With all this talk of contraception at the national level, it's a good time to clarify what birth control is and does and what methods are available to consumers. When the term "contraception" is mentioned, people are generally a bit confused. This is just a fancy name for birth control or-in even more basic terms-a method that prevents pregnancy. Pills generally come to mind, but there are a whole slew of options available to consumers. Some are hormonal, but many are not. The most important thing to remember is this: no form of contraception will end an existing pregnancy. Birth control is not an abortifacient. In fact, it helps couples avoid unplanned pregnancy and the tough decisions that accompany it.
First, let's look at barrier methods. These include male latex and polyurethane condoms and female condoms. These methods are non-hormonal and will also help to prevent HIV and other STIs. It is necessary to ALWAYS use a condom with each sex act because even women on birth control can contract and spread harmful STIs. The cervical cap, diaphragm, and sponge are also considered barrier methods, but they are generally not as widely used as condoms, and they do NOT protect against HIV and other STIs. These methods vary in effectiveness, but male and female condoms are the most effective barrier methods. They can prevent pregnancy up to 96% of the time when used correctly!
Now, we'll turn to hormonal methods. There are pills, of course, and consumers can choose from hundreds of brands. If someone is not satisfied with their birth control pill, there is ALWAYS another option. So, how do BCPs work? Generally, these emit hormones (synthetic estrogen and progestin or solely progestin) and prevent a woman from ovulating. If a woman doesn't ovulate, then there is no egg for the sperm to meet. The lining of the uterus may also be thinner, and cervical mucus may thicken. Both of these actions help to prevent pregnancy. Methods like the Nuvaring and the Ortho Evra Patch work very similarly to pills. They are simply "extended release" methods and contain more hormones which are slowly released over a week or month (patch and ring, respectively). These methods are over 99% effective if taken correctly and about 92% effective with human error.
What about those other things like inserts and IUDs? Implanon is a fairly new method available and lasts for three years. It's a small, plastic rod inserted in the arm which slowly releases progestin over multiple years. See? It's just like some of the other methods but for a longer time period. IUDs come in two types: hormonal and non-hormonal. The hormonal IUD is called Mirena, and it slowly emits progestin over five years, but, like Implanon, it can be removed whenever. Paragard is a non-hormonal copper IUD that can be inserted for up to ten years. It works by thickening the cervical mucus. An IUD allows a woman's body to identify a foreign object in the uterus, so, in turn, it will not let anything else in (i.e., sperm).
Finally, let's talk about emergency contraception. The "morning after pill" or Plan B does not cause an abortion or affect an existing pregnancy. It is simply a higher dose of a regular BCP. In fact, there are equivalency charts between Plan B and regular BCPs. That's right! You can take your regular BCPs as emergency contraception if they are one of the specified brands. When someone takes emergency contraception, it prevents their body from releasing an egg. The cervical mucus also thickens, which prevents sperm from entering (in case an egg has already been released). When taken as soon as possible (within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse), EC can be up to 89% effective. EC is most effective when take ASAP, except for a new brand, Ella, which has the same effectiveness for the full five days.
While there are other methods of contraception available (fertility awareness, sterilization, etc.), these are the "hot topics". Female sterilization is actually the most common form of "birth control" in the United States, but for individuals not done having children, some of the above methods might be a great fit. When condoms and another method-like BCPs-are combined, the user is benefitting from maximum protection. They are not only preventing pregnancy in two ways, but they are also protecting against STIs-some of which are life threatening. So remember, protect yourself and your future!
For more information on contraceptive methods, visit www.ppfa.org. PPCO provides presentations on all methods to schools, churches, community groups, and more. Please contact us at 405.528.0221 to schedule a program within central/western Oklahoma.