For many women, contraception is an essential, life-improving medical development whether it is used to avoid unwanted pregnancy, reduce the heaviness and painfulness of periods, or for another one of its many varied purposes. But for many, the form of which contraceptive method they should actually use is still something of a mystery. Here we look at three of the most common types of contraception to help you work out which form best suits you and your specific needs.
Why take contraception?Contraception comes in a wide variety of forms: it can be injected, taken orally, and even implanted. This variation, while incredibly beneficial in helping women to find the form of contraception that best suits them, can also be overwhelming. For instance, if you simply google the phrase “What form of contraception best suits me?” you are then faced with over 4,000,000 results and if you then click on the NHS website, you will then find details about 14 different types of contraception. While not all of these contraceptive methods serve the same purpose, for example, condoms do nothing to help alleviate chronic period pain, the plethora of choices and the enormity of both useful and also inaccurate information shared online can make the choice of if and what contraption to use incredibly difficult.
The Development of Contraception
While contraception may seem to many as a relatively recent phenomenon, with the current most popular form of birth control, the combined contraceptive pill, only developed in the 1950s, forms of contraception date back to well beyond the 20th century. For instance, ‘natural’ birth control methods including honey and eucalyptus have been identified amongst ancient Egyptian papyrus writings. Birth control has remained a hot topic yet largely under the control of the control of men. Birth control methods were almost exclusively used to prevent pregnancy with not much thought or concern for period pain, bad acne, heavy bleeding etc. With such a male focus birth control made very little progress since the 1960s despite the significant side effects still associated with the combined pill. It is for this reason that women are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the contraceptive options available to them and pill usage is declining. At FabLittleBag, we believe more research, more funding and more openness are essential for future progression to be made in relation to women’s contraceptive access and options.
What do different forms of contraception actually do?
There is more than just one type of contraceptive pill. The most commonly taken option is the combined pill. This is taken every single day and is useful both for preventing pregnancies (if taken correctly, it has over 99% effectiveness) and also in regulating periods, both in terms of their intensity and frequency. It’s a popular option for those who experience particularly heavy menstrual cycles or have painful symptoms both during their period and before. Often, the pill is taken for 21 days followed by a week off to allow for a period to occur, although this is not always the case. The way the pill works is by releasing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women naturally produce anyway. As a result, the ovaries do not produce an egg as they normally would roughly every month. Additionally, the mucus of the neck of the womb also becomes thicker, while the lining of the womb thins thus making it harder for sperm to reach an egg and for a fertilised egg to settle.
Additionally, there is also the mini pill, or progesterone-only pill (POP). Similarly to the combined pill, this option is taken every day, but due to the shorter time in which the POP is active, it must be taken at roughly the same time every day. And so, although women taking the POP don’t have to be prepared for the potential surprise arrival of their period by always carrying items like tampons and sanitary bags, they do still have to be keenly alert as to when exactly they last took the pill. Unlike the combined pill, not all POPS stop the production of eggs, but they do thicken the mucus at the neck of the womb and thin the lining of the uterus.
While using the patch, many people experience lighter periods and their frequency can be controlled. The patch can even be used continually so users do not get a period for a prolonged period of time although most users will use the patch continuously for three weeks, replacing it once a week, and will stop for a week to have a period. Just like the combined pill, the patch released progesterone and oestrogen and so has the same effects on the ovaries, womb and uterus and is also 99% effective if used entirely correctly. Unlike the combined pill, however, it requires slightly less frequent attention as it only needs to be adjusted once a week. The patch does not suit all women, however, in part due to its quite indiscreet nature, especially for women with darker skin tones since it only comes in one peachy-nude colour.
The injection can work to ease the intensity of periods for many users, even stopping them completely for 40% of its users, meaning it can be a great option for women for whom, due to the nature of their lifestyle or occupation, changing their sanitary pad or tampon regularly is not possible. The injection is given every three months by a trained professional and so has to be remembered less frequently than either the pill or the patch, although it does require an appointment at the GP or a sexual health clinic. The injection if used correctly is 99% effective and, due to its less frequent and clinically applied nature, the chances of correct use are slightly higher than the patch and the pill. The injection works by releasing progesterone and thus preventing the monthly production of an egg, thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb and thinning the lining of the uterus. The rate at which fertility returns to normal levels after using the injection is varied and can take over 6 months for some women, although this is not true for all. Requires careful consideration and planning.
Discussing some common concerns and myths.
While many women do report experiencing side effects, with a recent survey conducted as part of Devina McCall’s documentary Pill Revolution finding that 77% of the 4,000 women they spoke to experienced symptoms as a result of taking the combined pill, the severity and nature of side effects varies from women to women. There is some current research being conducted by up-start organisations that suggests that symptoms may be linked to a woman’s genetic makeup and thus while side effects are certainly a common and not unfounded concern for many women, they are not a forgone conclusion and the relative pros and cons of the many types of contraception vary from woman to woman and so should not pre-emptively stop you from considering any form of contraception.
Will I become infertile?
While birth control does function to temporarily reduce and inhibit fertility, in the long term, there is no evidence to suggest any form of contraception causes prolonged infertility.
Will I develop cancer?
Research tells us that while there can be some heightened risk of cancer for some women taking contraception, particularly for those with a family history of breast cancer, there is not a definite link between contraception and cancer. If you are concerned, it is definitely worth speaking to your doctor to make an informed decision about what form of birth control best suits you.
Ultimately, contraception is deeply personal and it is well worth taking the time to search online, speak to your GP and to speak to other women you know to work out which form, if any, works best for you. Remember you can use FabLittleBag to dispose of condoms as well as tampons and pads.