Birth Control Options and What You Should Know About Them

Barrier Methods

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Understanding the Risks, Rewards, and Details of Popular Contraception

Contraception is a big part of life for many people — or, at least it should be. Everyone has heard the horror stories of STDs, but unwanted pregnancy can bring as much fright, worry, and challenge as any other reproductive health issue.

On the other hand, attitudes towards pregnancy tend to change. Although it might be the absolute wrong time right now, how are you going to feel one year, two years, or five years from now?

The nature of contraception needs to match your plans, not to mention your body, mind, and general state of health. The first step is to lean about all the birth control options in front of you, and what exactly you can expect from each of them.

Barrier Methods

Straightforward and effective (when used properly), both physical and chemical barriers are classic and dependable modes of birth control for both women and men. There’s a variety of devices that can drastically reduce your chances of conceiving, and some may help protect against STDs, too.

Condoms

A tried-and-true method that has been around for centuries (though condom material and design has changed over time), the basic idea is still the same: a thin sheath is placed over the penis (or in the case of the female condom, into the vaginal canal) to block sperm from reaching the cervix.

Pros:

  • Condoms are cheap, or in many cases, free
  • Very effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy (82 percent effective for male condoms, 79 percent for female condoms)
  • Widely available
  • Protect against many STDs (but not a perfect solution)

Cons:

  • May reduce sensitivity
  • Can break, especially if worn improperly
  • Some people may have an allergic reaction to latex

Diaphragm

A less bulky and more traditional cervical barrier than the female condom, a diaphragm is custom fitted to your body, since it works by hugging the cervix to effectively block the way for sperm. Typically, it’s used with spermicide to increase the effectiveness even more.

Pros:

  • Very effective when used properly — only around 16 percent of users get pregnant, which is comparable to the male condom’s rate of failure
  • Good value: it will cost you anywhere from $15 to $75, but will last for two years
  • Can be left in for 24 hours for multiple acts of intercourse

Cons:

  • Must be fitted by a doctor
  • Can be messy, and must be left in the vagina for six hours after sex
  • Might increase the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome
  • Does not protect against STDs

Contraceptive Sponge

Small, neat, and easy to handle, the contraceptive sponge is a good (and cheap) alternative to a diaphragm. It’s already saturated with spermicide, so no need to add more, and it fits securely and imperceptibly over the cervix.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t need to be fitted by a doctor
  • Widely available at pharmacies without a prescription
  • Can be left in for multiple acts of intercourse in 24 hours

Cons:

  • Less effective than a diaphragm (chances of getting pregnant can be as high as 25 percent)
  • Chance of toxic shock syndrome and allergic reaction to the spermicide
  • Must be left in for six hours after intercourse
  • Does not protect against STDs

Cervical Cap

If you’re looking for a cervical barrier with less maintenance and a fairly high rate of success, the flexible cervical cap might be a better option for you. Like a diaphragm, it’s designed to prevent the entry of sperm, and also to kill any potential invaders with a dose of spermicide.

Pros:

  • 80 percent rate of effectiveness
  • Can be left in for 48 hours for multiple acts of intercourse
  • Offers good, invisible protection without the hormonal effects of the pill or implants

Cons:

  • Requires a prescription, and it can be pricey (up to $75)
  • You must fill it with spermicide yourself, which some find messy
  • Increased risk for toxic shock syndrome and allergic reaction to the spermicide
  • Does not protect against STDs
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