Are there many different methods of contraception?
Yes. Contraceptives work by preventing a man’s sperm from fertilising a woman’s egg, and this can be done in several different ways.
There are two main types of contraception:
- * Barrier methods – which physically prevent sperm from swimming into the uterus and fertilising the woman’s egg
- * Hormonal methods – which alter a woman’s hormonal cycle to prevent fertilisation.
These are the main types of contraception that are generally used by teenagers.
Other types of contraception, which are generally not used by young people, include natural methods such as only having sex at certain times of the month (these are often not effective enough), and sterilization, which is a permanent surgical procedure. The intrauterine device (IUD) and intrauterine system (IUS), also known as ‘the coil’, are generally not used by young people although in some countries, such as the UK, they are now considered suitable for all age groups.
How do you know which one to choose?
Different methods of contraception have their individual advantages and disadvantages. There’s no single ‘best’ method of contraception, so you have to decide which is most suitable for you. Whatever your situation, there should be a contraception option that works for you. For many people, barrier methods of contraception are best, because they not only prevent pregnancy, but also prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases being passed on during sex.
Where do you get contraceptives from?
It depends which type of contraceptive you’re looking for. Barrier methods such as condoms and spermicides are widely available from drug stores and other shops in many countries. They’re also available from many healthcare providers. Hormonal methods are only available on prescription from doctors. You can also buy some contraceptives online.
Barrier methods of contraception
The male condom is the only method of contraception that boys can use. It’s really just a rubber tube. It’s closed at one end like the finger of a glove so that when a boy puts it over his penis it stops the sperm going inside a girl’s body. An advantage of using male condoms is that a boy can take an active part in using contraception – it’s not just the girl’s responsibility.
The female condom is not as widely available as the male condom and it is more expensive. It is however very useful when the man either will not, or cannot, use a male condom. It’s like a male condom, except it’s bigger and worn inside the vagina.
It’s a good idea to practice with condoms before having sex. You can get used to touching them, and it might help you feel more confident about using them when you do have sex.
Spermicides are chemical agents that both kill sperm and stop sperm from travelling up into the cervix (the lower part of the uterus, or womb, where babies develop). Spermicides come in different forms including creams, foaming tablets, gels and foam (which is squirted into the vagina using an applicator). Young people who use spermicide mostly choose foam.
Spermicides are not very effective against pregnancy when used on their own, but are very effective if used at the same times as a male condom. When used together, the male condom and spermicide can be a great combination for effectively protecting against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
Some condoms also come lubricated with spermicide (Nonoxynol 9). A spermicidal lubricant aims to provide an additional level of protection if some semen happens to leak out of the condom. This can help to reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, but regular use of Nonoxynol 9 can cause an allergic reaction in some people resulting in little sores that can actually make the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections more likely. Nonoxynol 9 is only a suitable spermicide for a woman who is HIV-negative, and whose partner does not have HIV either. It should only be used for vaginal sex.
Hormonal methods of contraception
There are two main types of hormonal contraceptive which can be used by teens: the contraceptive pill, and the injectable hormonal contraceptive. If used properly, both are extremely effective in providing protection against pregnancy – but they provide no protection at all against sexually transmitted diseases. For very good protection against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, a hormonal method should be used at the same time as the male condom.
In some countries, contraceptive patches (that stick to the skin) and rings (that go inside the vagina) are also available.
- * What does ‘going on the pill’ mean?
- * How does it work?
- * What do you do?
- * How effective is the pill?
People often talk about being ‘on the pill’. This means they are using the oral contraceptive pill as a method of contraception. This has nothing to do with oral sex, and just means that the contraceptive is in pill form which is taken orally (swallowed).
The pill contains chemicals called hormones. One type of pill called ‘the combined pill’ has two hormones called Oestrogen and Progestogen. The combined pill stops the release of an egg every month – but doesn’t stop periods.
The other type of pill only has Progestogen in it. It works by altering the mucous lining of the vagina to make it thicker. The sperm cannot then get through, and as the sperm can’t meet the egg, the girl can’t get pregnant.
Usually a girl has to take one pill every day for about three weeks. She then takes a break for seven days while she has her period, before starting the cycle again (or instead, she may take ‘sugar’ pills for those seven days, i.e. pills that don’t actually have any affect, but which are taken purely so she keeps in the routine) for seven days.
It’s very important not to forget to take these pills. If this happens, protection against pregnancy is lost. The Progestogen-only pill also has to be taken at the same time every day.
It’s a very effective method of contraception if it is taken correctly. If the pill is taken exactly according to the instructions, the chance of pregnancy occurring is practically nil. But if a girl forgets a pill, or is very unwell, its effectiveness is reduced. Another disadvantage of the pill is that it does not provide any protection against STDs. For very good protection against both pregnancy and STDs, the birth control pill should be used at the same time as the male condom.
Injectable Hormonal Contraceptive
- * How do you use it? How does it work?
The most popular form of this type of contraception, Depo-Provera, involves the girl having an injection once every twelve weeks. The injection is of the hormone Progestogen. The injection works in the same way in the body as the Progestogen only pill, but has the advantage that you do not have to remember to take a pill every day. It does however have the same disadvantage as the hormonal pill, in that it provides no protection against STDs.
The Contraceptive Implant
- * What is it?
The ‘implant’ is a newer form of contraceptive, which has become available in some countries, such as the UK. It is a small tube, a little over an inch long, which is inserted under the skin on the inside of a girl’s arm.
- * How does it work?
The implant works in a similar way to the contraceptive pill, but instead of taking a pill every day, hormones are steadily released into a girl’s body from the device. This is seen as an advantage, particularly for girls who have trouble remembering or don’t like having to take a pill every day. However, the implant can cause unwanted side effects, and like the other hormonal contraceptives, the implant does not protect against STDs.
The morning after pill
If a girl has had unprotected sex, but doesn’t want to have a baby, one option is ‘the morning after pill’ – an emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy, when taken after sex. The name is actually a little bit misleading, as it doesn’t necessarily have to be taken ‘the morning after’ – it can work up to 72 hours after you’ve had sex. However, it’s most effective when taken within 24 hours of sex, and the sooner you take it, the better. In a lot of countries you can get the morning after pill for free, as a prescription from your doctor or healthcare provider. In some – including the U.S. and the U.K – you can also buy it over the counter at pharmacies.
Although the morning after pill can be an effective way to avoid pregnancy if you have had unprotected sex, you shouldn’t rely on it, or use it regularly. It’s not as effective as other methods of contraception, and can have side effects. What’s more, it won’t protect you from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
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