Time and time again, I’ve listened to women who are frustrated with their chosen type of contraception – myself included. For a lot of women, there is a constant battle between enjoying our sexual freedom and protecting ourselves from the possible risks of sexual activity, and it can often feel like a lose-lose situation. Whether it’s the annoying (or harmful) side effects of hormones (the pill, IUD, vaginal ring, etc.), the struggle of consistent condom use by both partners, or the sheer inconvenience of pausing the passion to check dates, insert, replace, unwrap, etc., it can feel as if we no longer have control of our sexual experiences when the options we choose from are not the best fit.
Don’t get me wrong; all types of contraception have their advantages, and every woman is different in what she prefers and what is right for her body. I do believe, though, that because of the society we live in, we can feel restricted to selecting from among just a few options when trying to protect ourselves against unwanted pregnancy and STIs. As more and more of my friends became dissatisfied with their choices, I began to explore what else is out there.
I have personally experienced the many changes to the body that ingesting hormones can cause. Weight gain, mood swings, irregular bleeding, and more can be not only bothersome, but alarming as well. This makes me wonder why non-hormonal options aren’t more popular. One option worthy of mentioning is the copper IUD. This intrauterine device is shaped almost exactly like any other implant you may have seen – very small and T-shaped – but is comprised of copper wire coiling. Sperm cells cannot survive in an environment containing copper and therefore are unable to survive in the uterus, let alone travel to fertilize an egg. This method has been shown to be about 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. The copper IUD can be used for up to 10 years and can even be used as hormone-free, emergency contraception within five days of sexual activity. Keep in mind, it still has its risks and DOES NOT protect against STIs, just like any other IUD, but can be a great option for women looking to stay off the extra hormones.
Another contraceptive method I find to be greatly undervalued is the female condom. The female condom can be inserted and worn hours prior to sexual activity, making women prepared and protected at any time. It is inserted into the vagina, with the help of two flexible rings. The inner ring is inserted and locks in place behind the pubic bone (similar to a tampon) and the outer ring remains outside of the vagina, protecting also the external genitalia. From there, it acts in just the same way as a male condom would, collecting the sperm after sex. The only drawback I can seem to find about the female condom is that it does take a little practice to master insertion. But even then, insertion can be a shared activity between partners, acting as foreplay, and the outer protective ring doubles as a stimulus for the clitoris if desired. All pros in my book! The female condom is a way for women to be empowered and take control of their own protection against unwanted pregnancy and STIs in a reliable, side effect-free manner.
Here are a few other options I find uncommon or underrated. Keep in mind that none of these options protect against STIs.
- Vaginal Contraceptive Film is a sheer, spermicidal film that is inserted into the vagina and dissolves after a few hours; a good option for extra protection after a missed birth control pill or with a condom (it is not recommended for preventing pregnancy on its own).
- Low dose, progestin-only birth control pills (aka Minipills) are great for certain populations of women like those who are breastfeeding, have certain health issues or just prefer less hormone intake.
- The Depo-Provera shot which can be beneficial for women who have trouble remembering to take the pill every day and who also prefer a progestin-only option.
- Reminder apps; helpful tools to stay on track of your sexual health whether you take the pill, see a provider for an IUD, use a fertility calendar or are trying to get pregnant.
I think as women we can agree that contraception is tricky. There are so many options to explore and so many different factors to consider. To enhance your contraceptive experience, always make sure you practice listening to your body, do your research, consult a medical provider and use your method in an accurate and consistent way.