The Ins and Outs of Birth Control

When people hear the term “birth control,” many automatically think of the pill, but there are actually a lot of different methods out there to choose from. This is the place to find answers to your birth control questions so you can be informed, get prepared and find the method that’s right for you.

Real Stories: Who do you talk to about sexual health?

Things To Consider About Birth Control

Is birth control safe?

The quick answer is yes. But like any medication, there are certain risks and side effects associated with any type of birth control. For most women who are healthy and do not have any other health concerns, it’s likely that any method will be safe. For those with some health concerns, talk to your health care provider about what options will work for you. With so many different methods to choose from, we’re sure you’ll find your perfect fit.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our Birth Control Method Selector to learn the ins and outs of all the available choices.

Which methods are the most effective?

Not all methods are created equal. The most effective methods are long-acting reversible methods like IUDs and implants and permanent methods like tubal ligation, Essure and vasectomy. Less than one out of every 100 women who use these methods will become pregnant within the first year of use.

Hormonal methods like the pill are very effective if they are used correctly. Up to 8 out of every 100 women who use the pill will become pregnant during the first year of use.

IUDs and implants are generally considered to be the most effective methods, both because of the ways they work in the body and because they are so easy and convenient for women to use. These methods also work for a long time before needing to be removed or replaced, so it provides women with protection without any gaps. Women who take pills often have trouble getting their prescriptions for pills refilled, especially if they move to a new community or have changes in their income. The more responsible you are in using the method correctly the more effective it will be.

What are the most discrete methods?

The most discrete birth control methods include the IUD (because it is inserted inside the uterus), the contraceptive implant (because it is inserted under the skin on your arm), and the Depo-Provera shot because there is no device that a woman needs to have on hand or use.

Is “pulling out” a reliable method?

Not really. Withdrawal, or “pulling out” can reduce the risk of getting pregnant, but it is far from a reliable method. First, even before a guy comes, he can discharge a small amount of fluid that contains sperm. Second, in the heat of the moment, finding the willingness to, and ensuring the right timing for pulling out can be tricky.

How is celibacy different than abstinence?

Celibacy often refers to a vow that a person takes to refrain from sexual activity and intercourse, possibly even within a marriage. Many priests take a vow of celibacy as a religious practice.

Abstinence is a voluntary choice to not have sexual intercourse or engage in sexual activity for a certain amount of time, perhaps until a reliable method of birth control is being used or until a certain milestone within a relationship, such as marriage.

A person can choose to be celibate or abstinent even if they have had sex before.

Is emergency contraception the same as abortion?

No.  Emergency contraception (EC) can be taken within 5 days (120 hours) of unprotected intercourse because it works quickly to prevent ovulation, thus preventing a pregnancy from beginning. It is not a way to end an existing pregnancy, and will not be effective in doing so if used for this reason. Once pregnancy is under way and a fertilized egg has attached to the wall of the uterus, there is no evidence that emergency contraception harms or ends the pregnancy.  EC can be an important option for survivors of sexual assault.

 

EC is more effective the sooner you take it after unprotected sex. You can purchase EC at many health care centers or at a pharmacy without a prescription if you are at least 17 years old. There are several brands of EC including Plan B, Next Choice and ella, each of which works a little differently. However, none of them cause an abortion.

Which methods help prevent STDs/STIs?

The only method that can reduce the risk of spreading or contracting STDs/STIs and unwanted pregnancy is a condom (male and female) if used consistently and correctly. Using a water-based lubricant is A-OK, but don’t use anything with oils in it because it can make the condom ineffective. Something called “dual protection” (using condoms and a more effective birth control method at the same time) may be the very best approach. It is important to know that there are some STDs, like herpes and HPV that condoms are less effective at preventing.

In the U.S. young adults and teens have high rates of STDs. Hormonal birth control methods do not prevent STDs or HIV nor are they 100% effective for preventing pregnancy. Using a latex lubricated condom every time is a smart choice when it comes to protection against both STDs and pregnancy.

What methods can I use without seeing a health care provider first?

The methods available at drug or grocery stores include male and female condoms, the sponge and spermicides. Withdrawal and fertility awareness (also called natural family planning) are other methods that do not require a prescription. But just be aware that these are among the least effective methods available. Another option is choosing not to have sex.

Take a look at our Birth Control Method Selector to get the lowdown on these methods and more.

How much does it cost and can someone else buy it?

