Safe Sex 101
From the mainstream to the unorthodox, here are the six birth control options every college student should understand.
By Lindsay Biondy, University of Pittsburgh
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Man, I wish there was a way for me to have sex without worrying about getting pregnant”?
Well congratulations, there is! Birth control has been a safe and effective way of preventing pregnancy since 1844.
And, for every possible sex position, there’s a different form of birth control you can use.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. For every method of birth control, there are at least ten different sex positions, but there’s still a lot more options than just condoms and the pill.
So, unless you’re ready to get pregnant and have a kid, the possibilities for protection are (almost) endless.
That being said, you might be one of many who have completely valid reasons for not wanting to use contraceptives, whether you don’t want to put unnatural hormones in your body, you think it’ll ruin the mood or you have religious qualms with birth control.
If that is the case, my respective responses would be: first, plenty of methods don’t use any hormones whatsoever; second, if you think the ten seconds it takes to put on a condom will irrevocably ruin the mood, maybe you’re having sex with the wrong person; and third, I am not nearly as sage as God.
Now that that’s taken care of, here are six of the most common forms of birth control.
Condoms, which are 98 percent effective, are not only the most ubiquitous form of contraceptive, they are also the most affordable and the least invasive (and by least, I mean not at all).
You can often find them for free at your local health clinic, but if you can, I would spend fifteen dollars on a pack of Trojan or Durex. Unlike most other forms of birth control, condoms help prevent both pregnancy and STI’s.
Condoms are also the most fun contraceptive, because you can get so many different varieties, like ones for her pleasure, ones to help him last longer, flavored ones and glow in the dark ones. While most are made of latex, some are made from other materials for people with allergies.
The main problem with condoms is they can break, which essentially makes them useless against pregnancy and STI’s. If need be, consider getting the morning-after pill, and try to figure out why the condom broke. Was it too small? Too big? Did you put it on inside out?
2. The Pill
Sometimes known as the “oral contraceptive,” the pill comes in a pack of twenty-eight, and is taken once a day. Each pack costs about fifty dollars, but is usually covered under insurance.
Most are a combination birth control pill, which is a hormonal pill containing both estrogen and progestin. However, there are non-hormonal options that contain only progestin.
Essentially, the pill prevents the sperm from getting to the eggs by thickening the cervical mucus and stopping ovulation, so there’s no egg for the sperm to fertilize. When taken at the same time every day, the pill is over 99 percent effective, and when taken inconsistently, it’s about 91 percent effective. Unfortunately, it does not protect against STI’s.
Aside from reducing the risk of pregnancy, there are a ton of other health reasons to take the pill, such as regulating your period, reducing menstrual cramps, reducing acne and protecting against pelvic inflammatory disease.
While many women adjust to the drug with no issues, there are some who experience side effects, the most common being bleeding in between periods, nausea and breast tenderness. Your sex drive may also decrease.
The good news? It doesn’t directly cause weight gain.
3. Birth Control Shot
More commonly known by its brand name, Depo-Provera (DMPA), the birth control shot is a hormonal injection that prevents pregnancy for up to three months.
The shot works similarly to the pill, as it thickens the woman’s cervical mucus, and keeps the eggs in the ovaries to prevent the sperm from getting to the eggs.
The shot is almost 100 percent effective if you take it on time every three months. It’s great because once you schedule your next appointment, you don’t have to think about it. DMPA can also prevent cancer on the lining of the uterus, and it contains no estrogen (a plus for breastfeeding mothers).
The downside, however, aside from side effects like headaches, nausea, depression and weight gain, comes in the first six to twelve months, when women may experience irregular periods, whether they’re shorter and lighter, or longer and heavier. It’s like Russian roulette for your uterus.
An IUD is a small, T-shaped device made out of flexible plastic that is inserted into a woman’s uterus. It’s a little painful when first put in, and you’ll experience a dull pain for a few hours afterwards, but it’s usually pain free the rest of the time.
It’s a long-term birth control method that ranges from three to twelve years, depending on which of the five kinds you get. The Copper IUD is non-hormonal, and the Hormonal IUD contains progestin. The best part? They’re not permanent, so they can be removed at any time.
IUD’s are also one of the safest forms of birth control. They over 99 percent effective no matter what, because you never have to worry about forgetting to take it, having to change it or using it incorrectly. In general, women experience lighter and less severe periods and cramps, and are able to become pregnant immediately after having the IUD removed.
As with any birth control, there are disadvantages to an IUD. You may experience back aches or cramps for a few days after insertion; you may have irregular periods and spotting for three to six months after insertion, and your periods and menstrual cramps may worsen for three to six months. There are a few rare, but serious side effects, such as the possibility of the IUD pushing into the wall of the uterus or slipping out.
5. Female Condoms
While not as mainstream as male condoms, female condoms are a viable option. Each condom is comprised of a small ring that is inserted inside the vagina, and big ring that remains outside the vagina during sex. It creates a barrier covering the inside of the vagina and catches the sperm, much like a male condom. The female condom also works with anal sex.
Aside from obvious benefits like the lack of hormones, lack of physical side effects and lack of a needed prescription, female condoms, unlike male condoms, will stay in place if the man loses his erection. So ultimately, this contraceptive could be a much more cost-effective method.
The biggest downside is that it’s not as effective as other forms of birth control. When used correctly, it’s 95 percent effective, and when used incorrectly, it’s only 79 percent effective.
Do not use a male and female condom at the same time. They will tear, and you and your baby daddy/ baby momma will be sad.
6. Pull-Out Method
Your sixteen-year-old boyfriend wasn’t lying to you; pulling out is a real birth control method. In theory, the pull-out method makes perfect sense. If the man ejaculates anywhere except inside your vagina, you won’t get pregnant.
Unfortunately, there are two reasons pulling out fails. First, if the man doesn’t have enough self-control, or can’t tell when he’s past the point of no return, he might not pull out in time.
The second reason is pre-cum. It’s unlikely, but it is possible for a woman to become pregnant from pre-cum if the man didn’t expel all his semen from his last orgasm. An easy way to avoid disaster is to pee before and after sex.
However, even if it’s done perfectly, pulling out is only 96 percent effective. And usually, it’s poorly employed, in which case pulling out is only 73 percent effective. So, maybe your sixteen-year-old boyfriend was lying to you a little bit.
If you’re interested in any of the other fourteen methods, check out this site.