sexual health

Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


Choosing the Best Birth Control Method for You


Birth Control Implant

The implant is a small plastic rod (about the size of a matchstick) that is inserted into the arm and releases progestin into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Its brand name is Implanon®.

Effectiveness: 99+% for up to 3 years while the implant is inserted

Proper Usage: A healthcare provider will insert the implant in your upper arm. It is effective for 3 years, but it can be removed at any time before then if you want to get pregnant or switch to another birth control method. It must never be left in longer than 3 years, however. According to Implanon’s website, failure to have the implant removed at the correct time may result in “infertility, ectopic pregnancy or the inability to stop a drug-related adverse event.”


Mirena IUD

Mirena IUDThis is a small, T-shaped piece of plastic that is inserted into the uterus. It releases small amounts of progestin to prevent pregnancy. 

Effectiveness: 99+% for up to 5 years while the Mirena IUD is inserted.

Proper Usage: Your healthcare provider will insert the Mirena IUD into your uterus through the cervix with a simple surgical procedure. After it is inserted, two strings will hang into the vagina. Feel for these strings with your fingers every few days. If they feel shorter, longer or if you feel the tip of the IUD against your cervix, the IUD is likely out of place. Call your healthcare provider. Pregnancy may occur if you have unprotected sex while the IUD is out of place.

Protection starts immediately if the IUD is inserted during a menstrual period. Otherwise, it starts 7 days after being inserted.


Emergency Contraception (EC)

Emergency ContraceptionThis is commonly known as Plan B or the Morning-After Pill. Emergency contraception is arguably one of the most important birth control methods you should know about, because it’s what you can turn to when other methods fail — if a condom breaks or if you have unprotected intercourse after forgetting to take the pill or making a mistake with any other method. You’ll need a prescription for EC if you’re 16 years or younger, but women 17 years and older can purchase emergency contraception over the counter. 

Some people equate EC with RU-486/Mifepristone, the abortion pill. These are two very different medications. Emergency contraception helps prevent a pregnancy by keeping a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs — without eggs, sperm have nothing to join with so pregnancy cannot occur. According to a study cited by Planned Parenthood, Mifepristone causes an abortion by “blocking the hormones necessary for maintaining a pregnancy,” and then Misoprostol, taken after Mifepristone is administered, “causes the uterus to contract and empty,” completing the abortion.

Effectiveness: 95% (when used within 24 hours of unprotected sex); 89% (when used within 72 hours of unprotected sex)

Proper Usage: Emergency contraception can help reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex. The sooner the emergency contraceptive pill is taken after intercourse, the better the chance of preventing pregnancy. A common brand of EC, Next Choice®, comes in two pills that may be taken at the same time, or within 12 hours of each other. It’s generally better to take both pills at once so you won’t forget, but if you’re prone to stomach upsets, take the pills separately.

Emergency contraception is just that – for emergencies. It delivers quite a large dose of hormones (and at up to $60 dollars a pop, is quite expensive) and it is not recommended for use as regular birth control.


Non-Hormonal Birth Control Methods

Some women experience negative side effects from hormonal birth control methods, or are uncomfortable with the idea of altering their body’s hormone balance. There are still many birth control methods to choose from that do not contain hormones, however they are not quite as effective.

Barrier Methods

These work by putting a physical barrier between sperm and the entire vagina or the cervix.

Condom (Male)

Male CondomThe condom is the only birth control method available today that’s designed to be used by men. It’s a sheath (commonly made of latex) that’s worn on the erect penis during intercourse. Using condoms is the only method that prevents pregnancy AND reduces the risk for STDs. Condoms are cheap (or even free at some health centers or community clinics), easy to find and do not require a prescription.

Effectiveness against pregnancy: 98% (perfect use); 85% (typical use)

Proper Usage: The condom should be worn before the penis touches the vulva or anus. Check the expiration date on the condom packaging before you unwrap it. Do not use the condom if this date has passed. Pinch the air out of the tip of the condom, then unroll it onto the erect penis. After ejaculating, firmly hold the base of the condom while pulling out of the vagina or anus, and then remove the condom, making sure the ejaculate doesn’t leak out. Knot the open end of the condom and throw it away.

Ensuring that there is enough lubrication, whether through natural secretions or water-based lubricant, helps reduce the risk of tearing. (Do not use oil-based lubricants as they can weaken the condom.) Never wear more than one condom at once. Condoms should also be used for anal sex to help reduce the transmission of STDs. STDs are less frequently transmitted through oral sex, but if you want to further reduce risk, use condoms for this activity also.

Condom (Female)

Female CondomThe female condom or FC2 (brand name) is a plastic pouch that is inserted into the vagina before sex to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of STDs. It may also be used for anal intercourse. It does not require a prescription.

Effectiveness against pregnancy:  95% (perfect use); 79% (typical use)

Proper Usage: Put lubricant or spermicide on the closed end of the condom and insert the inner ring deep into the vagina until it reaches the cervix. The outer ring should lie about an inch outside the vaginal opening.

Make sure your partner’s penis doesn’t slip between the condom and the walls of the vagina, and that the outer ring doesn’t get pushed inside. If this happens, and your partner ejaculates inside your vagina, you can reduce the risk of pregnancy by taking emergency contraception as soon as possible.


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