Questions and Answers About Birth Control
Q. What's birth control or contraceptives?
A. Contraception means preventing pregnancy. There are many ways to prevent pregnancy. Behavioral methods are ways to regulate sexual behavior in order to prevent pregnancy, such as: Abstinence, which means not having sex and is the only 100% guaranteed method to avoid pregnancy, Fertility-awareness, which means paying attention to your fertility cycle and avoiding sex when you're fertile, withdrawal, in which the man pulls his penis out of a woman's vagina before he ejaculates, and outercourse, which is sex play without penetration. Over-the-counter methods are mostly barrier methods, which means putting a layer of something (usually latex) over the penis in order to prevent conception. Hormonal methods use synthetic hormones to prevent women from ovulation, which prevents pregnancy. Hormonal methods do not prevent against STD's.
Q. Can birth control pills protect me from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
A. No. Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) only prevent pregnancy - they do not protect against STDs. Depending on the type of pill you take, they will work by preventing your ovaries from releasing eggs, or thicken the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from joining with an egg. Oral contraceptive pills are the most effective method of hormonal birth control.
Q. I can avoid becoming pregnant if my partner pulls out in time, right?
A. Not necessarily. It's not uncommon for intercourse to start before the man puts on a condom, but this can put you at risk for getting pregnant. Women can still get pregnant from pre-cum (that stuff a guy releases before he ejaculates). It can also carry sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). That's why it's important to always use a condom during sexual activity.
Q. What's an IUD??
A. IUD stands for Intrauterine Device. It's a long-term, reversible method of birth control, recommended for couples who are in long term, monogamous relationships and get tested regularly for STDs. It does not protect against STDs. The IUD is a tiny, T-shaped piece of plastic that's inserted into a woman's uterus by a health professional. IUDs can stay in place anywhere from 5-12 years, and can be removed (again, by a professional!) anytime the woman wants to get pregnant. There are currently two kinds of IUD's on the market - Paragard, which contains copper, and Mirena, which contains the hormone progestin. Serious problems with IUD's are rare, but there are some possible side effects, including heavy bleeding, which usually disappear after several months of use.
Q. What's The Ring?
A. The Ring - or NuvaRing - is a method of birth control. You must see a clinician to get a prescription for one. You insert the flexible, plastic ring into your vagina once a month, leave it in place for 3 weeks, and remove it for the 4th week. This form of birth control is a good option for those who feel comfortable with touching their vaginas. Some folks can feel the ring in certain positions during sex. The ring releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. The 4th week (when the ring is not in place) is when you will have your period - much like that last week of placebo pills in oral contraceptives. The ring does not protect against STDs, so it's best to use a condom along with it to make sure you're safe!
Q. I've heard there are new birth control pills that stop your period. Are these safe?
A. There are two new brands of oral contraceptives on the market - Seasonale and Lybrel. Seasonale lets you have only four periods a year instead of the usual 12-13. Lybrel has been shown to eliminate monthly periods completely. The traditional pill pack consists of 21 active pills taken everyday, and seven placebo pills that signal the week of menstruation. With Seasonale, instead of 21 active pills there are 84 plus seven placebo pills, giving the woman a period at the end of each four-month cycle. Lybrel pills are taken 365 days a year and have no placebos. For more info on the safety and other concerns with these pills, check out the article "To Bleed or Not to Bleed", which appeared in PEP's newsletter.
Q. What is the Morning After Pill? Does it cause an abortion?
A. The Morning-After Pill, also known as Emergency Contraception or EC, is actually a large dose of birth control. It can prevent pregnancy if taken within 5 days of a sexual snafu -the condom broke or you forgot to take your birth control pill. If you're 18 or over, you can get EC at a pharmacy without a prescription. If you live in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont, or Washington, you can get EC from the pharmacy no matter how old you are. In other states, you need to get a prescription for EC - to find a provider near you, call 1-888-NOT-2-LATE.
EC is not an abortion pill- it simply sheds the lining of the uterus to make sure nothing has implanted. EC will not do anything if the woman is already pregnant, it is less effective the longer you wait to take it, and it does not protect against STDs.
Q. What are the different kinds of barrier methods?
A. There are several options if you want to protect against STD's during all types of intercourse. Male condoms are used during penetrative sex, and are usually made out of latex or plastic. There are many different sizes and flavors. Condoms are one of the most effective barrier methods, and they protect even better when used with a spermicide. Spermicide is a chemical that kills sperm, and it comes in creams, foams, jellies, and more. The spermicide Nonoxynol -9 can irritate tissue and increase the risk of transmitting sexually transmitted infections. Insertable (female) condoms are made of a plastic sheath that is inserted inside the vagina or anus during penetrative sex. Dental dams are another barrier method that can be used during oral sex with women - they are typically made of a thin sheet of plastic, and should only be used once. Substituting saran wrap works okay too. Using water-based lubricant like K-Y Jelly or Slippery Stuff is recommended with all kinds of barrier methods. Using oil-based lube like Vaseline can cause the latex to break down, so we strongly recommend using ONLY water-based lube.
Q. How do I use/care for condoms?
A. Keep them away from heat and light. Store them in a cool, dry place - NOT in a back pocket, glove compartment or wallet Remember to use a condom only once and grab the ones with the "reservoir tip," squeezing out the air from the tip as you put it on. If you are participating in multiple sex acts at once, such as vaginal and anal sex, always change the condom, never go back and forth between the two sex acts using the same condom. Oh, and one more thing, don't rip the condom packet with your teeth…yes, in the heat of the moment it seems sexy…but it will put you in danger of puncturing the condom with your teeth!
Q. How do I get on birth control pills?
A. Birth control must be prescribed to you through a doctor or gynecologist. Normally your gyno will give you a pap smear and then discuss your birth control options with you. Planned Parenthood provides birth control to women on a sliding scale and does not require a parent's approval.
Q. What's the deal with the shot?
A. Depo-Provera, sometimes referred to as "the shot", is an injection of the hormone progestogen, which prevents pregnancy. Women who use Depo-Provera get a shot from their health care provider every three months. Depo is very effective at preventing pregnancy, and can be a good method for women who aren't good at remembering to take birth control pills. In many women, Depo also stops periods from happening. Depo Provera has been proven to cause bone loss, which gets worse the longer women use Depo, and may be irreversible. For this reason, the FDA recommends that Depo not be used for longer than 2 years, and there are now other forms of long-term birth control (such as the Nuva-ring or the birth control patch) that don't require a daily dose and are not associated with health risks.
Q. How long has birth control been around?
A. For as long as women have been getting pregnant, they have been finding ways to prevent pregnancy. Methods such as fertility awareness and withdrawal before ejaculation have been used for thousands of years. In the 1950's, hormonal birth control was introduced for the first time. Historically, long-term birth control methods have been heavily promoted in communities of color based on racist policies that tried to reduce the number of children that women of color had. While birth control allows women to control their fertility, it is also important that other people not be able to control women's fertility without their consent.