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Wellness

Birth Control Methods: A Comprehensive Guide

9 Mins read

One of the great debates among women is the debate of birth control methods. There is quite a broad selection of different birth control options. For most of these methods, the onus is on the female. Since most young women are very fertile, it goes without saying that choosing a birth control method that works is crucial.

The issue most women have is that there are drawbacks and significant cons to almost every birth control method out there. Many women feel that all birth control methods are horrible, and choosing one feels like choosing the lesser of several evils. 

While the majority of women acknowledge the importance of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and the importance of birth control, that doesn’t change the fact that there are cons to almost any of the birth control methods available to women. No “perfect” birth control method exists, and that’s one of the most frustrating struggles for women.

There’s a reason why so much excitement spread online about the possibility of a male birth control pill. In reality, however, men would have less motivation to take that pill consistently since they’re not the ones who can get pregnant. While men might be motivated to take birth control pills to avoid unwanted responsibilities and unplanned pregnancies with their partners, their motivation to take the pill properly would be hindered. Why? Because if they used the pill incorrectly, the majority of the burden would be on their partner. Their bodies wouldn’t undergo the pregnancy, potential miscarriage, termination, or any of the bodily changes that come with pregnancy.

Birth Control Methods: Challenges from Every Angle

No matter how you approach it, choosing and accurately using a birth control method is almost never going to happen without significant challenges. Again, it’s clear for many reasons why birth control is so important. The ability to choose when (and if) we have children and the right to decide our own family planning is huge. Not having children when you cannot be financially or emotionally responsible for them is ethical. Population control is of course another important purpose of birth control. 

The main challenge is that all birth control methods will typically have some sort of negative side effect. From messing with our emotions and hormones to messing with our bodies via birth control related weight gain, for example. Birth control drawbacks also include the expense (especially for those who don’t have coverage) and the responsibility to remember to administer it correctly. 

Which birth control method is best? That’s for you to decide. Below is an overview of 10 birth control methods to consider:

1. The Birth Control Pill

For our guide on birth control methods, let’s start with the most common method used: the birth control pill. There is so much wrong with this method. For one thing, it’s not deemed fully effective unless you take it at the same time every day, and it’s very easy to forget. Even if you have a daily reminder set on your phone, sometimes unexpected personal problems cause women to forget to take it. Sometimes you get stuck somewhere without your birth control pills on hand, and other times you might have too much on your mind and simply forget.

Remembering to take the pill every day (which again is crucial for its effectiveness) is only one of the problems with the pill. It also can cause mood swings, weight gain, and other negative side effects. Some low hormone versions of the birth control pill might have fewer side effects, and you can speak to your doctor about that. The birth control pill does not protect against STDs, which is considered another drawback of this particular birth control method.

2. Condoms

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Speaking of STDs, condoms are a birth control method that does prevent STDs. They can also prevent pregnancy without any major side effects like changes in weight, mood or emotions.

However, condoms simply aren’t reliable as a birth control method to count on. Condoms break. Condoms also decrease the sexual sensations that people engage in intercourse to experience.

Since condoms can break, they should be used in combination with another birth control method.

3. Ovulation Tracking

Sometimes, women combine the method of condoms with ovulation tracking. That way, even if the condom breaks, it’s quite unlikely to get pregnant if you abstain from sex while you’re ovulating.

Some women buy ovulation testing kits because they want to get pregnant. Other women buy them as a form of birth control (typically used in conjunction with another birth control method). It works because you can find out when you’re ovulating and most likely to get pregnant, and simply avoid sex on those days. 

There are typically 3 days per month where you are your most fertile, ovulating and most likely to get pregnant. It is wise to avoid sex on those days of the month if you take birth control seriously.

4. IUD Insert

People like IUDs because they can forget about birth control for years, knowing they’re protected without having to remember to take something. There are two versions of the IUD: The hormonal version lasts for five years, and the non-hormonal version lasts for 10 years. An IUD is a T-shaped device that specialist doctors can insert for you.

The hormonal version of the IUD works by releasing progestin, which thickens cervical mucus and basically makes the womb incapable of hosting your eggs. You’ll probably experience shorter, lighter periods on this type of IUD.

The non-hormonal version is a copper IUD. The copper is released into the uterus to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg.

IUDs allow you to forget about birth control methods, and they’re 99 per cent effective at preventing pregnancy.

This sounds pretty good, so you’re probably wondering what the drawbacks of this birth control method are. IUDs are costly and they’re also an uncomfortable, invasive procedure. Painful cramping occurs for about a week after insertion while your body gets used to the device. For some women, this pain is quite intense. Another drawback? IUDs can be quite expensive.

5. Birth Control Patch

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Since you only have to change the patch once per week, it’s an easier birth control method than the pill which has to be taken every single day. 

Weight gain, however, can be very significant on the patch. For most women, it’s a much more noticeable weight gain than the pill.

You also have to have a patch on your body which is not always easy to cover up, especially in the summer. The sticky residue left behind by the patch is not well-liked, either.

6. The Shot: Depo-Provera

You’ve just learned about the patch which only has to be remembered to be administered once per week. The shot can seem even more appealing because it’s a birth control method that only requires one shot every three months.

This birth control shot is called Depo-Provera and it contains progestin, which prevents ovulation and thickens the mucus lining the cervix.

The shot is 99 per cent effective, but it has negative side-effects similar to the pill such as mood swings, an increased appetite, weight gain, decreased sexual drive, nausea and sore breasts.

Similar to the patch, weight gain can be quite significant on Depo-Provera.

