Science has come a long way in the world of female contraceptives. Luckily for us women, it’s the 21st century. We no longer have to rely solely on one form of birth control to allow us to have safe, infection-free, and (for some) baby-free sex. Thankfully, we have options and I want you to be educated on all of them.
When considering what method of female contraception will work best for you, it’s imperative to consider your current state of health, how much sex you’re actually having, who you’re having it with, what your intention is (Do you want kids now/eventually? Are you just going at it for pure pleasure?), etc. Every woman’s body is different and everyone will react to every contraceptive method differently, so proceed with caution when considering my suggestions and always consult a women’s health specialist before starting something new. I may have a bachelor’s in Health Science, but I’m no professional. I’m merely providing you with the basics.
NOTE: The following forms of contraception are most relevant to penis-vagina sex partners, as these methods focus primarily on preventing sperm coming into contact with or fertilizing female sex organs.
Now, let’s get started. Refer any medical terminology to the image below. Please take a moment to get your bearings:
Great! Moving on.
Female contraceptives are grouped into seven different categories:
- Natural family planning/rhythm
- Hormonal control
If we learned anything from Sex Ed in grade school, we know that abstinence is the only fool-proof method of not getting any sort of disease/infection/babies growing inside of us, so I’m not going to focus on this category. I’ll briefly discuss the other six groups and open your eyes to what’s scientifically proven to provide you with safer (and more effective) contraception options.
NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING (NFP) OR RHYTHM
What it means: Avoiding sex or use of a sexual barrier (refer to Barriers below) when a woman is in the most fertile period of her menstrual cycle, following the woman’s “natural rhythm.”
How it works: There’s a lot that goes into this. Both partners in the relationship need to learn about the timing of the woman’s menstrual cycle, which is a feat in itself. In conjunction, there are several daily tests a woman must undergo to make sure everything’s solid, including recording body temperature and checking cervical mucus. Consult a NFP instructor (yes, they really have those!) to start this method.
My opinion: This method is great if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. If you have religious or spiritual views on sex, this can be a great way to avoid the use of physical, man-made contraception. The “all-natural” aspect of this method is really appealing, but again, it takes a lot of work and planning to get this going.
What it means: There are several different types of barriers, but all have one common goal – to keep sperm from reaching the egg.
How it works: There are SO many options here, both male and female. Each method has a different mechanism, but I’ve listed the basics of female barriers below:
- Contraceptive sponge – A disk-shaped sponge inserted in the vagina made with stuff that kills sperm. There’s only one approved version sold in the United States called the Today Sponge. Insert up to 24 hours before having sex, leave in for at least 6 hours after sex, remove within 30 hours after sex.
- Cervix protectors – There are there 3 different kinds here: diaphragms (shallow latex cup), cervical caps (commercially known as FemCaps), and cervical shields (silicone cup, commercially known as Lea’s Shield). All should be “fitted” to you by a healthcare professional (read: getting sized for a bra before going and buying one). The common purpose of all these protectors is to prevent sperm from entering your baby-making zone (i.e. cervix).
- Female condom – Looks like a male condom, works like a male condom, but should NOT be used in conjunction a male condom.
My opinion: The majority of barriers are cheap, safe, and easy to use. Fun fact: cervix protectors (caps, shields, and diaphragms) and male condoms have similar effectiveness ratings, so these female barriers in particular are worth trying out, especially if you’re using condoms regularly!
What it means: One of the more hotly-debated forms of contraception. Hormonal methods interfere with the natural chemical rhythm of the female body to prevent pregnancy.
How it works: The types vary, but all hormonal methods tinker with a woman’s ability to fertilize an egg. Below are the most common forms:
- “The Pill” – Ah yes, the most commonly used form and probably one of the first things you think of when you hear the word “contraception.” There are varying brands and types, but all contain certain levels of estrogen and/or progestin to control what happens in the uterus. Easily effected by outside factors (i.e. antibiotics).
- “The Patch” – aka Ortho Evra. Releases hormones directly into the bloodstream.
- “The Ring” – aka NuvaRing. DIY version of more permanent methods (refer to Permanent below). Insert the ring into your vagina, wear for 3 weeks until Mama Flow knocks at the door, and replace post-period.
- Shots – aka Depo-Provera. Shots of progestin are administered by a healthcare professional every 3 months. Great because you don’t have to worry about taking a daily/weekly/monthly pill, but suck because there are major health risks.
My opinion: I’m a big skeptic when it comes to hormonal contraception. Every woman’s body reacts differently when their hormone levels are tampered with, so the outcome of many birth control methods can be uncertain until you’ve been taking it for a while. Despite this, many scientific advancements have been made over the last 20 years to ensure the lowest possible hormone dosages necessary to get the job done. Added bonus: most of these methods work to regulate your menstrual cycle!
What it means: Semi-permanent form of contraception. Each type lasts for years at a time! Implants are also widely debated in regards to their safety and effectiveness, but have been found to be one of the most effective forms of contraception.
How it works: Depending on the type of implant, these versions of contraception may or may not be hormonal, so the mechanism of how each works varies. The two general types of implants are:
- Rods – Matchstick-sized pieces of plastic, inserted into your upper arm. Releases progestin to prevent growth of babies. Effective for up to 3 years.
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs) – T-shaped medical device, placed directly in your uterus. Depending on the type, the effectiveness length varies. Copper IUDs (commonly known as ParaGard) last 5 to 10 years, while hormonal IUDS (commonly known as Mirena) last up to 5 years.
My opinion: All of these need to be put in by a doctor, so they’re a little more invasive than other methods. You’re at higher risk for uncomfortable side effects including increased cramping or irregular periods, but the overall benefits of not needing to worry about contraception every time you have sex might outweigh the costs.
What it means: If you never want to have a kid or if you don’t want any more kids, this is something you’ll want to consider.
How it works: Essentially, there are surgical and non-surgical ways to do this. Both prevent babies from making a home inside you.
- Essure – Non-surgical. A medical device inserted into each fallopian tube that creates a blockage via scar tissue, preventing eggs and sperm from love at first sight.
- Tubal Ligation – aka “getting your tubes tied.” Literally. You’d be closing shop on the fallopian tubes’ ability to release eggs.
My opinion: You better be damn sure this is what you want to do if you’re going to do it.
How it works: If you didn’t use any form of contraception or whatever you did use failed you, taking a form of emergency contraception will either a) prevent an egg from releasing or b) prevent an egg and sperm from getting busy, depending on the brand and how soon after sex you took the pill.
My opinion: This is merely a backup option. All other forms of contraception should be used prior to this. Although a good option and usually effective, there’s no guarantee here.
Got all that?
The wide array of female contraception options available can be extremely overwhelming, but the mere fact that we even have so many options is something to be thankful for. The main setback that stifles advancements in women’s health is people’s fear to talk about it. Now that you’ve been given the basics, I encourage you to go out, do your own research, ask the important questions, and educate others.