Unnatural. Gross. Fattening. Those are just a few of the words that came to mind when I’d think of hormonal birth control.
In my best Aretha voice, I was a natural woman: natural hair, natural body, and yes, natural periods. Hormonal birth control was like the devil, tempting for its “no pregnancy” promise, but a potential road to a hell of side effects. I had a steady monogamous partner. Unprotected sex was frequent. And I knew that I was kicking a time bomb with my “natural” birth control method of counting my fertility days (with an occasional unnatural dose of Plan B whenever I got nervous).
Luckily, I managed without any slip-ups, but recognized that I was being a hypocrite. I needed to explore my birth control options or always use a condom. I decided to choose the first proposition, mainly because I wanted to be in stronger control of my womb. While unprotected sex certainly leaves space for disease spread, I already had made the decision to trust my partner accompanied with a required STD test for the both of us. Assuming that we both lived up to our promise of monogamy, pregnancy truly was the only concern and, should something else arise, I was prepared to take personal responsibility for my decision. Thus, hormonal birth control became a necessity rather than a luxury. I knew that, one, I needed to do research in order to find the best product for me, and two, I needed to see a doctor. If you’re contemplating hormonal birth control, I want you to do the same.
Below, I’m going to walk through some of the products that I discovered in my hormonal birth control research. I am not a doctor (read that again), but I do pull any information that I convey from reputable sources, such as the CDC or Planned Parenthood. If you missed last week’s discussion on male condoms, female condoms, and STD testing, make sure you check it out. Admittedly, hormonal birth control is most effective in preventing pregnancy when used with another form of protection. However, if you do decide to go the unprotected sex route, remember my mantra of personal responsibility: you are what you sex.
Let’s begin . . . and remember you need a doctor to prescribe anything listed below (i.e. you can’t just walk into the pharmacy and buy it).
One of the most common hormonal birth control methods is the pill. There are various types; however, most women take the combination pill, which contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin. (Side note: some pills only contain progestin.) The combination pill must be taken at the same time every day for either 21 days or 28 days, depending on the type of pack you purchase. For the 21-day pack, you take the pill for three consecutive weeks and then receive your period the fourth week. If you use the 28-day pack, the last 7 days of pills are just “reminder” pills and hormone free. Thus you’ll still receive your period the fourth week. It is 92-99% effective at preventing pregnancy and costs $15-$50 per month.
Personally, I am horrible at taking daily pills. When I started researching birth control options, I disqualified the pill as a potential choice, knowing that I’d inevitably slip-up. However, I still wanted my period every month, in attempt to keep my cycle as natural as possible. Thus, I had two main options: “The Ring” or “The Patch.”
“The Ring” also known as the NuvaRing prevents pregnancy through releasing the hormones progestin and estrogen. You slide the ring into your vagina, wear it for three weeks, take it out for the week of your period, and then put in a new ring. It is 92-99% effective at preventing pregnancy and costs $15-$50 per month.
Secondly, “The Patch,” also known as Ortho Evra, is a small patch that sticks to your skin to prevent pregnancy. It releases hormones that prevent you from ovulating and thickens your cervical mucus to block sperm. After three consecutive weeks, you take the patch off, get your period, and then place a new patch on to restart the cycle. It is 92-99% effective at preventing pregnancy and costs $15-$50 per month.
Now, maybe you don’t want your period every month. There are other hormonal birth control options that can afford you that luxury. I’m going to discuss two: “The Shot” and “The Implant.”
“The Shot,” also known as Depo-Provera, requires women to receive an injection of progestin in the buttocks or arm every three months from their doctor. It prevents pregnancy since progestin prevents a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs. Thus, if there is no egg, it cannot join with sperm. For most women, your periods will become fewer and lighter. You also may bleed irregularly for the first 6-12 months. The Shot is 97-99% at preventing pregnancy and costs $35-$75 per an injection, in addition to any medical exam fees.
Your second option, “The Implant,” Implanon, is a small match-size rod that is inserted into your arm to prevent pregnancy. It lasts three years and stops your ovaries from releasing eggs. Thus, it prevents pregnancy since it takes a sperm and egg to unite. It also thickens your cervical mucus, which blocks sperm. Again, your periods will become fewer and lighter and you also may bleed irregularly for the first 6-12 months. It is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and costs $400 to $800, paid up front.
These are some of the most popular hormonal birth control options on the market. I encourage everyone to explore the hyperlinks inserted in each description for more information and, most importantly, consult a doctor to decide which product would be best for you. In case you were wondering, I chose the NuvaRing. Yet, I have friends who have used all of the above, and I also consulted them for their feedback during my decision process.
Perhaps, some of you have experiences with certain products. It’d be great if you would provide some words of advice for the young women exploring their options. I argue that the doctor always is the best informed for research purposes, but, with that in mind, it never hurts to share a little girl talk. I’ll be looking out for any specific questions about products in the comments. Don’t be shy, ask and chat away.