within 24 hours after unprotected sex, it is around 95% effective
  • It’s a safe and effective back-up plan
  • Available at most pharmacies

Cons:

  • After 72 hours, the effectiveness goes down to about 89%
  • Some mild side effects such as headache and cramps (anything painful should be reported to your doctor)
  • If you vomit within 3 hours of taking the morning after pill, you will need to request another dose from your doctor

Still not sure which method to choose? The best thing to do is book a conversation with your healthcare provider to ask all of your birth control questions. While no birth control option is perfect, they'll be able to help you find a method that works for you.

Also, always be sure to pay attention to your body when trying a new birth control. It’s important to track any adverse symptoms and let your doctor know about any concerns.