The costs can vary and depend on many factors including:

-The type of health center you visit
-The type of birth control method
-Where the method is obtained (over-the-counter or prescription)
-Whether or not a person has health insurance

 

There are many family planning health centers throughout Colorado that provide birth control methods at low or no cost to individuals, and fees are based on a sliding fee scale. These health centers are sometimes referred to as Title X (“Title Ten”) health centers because they are supported by the federal government under Title X of the public health law. This means that a person pays for services and birth control methods based on income and ability to pay, and no one is denied services if unable to pay.

 

It’s also important to note that you can get services at any Title X health center regardless of where you live. Finding a health center is easy—just use our Health Center Locator, to help you identify the low-cost options.

 

Additionally, other people may be able to buy your birth control for you. If it’s over-the-counter, anyone can buy it. If it’s prescription, you will need to get the script from your health care professional, but other people may be able to pick up the prescription if they have certain information, such as your birthdate. Check with your local pharmacy for their policies. And for Emergency Contraception (EC), anyone over the age of 17 can get it, man or woman.

Will birth control make me gain weight?

Weight gain, although a very common concern, is typically not a side effect of the pill, the patch, ring, implant or IUD. Some women, but not most, may gain weight while using the Depo-Provera shot. These are all prescription methods, so it is important for you to talk to your doctor about any side effects or weight gain when starting or while using a new or different method.

How can birth control affect my mood?

Most women do not experience mood changes severe enough to stop using their method of birth control, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

It’s rare to experience extreme mood changes on birth control, but if you’re concerned, there are some single-hormone and hormone-free options to try. Progestin-only methods (containing only the hormone progestin) come in pills, a shot, an implant and even an IUD. There are also completely non-hormonal methods such as condoms and the ParaGard IUD, which is one of the most effective methods available.  If you’re concerned, though, check with your health care provider to find a solution good for you.

Is it safe for birth control to change or stop my period?

Yes. Different methods affect your period in different ways, and these changes are completely safe. Many long-acting methods may lead to lighter or no periods while also creating some irregular bleeding. Others can be used to regulate your periods and may lead to less cramping as well. You can take a look at our Birth Control Method Selector or talk to any experienced health care professional to discuss any other benefits and potential side effects of different methods.

As an example, some brands of the pill, as well as Mirena (the hormonal IUD) are often prescribed to help women with heavy bleeding or irregular periods. Many women use these methods primarily for these reasons. Just keep in mind that these hormonal methods are prescription-only, so a doctor or nurse will be the perfect person to help you determine if they can safely help relieve any period woes.

And one more thing. You may have heard that it is possible to skip a period or have fewer periods while using the pill: No period? Really? Yes again. Some pills are specifically formulated to give you fewer periods. But before you change your brand or alter the way that you take your pills, talk to the health care provider who prescribed the pill to make sure your plan is safe.

Can I get pregnant during my period?

We get this question a lot. And yes, it is 100% possible to get pregnant on your period, though it is less likely to happen than if you were not on your period.

Women with shorter menstrual cycles (meaning having a period less than 28 days from the start of one period to the start of the next) have higher chances of becoming pregnant if having sex during or just after their period.

Should I use birth control if I’m LGBT or questioning?

Any time a person is having sex, protection should be used. As individuals seek to clarify their sexual identities, sometimes closeted gay, lesbian and bisexual teens try to prove they are heterosexual to avoid harassment and discrimination and end up having unsafe sex. Sexuality is often just fluid and someone who identifies as gay might at some point have hetero-sex (and vice-versa). Even if you are trans and taking hormones, you may still be fertile and so birth control is necessary — and you definitely should be using protection from STDs.

So the answer is: absolutely. It is important for everyone.

Do I need birth control if I’m breastfeeding?

While you might be a little less fertile, pregnancy is still a very real possibility while breastfeeding. Your menstrual cycles may be a little off, but you could still ovulate. If you’re really not ready for the next pregnancy, use contraception even while breastfeeding. Talk with your healthcare provider about what methods are safe to use during this time.

Should sexual activity always be voluntary?

Absolutely. You should always have the opportunity to decide if, when, how and with whom you have sex – and if that isn’t part of the mix with someone, seek assistance. It’s not OK for someone to force you to do something you don’t want or to use a birth control method you don’t want.  It may be hard, but if you feel pressured, or someone is being physically or emotionally forceful or violent with you, there are lots of resources to help you.  Please use them.