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Birth control: making sense of the options

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For maximum effectiveness of any method of birth control, regular and correct use is essential. Yet some products may not suit your lifestyle, making it difficult to use them properly. Find a method you are comfortable with so that you can enjoy a healthy sexuality!

Les différentes options de contraception

Given the large number of birth control options available, it may be difficult to determine which product is most appropriate for you. However, it is important to choose your birth control well, because a product that is ill-adapted to your needs may lead to incorrect use. This can increase the risk of unplanned pregnancies — so it’s important to make an informed decision.

Here is an overview of the different options available.

Hormonal methods

Products in this category contain hormones that control the menstrual cycle to prevent pregnancy. Some products combine two active ingredients (estrogen and progesterone) while others contain just one (progesterone).

The birth control pill is the most widely known method in this category. To be effective, it must be taken every day at the same time, especially in the case of the progesterone-only birth control pill. A certain amount of rigour is therefore required for this method of contraception.

Other hormonal methods include the vaginal ring, which must be inserted into the vagina and replaced every month. There is also now a birth control patch, which must be applied to the skin and replaced every week. The birth control shot is another option. It must be administered by a health professional about every 12 weeks. Finally, the intrauterine device (IUD), inserted into the uterus, offers protection against pregnancy for approximately five years. Contrary to popular belief, the IUD can be used by women who have never had children. The copper IUD, which does not contain hormones, is also available.

Barrier methods

This type of method stops the sperm from reaching the cervix, preventing fertilization of the egg. These products are frequently used with a spermicide, which destroys the sperm. It should be noted that spermicides should never be used alone because they have limited effectiveness.

The male condom is the most commonly used barrier method. There are also female condoms, which must be inserted inside the vagina before sexual relations. These two methods have the advantage of providing protection against sexually transmitted infections (STI), which is not the case of other methods.

The diaphragm, the cervical cap and the sponge are all devices that must be inserted into the vagina, against the cervix. While the sponge already contains a spermicide, you have to apply one yourself when using a cap or diaphragm. The advantage of these devices is that they can be used to have sex more than once, unlike the condom.

Other methods

“Natural” methods consist in avoiding sexual relations during the fertile period of the menstrual cycle. These methods require strict discipline in order to observe the body’s signs indicating the time of fertility, in addition to requiring a period of monthly abstinence. The withdrawal method, which involves interrupting the sexual act before ejaculation, is also referred to as a natural method. It is important to note, however, that natural methods should never be a teenager’s first choice of birth control.

Tubal ligation for women or a vasectomy for men are also possible birth control options. However, because these methods are irreversible, they are advisable only for people who do not want to have any children in the future.

Effectiveness of the different methods

Only abstinence guarantees 100% effectiveness, since even the perfect use of birth control may result in pregnancy. Typical use, which includes occasional mistakes (e.g., forgetting to take a pill on time), leads to lower effectiveness than perfect use. Here are the two recognized rates of effectiveness for certain methods:

Method

Perfect use

(% effectiveness)

Typical use

(% effectiveness)

Birth control pill, vaginal ring or birth control patch

99.7%

92%

Intrauterine device (IUD)

99.9%

99.9%

Birth control shot

99.7%

99.7%

Male condom

97%

86%

Female condom

95%

79%

Diaphragm with spermicide

94%

80%

Sponge

94%

74%

Cervical cap

91% (woman without children)

74% (woman with children)

80 % (woman without children)

60 % (woman with children)

Spermicide

94 %

74%

Choice of method

Every method of birth control has its advantages and disadvantages. But don’t forget that only condoms offer protection against sexually transmitted infections. If is therefore important to get tested before considering another method of contraception. In addition, some methods may not be recommended for people with certain health problems. Ask your pharmacist for more information.

Birth control is a major health issue for adolescents. That’s why educational institutions and people who work with young people strive hard to raise awareness and provide information about birth control and safe sexual practices. Parental involvement in this matter is a major asset; if you are a parent, don’t hesitate to raise these issues with your teen!

You should explore the various birth control options in order to determine which one is best for you. This will help you have a healthier sexuality, while avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Find out how to use your birth control for optimal efficiency, and remember that the best birth control is one that is used regularly and correctly! Your pharmacist can answer your questions about sexuality and birth control, discreetly and confidentially. Don’t hesitate to consult him or her!

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