The number of birth control methods available to us now is staggering. I’m grateful to be free to choose from so many options. It’s only been within the last few decades, after lots of technological advances, as well as political advancements, that women have had this kind of access to birth control.
Unfortunately, all these great advancements have come with side effects. On top of that, most doctors don’t clue you in on the risks of your chosen method, even though most women use it for years at a time. This makes it even more difficult to choose the method that’s right for you.
That’s why I’m putting together this information. Both women, and the men who love them, need to have all the facts before making a decision. Here I am listing many of the common and available birth control options, giving you the pros and cons of each.
Birth Control Pill
The first, and most common form of birth control has you ingesting a tiny pill of synthetic hormones each day. Progesterone and sometimes estrogen are included in the pill, as well as the other hormonal birth control methods we’ll talk about later. Three weeks of these hormones circulating through your system sends the signal to your body to prevent you from ovulating. This is the main way they prevent pregnancy. The hormones also change the lining of your cervix and uterus to prevent implantation.
The big pro of using the pill is that it’s easy to get and easy to take, as long as you remember to take it every day. However, it doesn’t prevent STD’s, and in order for it to be effective you’ll have to remember to take a daily pill.
However, the pill, along with all other contraception that uses hormones, comes with some hefty side effects. More common side effects include breast tenderness, nausea, cramping, irregular bleeding or spotting between periods, weight gain, anxiety and depression. More serious side effects from long-term use are increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots, heart attack and stroke, increased blood pressure, liver and gallbladder problems, migraines and tumors.
Many women are using hormonal birth control methods continuously for 10 years or more, and over time more problems crop up. To metabolize the pill, your body uses extra vitamins and minerals, and over time this can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Long-term use can also cause leaky gut and/or an overgrowth of candida yeast. These two things, while complications in themselves, are also contributing to poor absorption of nutrients.
Even after women are off the pill, it can takes years to correct the damage that has been done. Now that your body is used to being fed synthetic hormones, it has forgotten how to balance them on it’s own. This not only affects reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone and androgens, but also adrenal, thyroid and other hormones in your body. When getting off of the pill. Many women have irregular periods, more pain and PMS, and aren’t ovulating. If you’re planning on getting pregnant, this can extend the time it takes to conceive.
IUD stands for Inter Uterine Device, and it’s a small t-shaped metal or plastic device that’s inserted into your uterus by a doctor. A plastic IUD slowly releases hormones, just like the pill, and a copper IUD just works by itself, with no hormones. Copper is toxic to sperm, and stimulates the uterus to create fluid that kills sperm.
The best thing about an IUD is once your doctor inserts it, it can be left in place for years. A hormonal IUD lasts from 4-6 years, and a copper one up to 12. If you decide during that time that you’d like to get pregnant, it can be removed.
The biggest con to using a hormonal IUD is that it contains the same synthetic hormones as the pill. So all of the side effects from the pill are transferred to this category. A copper IUD doesn’t have hormones, so you don’t have to worry about that. However, the copper IUD can cause an imbalance of copper and zinc, so if you choose this method you may want to consider supplementing with zinc. Also, there have been reports of women who have had them for a number of years getting copper toxicity, with rashes, hair loss, fatigue and other symptoms.
The diaphragm is a cup made of rubber, latex or silicone that’s inserted into the cervix to block sperm from getting through. In order to have maximum effectiveness, spermicide must be used as well. It is fitted by a doctor, and inserted up to two hours before having intercourse. You leave it in place for at least 6 hours after (but no more than 24 hours).
The best thing about the diaphragm is that it’s non hormonal, so you don’t have to worry about all the side effects from synthetic hormones in your body. It is a bit of a hassle to use, and must be used correctly and fit well in order to be effective. You also must keep it extremely clean to avoid risk of infection. Some women have issues with either the diaphragm or the spermicide causing increased UTI’s or vaginal yeast or bacterial infections.
Other Hormonal Methods
There are many other contraceptive options out there involving hormones. The ring, an implant that goes into your arm, a patch you wear, an injection given by a doctor. These can work for someone who doesn’t want to think much about their birth control, since you don’t have to remember to do something every day, and you also aren’t fumbling around with a device during sex.
Of course with any hormonal method of birth control, you run the risks we’ve already discussed with the pill.
Condoms are easy to get, easy to use, and inexpensive. Plus, they protect against STD’s, a great bonus if you have multiple partners. There is no hormone aspect to worry about, and you don’t need to remember it every day, only during intercourse.
Some couples can have problems with sensitivity, making penetration more difficult. And of course the other big issue some have with condoms is that you need to use them in the moment, which can take away from the intimacy.
So what did women of antiquity use as contraception – without all these other options? Plenty of evidence exists that says herbs were used as birth control for many years.
One common herb is lithospermum, known in the West as stoneseed, and in the Chinese Materia Medica as zi cao. The modern research that has been done on this herb shows that it has about an 80% success rate. Neem oil, queen anne’s lace, blue cohosh and pennyroyal are other herbs that are said to prevent pregnancy.
However, when I talked to multiple herbalists about this topic, a few of them said they have these contraceptive herbs to “thank” for their kids. Which is another way of saying that they don’t work all that well.
Fertility Awareness Method
With the Fertility Awareness Method, you keep track of your body’s signals that tell you when you are fertile. You can only conceive for 6 days during every cycle. So if you know when those days are, you can either abstain or use a condom on those days, and not worry about it the rest of the month.
To know when you are fertile, you’ll need to track your basal body temperature first thing in the morning, as well as your cervical mucous. There are a number of apps (some that have thermometers that sync to them) that help you track these, and can make it much easier to do the work. Daysy, Kindara and Femometer are a few great options. Just enter your temperature into the app and in a few months it will be able to tell you which days you are fertile. These apps also work with specially designed thermometers you can buy to go along with the app to make it even easier.
What I love most about this is that you can use it to avoid pregnancy, but all of the information you learn from tracking allows you to get pregnant easier and quicker, if you decide to do that at any point. Also, the information you gather can be helpful in diagnosing your overall health. It doesn’t require any hormones or spermicide, so it’s completely natural.
The biggest drawback to this system is that you have to be good about taking your temperature in the morning, close to the same time every day. If you skip a few days it’s not the end of the world, but the more information you have, the quicker and more accurate it is. If you don’t have regular periods, this can also take awhile to get accurate information.
As you can see, there is not any option that is a perfect fit for everyone. But I hope that this information is helpful in discerning what method is best for you.
Elizabeth Allen is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of AcuMed Spa, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.