Original post by Sarah Roberts on February 4, 2014
Update May 19, 2015:
Last week the Obama administration clarified the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate — health plans must offer at least one option for every type of prescription birth control free of charge. In light of this we’re reposting Sarah Roberts’ “quick and dirty” guide to birth control. Enjoy!
Let’s Talk About Birth Control
by Sarah Roberts
Today, one of our staff members entered the WCC moaning tales of uterine woes. In our infinite spirit of staff love and solidarity, we overwhelmed her with suggestions about how to appease the menstrual forces. This eventually led to a room-wide conversation about contraception–complete with stories, IUD-evangelizing, and health provider references.
Unfortunately, conversations like these do not happen enough. Sex negativity and shaming promote a culture of silence about safe sex and contraceptive methods. Birth control is a surprisingly contentious issue given that so many people need it. Birth control doesn’t just help prevent pregnancy (though that is in itself a necessary and basic health issue), it also helps persons with uteri deal with medical conditions like painful periods, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
In the interest of fostering dialogue, here is your quick and dirty guide to birth control:
- Oral contraceptive pills are one of the most well known form of birth control. The pill works by releasing hormones that prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs and the eggs from being fertilized. It needs to be taken daily and is highly effective when taken on schedule. It is also used by many people to lessen the wrath of the great Ovum (i.e. it regulates periods by making them lighter, shorter, and/or less frequent)
- Ortho-Evra Patch is essentially a hormone-lace bandaid that is stuck on the skin to prevent pregnancy.
- Implanon Implant involves the insertion of a hormonal rod into the arm. It is highly effective and lasts for three years.
- NuvaRing is a small bendable ring that is visually reminiscent of the swaggin’ rubber bracelets you saw in middle school. Except instead of putting it on your wrist, you insert it in your vagina. It is very effective, convenient, and low hormone, but it can be expensive without insurance.
- Depo-Provera is an injection of medroxyprogesterone given once every 12 weeks. It is important to keep in mind that there is a FDA black box warning regarding bone density, so many doctors do not recommend it except in special circumstances.
- Mirena Intrauterine Device (IUD) is a small t-shaped device containing progestin that is inserted by a clinician. It can be removed at any time if pregnancy is desired, but otherwise it lasts for at least 5 years. Like the birth control pill, this IUD can be used to regulate periods.
- Copper 7 Intrauterine Device (IUD) is a device inserted into the uterus by a clinician. It is a highly effective method of birth control that is good for 10 years, and highly recommendable to those weary of hormones. At the same time, it may increase vaginal bleeding.
- Male and Female Condoms prevent sperm from reaching the egg. A major advantage is they also protect against HIV and some STIs. Even if you are not having sex that can result in pregnancy, condoms and other barrier methods are an important means of protecting against diseases.
- Spermicides are gels, creams and foam can be used in conjunction with the male condom, or they can be used alone for birth control. The sponge, cervical cap and diaphragm keep the spermicide near the cervical opening. But, as Miley Cyrus so eloquently put it, nobody’s perfect. They are not very effective when used alone and they may cause irritation of the male and female genitals, which can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
- Diaphragms are rubber, dome-shaped devices placed into the vagina to hold spermicide around the cervix. The cervical cap fits directly on the cervix. Both are used with spermicide, require female involvement only, and can be inserted ahead of time for those nights when you know you’re tryna.
- Emergency Contraception (i.e. Plan B) can be taken up to 72 hours after an unprotected encounter. The sooner you take it, the more effective it is.
- Rhythm Method requires that one calculates one’s fertility cycle and abstains from intercourse during ovulation. This is fairly effective for persons with regular cycles.
- Sterilization is a permanent method of preventing pregnancy. It works by blocking the tubes that carry the sperm or egg.
- Abstinence means that you choose to not be sexually active. If strictly adhered to, it is a free and effective method of preventing pregnancy, STIs, and sexually transmitted HIV.
Here at Stanford, there are several resources for students to obtain contraceptives. Barrier methods like the male and female condom, as well as dental dams, are available at the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC). Students can also reach out to Birth Control Peer Educators to discuss their different options. To compare options on your own, try visiting this website. Birth control prescriptions can be obtained at Vaden Health Center, where emergency contraception (like Plan B) is also available without a prescription.
Diaphragms, sponges, birth control pills, vaginal rings, IUDS, emergency contraception, sterilization procedures, and education/ counseling are all covered under the Affordable Care Act.