7. The Pull-Out Method

Ask any prenatal doctor, and they’ll tell you how many unplanned pregnancies happened by using the pull-out method as a birth control method. Pre-ejaculation happens during sex which does contain semen that can get a woman pregnant. That’s why unplanned pregnancies occur from using the pull-out method.

However, that’s not the only drawback to this “birth control method” many young people use. It’s messy, sticky, and you can’t always rely on a man to pull out in time (or at all).

This is one of those silly birth control methods that has one of the lowest effectiveness rates. It’s only about 60% effective, and there’s no protection against STDs, either.

8. The Morning After Pill

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If an unwise birth control method was used such as the pull-out method, and the man did not pull out in time, there’s always the morning after pill, right?

Wrong. Even the morning after pill doesn’t always work. First of all, many people are unaware that there’s a weight restriction where women over a certain weight will experience less effectiveness of the morning after pill. Even if you’re not over that limit, it’s still not guaranteed to prevent pregnancy. The morning after pill is meant to stop the release of an egg from the ovary and prevent fertilization, but it’s not a guarantee.

Not to mention, the morning after pill can make you feel quite sick. It has some horrible side effects for many women, such as abdominal pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and dizziness. 

9. NuvaRing

NuvaRing is a more reliable birth control method, not without side effects, though. It’s a flexible vaginal ring used to prevent pregnancy that you change every three weeks.

It has a high effectiveness rate (99%) just like the pill, although, unlike the pill, you don’t have to always remember to self-administer.

Cons of the NuvaRing include breast tenderness, vaginal irritation, nausea, mood swings, bloating and weight gain.

10. Abstinence

If reading about the negative side effects of every birth control method out there has you feeling dejected, you might be considering abstinence. 

Abstaining from sex is a birth control method, although it’s not one that many people want to choose. Funnily enough, abstinence doesn’t allow you to escape negative side effects. No sex means you get less oxytocin, and that’s the feel-good hormone that improves your mood and reduces stress. 

Although abstinence guarantees no unplanned pregnancies, most people end up choosing a different birth control method and hoping for side effects that aren’t too bad.

Vasectomy: Another Birth Control Method to Consider?

If you and your partner know that you don’t want children, your partner might consider getting a vasectomy if he’s comfortable with it. Many men are comfortable with this decision since it guarantees there are no unplanned pregnancies, and it’s not an incredibly serious procedure, nor is it all that uncomfortable. There will be some temporary pain and discomfort that won’t be too bad. Vasectomy pain is typically minor and easily treated. The procedure itself is considered a very simple one. Also, it’s important to note that a vasectomy is reversible if the couple changes their mind about having children. Similarly, if a couple breaks up and the man’s next partner is someone he wants kids with, he can get his vasectomy reversed.

This birth control method won’t be right for everyone, but some couples find that a vasectomy reduces a lot of stress, and increases the ability to enjoy sex and each other.


Low Estrogen Levels While on Birth Control: What You Need to Know

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Some of the most common types of birth control methods such as the birth control pill keep estrogen levels low. Women taking birth control should therefore be aware of the side effects of low estrogen levels.

Did you know that estrogen makes enjoyable or rewarding things feel even more enjoyable or rewarding? For example, estrogen makes sex feel better, and chocolate tastes better.

Since birth control methods such as the pill work by keeping estrogen levels low while stimulating progesterone receptors, the pill could make you feel depressed or “low”. It can hinder your brain’s reward centre and negatively affect your mood. 


Abortion: The Most Controversial Birth Control Method


Abortion is definitely the most debated and most controversial birth control method and it’s typically not considered a birth control method at all. Abortions happen when all else fails, an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy occurs, and the woman is pro-choice. Some women get abortions because several birth control methods failed them. For example, perhaps the condom broke, and the morning after pill didn’t work in preventing pregnancy either.

Medical abortion is a pill (typically two pills) you can take that end a pregnancy without surgery. This is painful as when the pregnancy ends, you can expect bleeding and cramping. This type of abortion is typically only offered if you are less than 8 weeks along. If you get an ultrasound and you’re more than 8 weeks pregnant, you’d have to get a surgical abortion if you still want to go through with it.

Surgical abortions are so painful that they generally require fentanyl to numb the pain. Many women are uncomfortable with the idea of being given fentanyl, but the other option is to feel the painful procedure which can be quite traumatic.

Whether you’re pro-choice or not, it’s undeniable that abortions are not pleasant and can cause residual trauma. Most abortion clinics have mandatory counselling prior to the procedure for this reason.


What if You Want to Get Pregnant?


If you decide you want to get pregnant and you’re currently taking a self-administered birth control method, what should you do? In most cases, doctors will tell you that you can likely get pregnant after you have stopped taking birth control for 1-3 months. This means you have to stop taking birth control pills and stay off of them for about 1-3 months before it’s likely you’ll be able to conceive. 

Birth Control Ethics

If you’re not on birth control, it’s important to notify whoever you’re sleeping with, dating or in a relationship with. If you have a partner with who you use birth control, and you decide you want to get pregnant, this should be a mutual conversation before you stop taking your birth control. In any partnership, there needs to be a mutual understanding and an agreement about going off birth control.

In general, family planning should be your choice. If you’d like to learn more about how your genetics play a role in your family planning, order your CircleDNA kit here.

Erica Gordon
150 posts

About author
Erica Gordon is the Managing Editor and Director of Content at Circle Magazine. Erica majored in Psychology at UBC and has since founded The Babe Report and followed her passion for writing and journalism, with a focus on health and travel writing.
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