51% of pregnancies in the US are unintended, and abortion and STI rates are on the rise. How can we stop this? Safer sex is the answer!
According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that advances sexual and reproductive health and rights through research, policy analysis, and public education, more than half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended. This is a staggering number, seeing as there are over 6.6 million pregnancies a year.
The institute goes on to say that births that result from unintended pregnancies are associated with adverse maternal and child health outcomes. Examples include delayed prenatal care, premature birth, and negative physical and mental health effects for the children.
As of February 2015, the Guttmacher Institute also reported that the average American woman spends about five years of her life pregnant, either postpartum or trying to become pregnant, whereas three decades are spent trying to avoid an unintended pregnancy. This makes up almost three quarters of her reproductive years.
Statistics published on the site also show that by age 45, more than half of all American women will have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and three in 10 will have had an abortion. As important as it is that women have the right to choose if she wants to go through with the pregnancy, there is no need for any of that if safe sex measures are taken.
What birth control method is right for you?
Science has come a long way in helping women prevent unintended pregnancies, all of which come in the form of birth control. With information garnered from Planned Parenthood, here are 10 of the simplest and most popular options available on the market.
#1 The pill. There are myriad options on the market. Also known as oral contraception, it is a pill that women take on a daily basis to prevent pregnancy. These pills contain estrogen and progestin hormones and work by keeping the eggs in the ovaries. They also cause the cervical mucus to thicken, making it far more difficult for the sperm to fight its way to the egg.
You have to be very diligent when it comes to taking it, though. It must be consumed at the same time every day for it to be effective. Many women set alarm reminders on their phones and take it first thing in the morning or right before bed.
Upside: You will notice that your periods are shorter and lighter. You may also be treated to clearer skin, little or no menstrual cramps, and a drop in premenstrual symptoms.
Downside: Depending on how your body reacts to the hormones, you may experience some side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and bleeding in between your periods. It may also decrease your libido. [Read: 7 women’s problems “down there” that should never be ignored]
#2 IUD. An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small T-shaped device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types for you to choose from, namely the copper kind or the hormonal type. IUDs work by affecting the way the sperm moves, so that it cannot meet the egg. Similar to the pill, the hormonal IUD also thickens the cervical mucus, making it that much harder for the sperm to make its way to the egg.
Upside: Once the IUD is inserted, you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant for up to 12 years. This, of course, depends on your body and the type of IUD you opt for. They are one of the least expensive and most convenient forms of birth control, and they are very effective in preventing pregnancy.
Downside: A medical professional has to insert the device for you. Some women have complained of side effects, such as spotting between periods, heavier periods, cramping, and mild pain when the IUD is initially inserted.
#3 Condoms for dudes. You have the choice between latex and polyurethane. Latex condoms are the most common to come across, cheaper, more flexible, and more lubricated. They work as a snug glove that goes over the penis, and they are the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Upside: This form of birth control is cheap and widely available. Some organizations even give them out for free. They come in various sizes, styles, and flavors, making for a fun time between the sheets. Many are even lubricated with spermicide, making it more effective in preventing unintended pregnancies.
Downside: Many men dislike wearing condoms and describe it as, “Taking a shower with a raincoat on.” There is also the risk of the condom tearing, or even worse, not bothering to put it on in the heat of the moment. We have all been there, so let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen. [Read: Condom types and how they can improve your sex life]
#4 Condoms for chicks. I bet you didn’t even know that they make condoms for women, eh? Well, they do, and they are really effective. The female condom is a pouch with flexible rings at each end and is inserted deep into the vagina just before intercourse. The ring at the top holds the pouch in the vagina, and the ring at the other end stays outside the vaginal opening during intercourse. They collect the semen and prevent sperm from entering the vagina.
Upside: Female condoms are safe and very easy to use. Many women even say that the external ring stimulates the clitoris during intercourse, making lovemaking even more exciting than it usually is. Plus, its effectiveness in staying in place isn’t determined by the man’s erection.
Downside: It has to be inserted and removed before and after intercourse. Some women have complained about it acting as a sheet that makes sex less sensitive. For some, it may cause irritation and discomfort.
#5 Diaphragm. Similar to a female condom, a diaphragm is an object that is inserted into the vagina to block the cervix. Made out of silicone, it looks like a shallow cup, and one diaphragm can last for up to a couple of years. It is easy to procure and comes cheap.
