Sex. It’s everywhere – on television, in GW residence halls and on most college students’ minds. Yet, the average 20-year-old is thinking not about parenthood, but rather how to prevent parenthood.
Over the years, various methods of birth control have made this task easier for college coeds and can be obtained by a physician, Student Health or Planned Parenthood, which has a clinic at 1108 16th St. in Northwest D.C. Once limited to condoms and a few forms of the pill, students are now faced with what can be an overwhelming task – figuring out what type of birth control is right for them. Besides condoms, many of these forms are methods women must receive by prescription.
“The pill, Depo-Provera and the patch are the most effective (choices) and college students find it convenient,” said Susan Haney, Health Education and Outreach Coordinator at Student Health, noting that it is important to choose a birth control regiment that is convenient as well as effective.
The birth control pill contains the hormones that prevent pregnancy, estrogen and progestin. The pill has been around for more than 40 years and medical studies, such as those conducted by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, have proved its long-term safety. The pill costs between $20 and $35 per month.
“When you visit your clinician, they choose the best pill for you based on your medical history,” Haney said. Some pills can also be used to treat acne, irregular periods and heavy menstrual cramps. The most common side effects to the pill include nausea, headaches, slight weight gain and high blood pressure.
Although the birth control pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, it is 95 to 99 percent effective if taken correctly, according to the ARHA. To be effective, the pill must be taken every day, at approximately the same time each day. It is also important to use a form of the barrier method of contraception, such as condoms, the first few months on the pill, Haney said.
The body never builds a tolerance to the contraceptive purposes of the pill, though, in some cases, users will begin to develop more severe side effects after a prolonged time on the same pill.
“The pill never becomes ineffective,” Haney said. “Though some people start to get side effects after a while. They will want to switch the dosage if they suddenly show up.”
The Patch and the Ring
The transdermal contraceptive patch, known as Ortho Evra, and the vaginal ring, known as the NuvaRing, contain the same hormones as the birth control pill and are worn for three weeks out of every month. Both methods are 99 percent effective if worn correctly and are similarly priced to the pill, ranging from $25 to $35 per month.
“Now you get the equivalent hormones from a patch or a ring,” Haney said, comparing these methods to the pill. “It’s the same combination of the two hormones in the pill, it’s just a different delivery.”
Like the pill, a prescription is needed for both the ring and the patch. The vaginal ring is inserted into the vagina but, unlike a diaphragm and other barrier methods, exact positioning is not critical because it is a hormone treatment. The patch can be worn anywhere on the body and will not come off in the shower, while exercising or while swimming.
Neither of these methods protects from sexually transmitted diseases.
Birth Control Injections
Another popular contraceptive method is the Depo-Provera injection that only has to be administered every three months. Unlike the pill, patch and ring, the Depo-Provera shot only has one hormone, progestin.
“A lot of people like to get it because it doesn’t have the same hormones,” Haney said. “Some people who have side effects on the pill won’t have them on the shot.”
However, the Depo-Provera shot does have a few side effects.
“Some people have a lot of spotting at different times of the month, some people don’t get periods,” Haney said about the side effects of the shot. In most cases, women stop getting their periods while taking these shots. This can be both a pro and a con, depending on how comfortable or paranoid a woman feels about not getting a monthly period.
The shot is more than 99 percent effective as long as it is taken on time every three months. It is a practical and effective contraceptive option for women who are unable to remember taking a pill at the same time every day.
“You don’t have to remember anything, it’s a shot every three months. Some women find it very convenient,” Haney said. Each quarterly injection costs between $60 and $75, about the same price as the pill, patch and ring.
Although the pill, patch and ring are the most statistically effective forms of artificial birth control, some people have adverse reactions to these contraceptives and must use the barrier method, which includes condoms, spermicides and diaphragms. With each use, this method costs between $.50 and $3 per use, depending on the brand, (i.e. Trojan, Durex, etc.).
“If you have any contradictions to taking the pill (such as high blood pressure and nausea), or if you have side effects from the pill, you will have the same effects on the patch or the ring,” Haney said.
The barrier method of contraception has a few cons though. It is most subject to human error and there is the possibility that a condom can break. This method is only 80 to 94 percent effective.
In order to make this method more effective, many women choose to use spermicides in addition to a condom. A popular product that is sold over the counter is the vaginal contraceptive film. It is a thin square of paper to be placed near the cervix that dissolves within seconds. It is not as convenient or effective as the pill; a new film must be used every time a couple has sex and a pregnancy rate of 25 percent occurs in the first year of use.
“Spermicides can come in different forms – foam or gel, some solution that kills sperm,” Haney said. “Most people use them along with condoms and diaphragms.”
Haney said that spermicides are an unnecessary addition to pills and hormone treatment to prevent pregnancy and would only be needed if a pill had been skipped.
A woman has one last option if she has unprotected sex or believes other contraceptives may have failed. There are two types of emergency contraception, sometimes referred to as the morning after pill: Plan B and Preven. Plan B has an 89 percent reduction of pregnancy rate in women who have unprotected sex during ovulation, while Preven has a 75 percent reduction rate. Also, Plan B has a lower occurrence of nausea and vomiting than Preven, according to the ARHP. One pill of either of the contraceptives, the effective dose, costs approximately $25 to $30.
“It disrupts the normal hormone pattern and it inhibits ovulation,” Haney said. “It either inhibits ovulation or implantation of the fertilized egg. You should get it within 72 hours of unprotected sex to be most effective.”
Emergency contraception can be obtained through Student Health, but health officials advise it should not be used as a primary form of birth control.
When considering different forms of birth control, it is important to consider things such as lifestyle and convenience in addition to what works with a person’s medical history and sexual frequency.
“People have to know what their style is and what is best to do (for them),” Haney said.