Never Fear: Birth Control

BY RACHEL RICHARDS '17

My boyfriend is interested in having sex without using a condom. How much can I actually rely on birth control? I’m into the idea, but not into the potential consequences.

First, both of you should go get tested so you’re aware of any STIs either of you may be carrying. Some of them are curable, and all of them are treatable. If you are going to start having sex without a condom, this is an important step to take. The health center at Mount Holyoke College can provide STI testing, and the Planned Parenthood in Springfield is also capable. If the relationship isn’t monogamous, and either of you are having sex with other people, discuss how you will both prevent those people from introducing an STI. 

There is a plethora of different forms of birth control to try, and talking to a doctor about what is going to best fit your body and lifestyle is important. Here are a few examples to think about: 

Oral contraceptives are pills you take at the same time every day for three weeks out of the month, allowing for one week off of the pill, or taking a placebo pill, when you menstruate. There are a wide range of options of hormone mixes and doses. Most are a mix between estrogen and progestin, but they also come in different forms. Used perfectly it is 99 percent effective, but because there’s a larger margin of human error, the typical success rate is 91 percent according to Bedsider. One of the favorite characteristics of ‘the pill’ are its positive side effects, which Bedsider lists as lighter periods, clearer skin and reduced symptoms of PMS. Negative side effects can include depression, mood swings, sore breasts and decreased sex drive. These can also appear in any form of hormone based birth control. 

Implants are a tiny small bar with hormones in it which are placed in the arm via injection. Bedsider says that the hormone in implants is progestin, so those who react negatively to estrogen could benefit from this form of birth control. The bar is a bit smaller than a match stick, and is invisible to the eye but when touched can be felt under the skin. The implant lasts 5 years with a .05% fail rate, which is the most effective temporary form of birth control on the market. 

Intrauterine Devices, or IUDs, come in copper and hormonal versions. For those who do not want to add hormones to their body, or who have had negative side effects from hormone based birth control, the copper one can be a good option. IUDs are ‘Ts’ that sit inside of the uterus for three to twelve years, depending on the type and the brand. Erika Moen, the author of Oh Joy Sex Toy, writes about her experience getting a copper IUD, saying it works by makes uterus inhospitable, thus killing sperm and keeping eggs from implanting, while also thickening mucus, making it harder for sperm to move through it. She notes that the insertion process can be uncomfortable or painful. Recovery consists of cramping and spotting. Afterward, menstruation will be heavier with stronger cramps. Other cons include needing a doctor for insertion and removal, the chance of it rejecting and if something does go wrong it, while rare, can cause something as dire as ectopic pregnancy or a punctured uterus. Pros are that it is 99.4 percent effective, requires no maintenance once it’s in and is completely reversible. A partner with a penis will often be able to feel the string that drops down through the cervix during sex. People report the string becoming softer as time goes on, and thus less noticeable. If your partner is getting poked during sex, switch up positions and that should fix the problem. Hormonal IUDs function only slightly differently. They don’t last as long, typically five years, they don’t make menstruation more difficult and they have similar side effects to other hormone based birth control. 

For more information, check out Bedsider.org. They have a wealth of knowledge on birth control options.

Rachel Richards is a peer health educator at Mount Holyoke College.

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