(Tina Dawn/ VM-Med) — Sexual wellness and reproductive health are a big part of a woman’s overall physical and mental health. Sexual health encompasses a wide variety of areas and concerns, ranging from one’s sexuality, to STD prevention, and most definitely reproduction. The form of birth control that’s right for each person is a very personal decision. It’s also one that can change.
Depending on a woman’s age, her relationship status, her desire to have a child and when, and any medical risk factors, her birth control methods may vary from decade to decade. Your healthcare provider can help you navigate the options available for you, depending on your health history and particular needs.
Types of contraceptives available
There are many different types of contraceptives and birth control available for women on the market. As a general rule, they are separated in five major categories.
Barrier methods include male and female condoms, as well as the diaphragm, the cervical cap, and the contraceptive sponge. The barrier method is used as needed. Condoms are 95% effective and protect you from both pregnancy and STIs.
Short-acting hormonal methods include the birth control pill, the progestin shot (Depo-Provera), the contraceptive ring, and the contraceptive patch.
Long-acting hormonal methods may include the patch or intrauterine devices (more commonly known as IUDs) which act as another kind of hormonal birth control. A copper IUD however is the one exception because it’s nonhormonal. The contraceptive implant (a small flexible plastic rod that’s placed under the skin in your upper arm by a health professional and releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy) is also long-lasting (up to three years).
Spermicide or vaginal gel are also types of contraceptives. Sterilization, which is a more permanent decision and can include a vasectomy for a male sexual partner or tubal ligation for the woman, is usually for sexually active people who no longer want the option of being able to have children.
Fertility awareness methods, such as the rhythm method, involves tracking your menstrual cycle and symptoms in an attempt to avoid having sex on your most fertile days. Women can keep track of their fertility by the calendar method, by tracking their menstrual cycle every month, by taking their temperature to pinpoint when they’re ovulating, or by tracking their vaginal discharge.
While these methods are free and don’t require taking a daily pill, they are not as reliable. Fertility awareness methods have a high failure rate and also don’t protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. If you’re not in a monogamous relationship, it’s best to use a condom to protect yourself.
There are also emergency contraceptive pills that are highly effective when taken properly and quickly to prevent pregnancy if a condom broke or unprotected sex occurred. Emergency contraception pills are safe and don’t cause any long-term side effects.
The Canadian Contraception Survey found that the most commonly used methods of contraception in Canada were oral contraceptives (44%) and condoms (54%) while the third most commonly used method of contraception was withdrawal (12%).
Different options for different ages
Depending on your overall health and sex life, you will make different choices. Some women are more prone to headaches and nausea and don’t do well with the birth control pill and other hormonal methods, which often have undesired side effects. Your birth control choices have to be compatible with your lifestyle.
“If you’re over the age of 35 and you’re a smoker, you shouldn’t be taking birth control pills,” according to this medically reviewed article in Health. “The same advice goes for contraceptive rings and patches. Hormonal birth control methods raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots.”
Other women choose condoms because they want to be certain they’re protected from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV are just some examples of infections that spread through unprotected sexual activity. For example, a contraceptive implant may be very convenient for a woman in a monogamous relationship, but it would not be the best option for someone who doesn’t have a long-term partner since it does not offer any STD protection.
Women who may want to try and get pregnant in the foreseeable future may opt out of long-term hormonal methods, which may compromise their ability to conceive for up to a year. Most women appreciate low-maintenance, long-term birth control options. If you experience unwanted side effects from one form of birth control, you should simply try something else until you find what works best for you.
Other benefits of birth control
Contraceptives offer mental health benefits as well. Not only do they help some women find relief from painful symptoms and improve their overall mood, but they also give women peace of mind and the freedom to enjoy sex, without worrying about getting pregnant.
It’s important to remember that birth control isn’t solely prescribed for preventing pregnancies. Many women use birth control pills to help lighten heavy periods and ease the pain of cramps, regulate menstrual cycles, ease symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, or clear up hormonal acne.
Every person is unique –and so are their birth control needs.
Speaking with a reproductive healthcare professional can help you decide which form of contraception is best for you.
VM-Med’s private gynecology center and its specialized team offers specialized counselling and treatments, including family planning, contraception, IUD insertion and extraction, STI screening and treatment, and more.
Still have questions? Read more articles on gynecology and reproductive health or book a consultation with our experts.