Unhappy With Your Birth Control? 10 Methods You May Want to Try
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Of all the relationships in my life, the one with my birth control has been one of the most tumultuous. Over the years I've tried five different kinds, and while I am happy to report that I've finally found one that works for me, it was a bumpy path getting here.
My most devastating birth control experiment was one of my first, which lasted nearly four years. It wasn't until I was off that particular method that I realized I'd just stepped out of a four-year haze that had been characterized by angry, irrational outbursts book-ended by episodes of equally irrational, very weepy sadness. (Apologies to my incredibly supportive college boyfriend.) Indeed, it wasn't until I was off that birth control that I elatedly discovered I wasn't the terrifying ball of fury and tears I thought I'd become. It was the birth control.
It sounds silly now, but not once in those years did I consider that perhaps the little pill I took every day had changed my personality. After all, the doctor who'd prescribed it to me told me it was low on hormones and just generally low on negative side-effects. And she'd kind of scared me away from every other option I'd read about.
Today I have found peace with my IUD, or intrauterine device. I couldn't be happier; we've been together for nearly three years. But when I was considering the IUD, some friends told me scary stories, and different doctors told me I'd be barren if I tried it. Fortunately I did my research and found a health-care provider who dispelled the many myths, but the process got me thinking about all the misinformation out there about birth control.
Sex educators know this all too well. Heather Corinna, who founded Scarleteen.com, a sex-ed site for teens, and runs a sex-ed program in Seattle, has heard all kinds of far-fetched stories about birth control methods. A lot of this could have to do with the fact that many women get their contraceptive care from general practitioners rather than ob/gyns, she says, some -- not all -- who may have less specialized training. Indeed, both GPs and gynecologists may not have up-to-date training in contraception, which may be why many of them tend to avoid the "newfangled" methods now available.
And of course there's the whole issue of our for-profit health care system. "Some of these methods -- most but not all of them -- are for-profit ventures, so a lot of times you'll get offered methods that have more marketing dollars attached to them," says Corinna. "For example, cervical barriers have no marketing, basically. There's no big profit margin there because you buy one and have it for five years or more. Compare that to pills, which guarantee a constant influx of cash."
No kidding. Then there's the fact that many, if not most, women put a lot of stock in others' anecdotal information. "Since people don't have conversations with hundreds of women, the information they receive isn't really representative," Corinna points out.
So you hear one person say she got pregnant on method X and you're turned off X, despite the fact that no birth control method out there is 100 percent effective even with perfect use. You may be similarly swayed by someone like me, now an IUD evangelist, who has no complaints, only praise to offer. Ask someone else and you may hear something very different.
We also often forget that birth control methods, like all medication, have inherent risks. My gynecologist assures me that as long as your provider pays attention to your needs and concerns, and has a good understanding of your medical history, most of the scarier risks are avoidable.
Recent class-action lawsuits -- mostly aimed at the newer methods -- have also caused people to stay away from less-established forms of birth control. But Corinna dismisses these lawsuits as "ambulance-chasers 2.0." After all, she says, "even Advil has a lot of fine-print side-effects." And yet most people use Advil regularly, with little to no side-effects.
Every woman should love her birth control. And finding the one that's right for you is -- as with human sexual partners -- a matter of weeding through, doing research, and trying out a few, before you eventually find your perfect match. In the spirit of greater transparency, and armed with the belief that no woman need rue the day she started protecting herself against unplanned pregnancy, here are 10 birth control methods you may not have heard of. Read through the pros and cons, and learn what your doctor will -- and won't -- tell you about them.
1. Cervical barriers
When people think of barrier methods, they often think of the male condom. But they're leaving out a whole slew of barriers contained entirely within the vagina. Cervical barriers include the diaphragm and the cervical cap. (As well as Elaine Benes' favorite, the contraceptive sponge.)