Upside: It is simple to use and can be toted around in your purse, ready to be busted out for unexpected quickies. If you plan on doing the deed, you can also plan ahead and insert it into your vagina hours before. As it does not release any hormones, it won’t affect your natural system or your libido.
Downside: It has to be inserted and removed before and after intercourse. Depending on the sexual position and how hard your partner thrusts, it may fall out of place and need to be readjusted. You also have to be sure that you insert it right and that your cervix is properly covered.
#6 The patch. The patch looks like a little Band-Aid that you stick on your arm. It looks very much like a nicotine patch and in some ways, works the same way, but instead of nicotine, it releases estrogen and progestin hormones into your body. They keep the eggs from leaving the ovaries and make the cervical mucus thicker. You have to place a patch on your skin once a week for three weeks running, then go patch-free for a week before repeating the cycle.
Upside: Like the pill, the patch causes some women to have shorter and lighter periods, little to no menstrual cramps, less PMS, and clearer skin.
Downside: Depending on how your body reacts to the hormones, you may experience some side effects such as dizziness, spotting in between periods, nausea, and worst of all, a drop in sexual desire.
#7 The ring. As its name suggests, the ring is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month. It lasts for three weeks before it is removed, and the woman goes ring-free for a week before a new one takes its place. Like the pill and the patch, it releases estrogen and progestin hormones to make the cervical mucus thicker and to keep the eggs from leaving the ovaries.
Upside: As it is hormone-oriented, the ring helps lighten and shorten periods. It also lessens menstrual cramps and PMS, and clears up acne.
Downside: Depending on how your body reacts to the hormones, you may experience some side effects such as dizziness, spotting in between periods, decreased sexual desire, nausea, increased vaginal discharge, and even infection.
#8 Hormone shots. This is perhaps one of the simplest forms of birth control that is offered to women. All it takes is a visit to the doctor every three months for a progestin hormone injection. It works by keeping the eggs in the ovaries and making the cervical mucus thicker, thus making it harder for the sperm to get to the egg.
Upside: It is simple and very convenient. Not just that, it is very long-lasting and effective.
Downside: Irregular bleeding is the most common side effect experienced by women, especially within the first year of its introduction into their system. Some even complain about their periods stopping completely. Other side effects include depression, hair loss, migraines, and nausea.
#9 Fertility awareness. Although the most risky, this form of birth control is the safest for your body, as it doesn’t mess with your hormones, and it depends entirely on you being on top of your game when it comes to watching the calendar. You basically need to pay attention to when you’re ovulating, so you can steer clear from unprotected sex for those few days, as you are at your most fertile. You can either do it the old school way by marking your calendar or taking advantage of the myriad smartphone applications out there.
Upside: This method is free and very safe. Be it hormones or a device, you are not inserting anything into your body, and you are being as natural as can be.
Downside: You are totally dependent on yourself, and you may mess it up if you’re not careful. This also depends on how cooperative your partner is, and whether he is willing to accept your choice to abstain from unprotected sex when you are ovulating. This is also not a good method if you’re someone who experiences irregular periods. [Read: The most common STDs and their symptoms]
#10 Abstinence. Who are we kidding? If you’re reading this list, there is a very high chance that you’re already having sex or at the very least thinking about it. In all fairness, abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy because if you don’t do the deed, there’s no way conception will happen. There’s nothing wrong with shutting your legs and waiting for the right person to come along. In fact, imagine how wonderful it will be when you’re ready to jump back into the sack after a long hiatus. [Read: Pulling out is safe and other bad sex advice you’ve heard]
Things to keep in mind regarding birth control
It is important that you get all the facts from a medical professional before making an informed decision. No amount of online research and trolling medical websites will be able to provide you with as much accurate information as your doctor. Be sure to speak to him or her before deciding which form of birth control to go with.
No matter which form of birth control you opt for, keep in mind that they will only aid in preventing unintended pregnancies, and that they will not shield you from sexually transmitted infections and other diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Even condoms do not guarantee 100% protection, as even skin on skin contact may transmit STIs such as genital warts and HPV. If possible, steer clear from one night stands, get tested frequently, and as uncomfortable as it may be, ask your sexual partner to get tested as well.[Read: 10 ways to subtly ask your partner to get tested]
Except for the best orgasm ever, nothing beats having peace of mind when having a romp between the sheets. So make sure you’ve got one less thing to worry about when you’re having sex by keeping yourself informed of the birth control options available to you.
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