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Wellness Education

SEX: Contraception

Use it to prevent pregnancy, regulate or moderate your period, or even clear up acne. Learn about the pluses and minuses of each method below.

The Pill

Basically there are two different types of pills on the market today: combination pills, which contain both estrogen and progestin, and mini-pills. Both types work by thinning the uterine lining and changing thickening cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to connect with an egg.

Benefits of The Pill:

  • Regulate or shorten menstrual cycles
  • Decrease severe cramping and heavy bleeding
  • Reduce ovarian cancer risk
  • Reduce colorectal cancer risk
  • Reduce the development of ovarian cysts
  • Decrease benign breast disease
  • Reduce the severity and incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) (infection primarily of the fallopian tubes and/or the female reproductive tract)
  • Protect against ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus, in the fallopian tubes).
  • Reduce the risk of uterine (endometrial) cancer. Reduce acne
  • Treat the emotional and physical symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe form of PMS.

Risks of The Pill:
Women with certain health conditions may not be able to use birth control pills, including: heart disease, stroke, liver disease, blood clots, breast cancer, severe or uncontrolled diabetes, smokers age 35 or older, certain types of migraines, and severe hypertension

Possible side effects include nausea, breast tenderness and bleeding. Most side effects decrease or disappear after a few months of use.

The Shot a.k.a. Depo-Provera

Women who use the Shot receive an injection of progestin every three months to protect against pregnancy. After receiving the Shot, you may experience changes in menstrual bleeding, including spotting. Some women stop having periods all together, which is fine because with this birth control method, the uterine lining doesn't grow thick enough to shed and cause menstruation. Progestin shots have been shown to reduce the risk of uterine (endometrial) cancer and prevent anemia, ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Side effects may include:

  • Bloating/weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Loss of interest in sex and hair loss

Some studies suggest a link between the Shot and loss of bone density, which can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis. Because this bone density loss is greater with long-term use, talk to your health care professional about another method of birth control after two years on the Shot.

The Ring, a.k.a. NuvaRing

NuvaRing is one of the newest contraceptives on the market and is available by prescription only. The ring itself is soft, flexible, and transparent and measures about two inches in diameter. It contains estrogen and progestin, and when you insert it into the vagina (like a tampon), hormones are slowly released on a continual basis. A new ring is inserted each month for continuous contraception.

Benefits of NuvaRing:

  • Only needs to be replaced once per month
  • Highly effective

Side Effects may Include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginitis
  • Irritation
  • Potential increased risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Women who use NuvaRing are strongly advised not to smoke, as it may increase the risk of heart-related side effects.

The Patch a.k.a. OrthoEvra

Hormones are released into the body from a 1 ¾ inch adhesive patch consisting of three layers. The Patch can be applied to skin on the lower abdomen, buttocks or upper body, but not breasts, and must be replaced every week. After three weeks (and three new patches) you have one week that is patch-free, when you get your period.

Benefits of the Patch:
The Patch is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly. You need not think about your birth control every day, just once per week!

Side effects and warnings:
Some women experience breast symptoms, headache, a reaction at the application site, nausea, upper respiratory infection, menstrual cramps and abdominal pain. Other risks are similar to those from using the Pill, including an increased risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke. The Patch delivers a higher dose of estrogen than the Pill and therefore may increase the risk of blood clots.

Intrauterine Devices (IUD)

The IUD is a plastic, T-shaped device that is inserted by a health care professional into the uterus. One type of IUD, the ParaGard, is coiled with copper and can remain in the uterus for up to 10 years. A Mirena IUD can be kept in place for up to five years. During that time, it releases a low dose of the same progestin found in many birth control pills. 
Some women are reluctant to use IUDs because of the damaging effects caused by the Dalkon Shield, an IUD popular in the 1970s. The Dalkon Sheild was withdrawn from the market in 1975 and  IUDs are constructed differently and are considered safe for women with low risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

Benefits of IUD:
The IUD is highly effective in preventing pregnancy, and also provides some protection against ectopic pregnancies. Once the IUD is inserted, it requires no care other than checking the strings attached to the IUD to ensure that it remains in place. The strings are fine threads that hang into the cervix and can be felt from the vagina.

Side Effects:
The most common side effects associated with ParaGard IUD are cramping and heavy bleeding. Women using the Mirena IUD may initially have irregular periods/bleeding. After a few months, you may experience lighter periods or no periods at all.

Use of all IUDs has been associated with an increased incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), so women who have a recent history of PID or who are at high risk for contracting STIs should not use the IUD.

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods are exactly what they sound like—placing a barrier between the penis and vagina so that sperm cannot fertilize an egg. There are a few different barrier methods.

Male Condoms:
The condom is a made of latex or polyurethane and is placed on the penis just before to intercourse. Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, provide the best available means of reducing the risk of transmission of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Note: Condoms made of lambskin do not offer as much protection because they are porous enough to allow viruses to pass through.

Female Condoms:
Soft, thin, polyurethane condom with two flexible rings, one that contains the closed end of the sheath and is inserted into the vagina. The other ring stays outside the vagina.

Diaphragms and Cervical Caps:
These often require a prescription and initial fitting by a health care professional. The diaphragm is a soft rubber dome with a flexible rim that covers the cervix. The cervical cap fits snugly on the surface of the cervix. Both devices block sperm from entering the uterus, but should be used along with a spermicide.

The diaphragm can be inserted up to six hours before intercourse and should remain in place for six to eight hours after intercourse. The cervical cap can be left in place for up to 48 hours.


Spermicides are nonprescription, non-hormonal chemical products containing the active ingredient nonoxynol-9 (N-9) or octoxynol-9 (0-9). They can be used alone or in combination with other barrier contraceptives. Spermicides are available as foam, cream, gel, suppository and film, and, when used with other barrier contraceptives, are more effective than either method used alone.

Emergency Contraception, a.k.a.
Plan B or the Morning-After Pill

This type of contraception is used only after unprotected intercourse. Emergency contraception contains the same hormones as regular birth control, but is taken differently.
Plan B is available over-the-counter for women ages 18 and older.

To be the most effective, emergency contraceptive pills should be started as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse and no more than 72 hours after. Following the first dose of medication, a second dose must be taken within 12 hours.

Side Effects and Risks
Emergency contraceptive pills should not be used regularly as birth control because they can disrupt your menstrual cycle. They are also not 100 percent effective and can cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, breast tenderness, dizziness and bloating.


Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)


Safer Sex Tips



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