Regardless of your relationship status, this is an area that all women should have some knowledge in. Failing to prepare means preparing to fail! Considering this is such an important subject, its concerning how little knowledge the average woman (including myself until recently) has on the subject of contraception. No-one is expecting you to become an expert in gynaecology but enough knowledge to help you make decisions in regards to your birth control methods would be a bonus.
Before going through the list of hormonal and non-hormonal contraception, let’s get an understanding of the difference between the two.
So what are hormones? Well, without getting too scientific, hormones are chemical messengers released by your glands and sent to various cells around the body with instructions for function. The female sex hormones are the most critical hormones produced by your ovaries. The 2 main hormones at play here are oestrogen and progesterone, each having their own function.
Oestrogen is the hormone that tends to aid the maintain of a woman’s blood sugar levels, memory functions and emotional balance. Progesterone is produced in large quantities around and during your period. It also helps reduce body fat, aids in relaxation, reduction of anxiety, and promotes hair growth.
Should I Choose a Hormonal or Non-Hormonal Birth Control?
Well it’s really a personal decision that should be determined by your own body and lifestyle. Main rule of thumb here is that hormonal birth control will be manipulating your female sex hormones to prevent pregnancy. They prevent ovulation, and thicken the lining of the cervix to stop sperm from reaching any eggs. Because every woman is different, we all respond differently to any tampering to our hormones.
Non-hormonal birth control does the same job in terms of creating barriers of entry to sperm but without using or manipulating your hormones.
Right, I’m blinding myself with science here so let’s get into the various options available to you.
Non-Hormonal Birth Control
Some women don’t want to deal with the side effects and the health concerns of hormonal birth control. In that case, what are the options?
This is a ‘shallow cup’ made of silicone, that’s bent and inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix, stopping the sperm from joining to the egg. To be effective, it must be used with spermicide (a cream/gel that kills sperm). This device can be reused for up to 2 years and if inserted properly, neither spouse should feel it during intercourse.
- Cervical Cap
This is a smaller version of the Diaphragm. As stated above, if used properly, the cervical cap can be reinserted for up to 2 years. Both require a prescription, must be fitted by a doctor and cannot be used during menstruation.
Normally in form of gels or creams, spermicides are inserted into the vagina to stop sperm from entering the uterus during intercourse. This method is easy to use, does not require a prescription, and is inexpensive. Some women might experience side effects such as irritation or allergic reactions.
- Male & Female condoms
Perhaps the most common form of non hormonal birthcontrol, the condom also stops semen from entering the vagina. Please be advised that this is the ONLY WAY to avoid STDs. Planned Parenthood says condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy.
- The Sponge
The sponge is made of plastic foam and contains spermicide. It’s inserted into the vagina before intercourse, and then removed with nylon loop straight after. Each sponge can only be used one, and should not be left in the vagina for more than 30 hours otherwise, there is an increased risk of yeast infections and toxic shock syndrome. Continued use of this method can cause vaginal dryness and allergic reactions.
Hormonal Birth Control
Please be advised that hormonal methods of contraception do not protect you from STD’s! These forms of birth controls affect each woman differently.
This is one of the most effective forms of contraception, and therefore the most common. Pills contain estrogen and progestin or just progestin. The NHS has reported that if used correctly, only 1% of women experience unwanted pregnancy.
Patches excrete some hormones into the body therefore effectively stopping pregnancy. According the Medical News Today, if used properly, less than 1% of women experience unwanted pregnancy.
DepoProvera is injected every 3 months and uses the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. Side effects of this include bone thinning, increased risk of osteoporosis and ectopic pregnancy.
- Vaginal Rings
This is a flexible plastic ring inserted and left in the vagina for 3 weeks out of the 4 week cycle. Once again, estrogen and progestin are released into the body to prevent pregnancy. There are quite a few benefits associated with this method of birth control such as lighter periods, improved acne and protection against certain cancers. It can also help reduce anaemia and PMS.
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
This is a T shaped device inserted by the doctor. There are 3 types of these; two hormonal, (Mirena and Skyla) and one non hormonal (copper IUD). The Mirena lasts for 5 years, Skyla for 2 and the copper IUD for 10 years!
Go ahead and read Dr. Sara Gottfried’s article for a collective of pros and cons to hormonal and non-hormonal contraception. Whatever route you decide to go down, do your research and make sure what you go with works for you and your body. Living in the world we do today, with its ever-advancing technology, you have no excuse!