All you need to know about different birth control methods
Dr Sindi van Zyl explains the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used forms of birth control.
WHAT IS BIRTH CONTROL?
Also known as contraception, this is a method or device used to prevent pregnancy. The methods come in different types. No one size fits all, and women will experience the same method differently because our bodies are varied. So, be sure to get full consultation with your doctor before you choose a method. Also, choose the right method for you – something that you will use correctly and consistently. Here are different types of birth control:
Natural birth control. Also known as the rhythm or calendar method, it relies on observing your body and menstrual cycle. You need to know when you ovulate, and avoid unprotected sex on those days. This method requires discipline.
Pros: There are no hormones involved.
Cons: It has a high failure rate.
Barrier methods are the most familiar type. Condoms are the best example. If used consistently and correctly, they have a 98% success rate at preventing pregnancy. Other methods include the diaphragm, cervical cap and contraceptive sponge. These devices are inserted into the vagina.
Pros: Barrier methods offer protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and are easily accessible. The government issues male condoms, which are freely available in public hospitals and clinics as well as other public places such as nightclubs.
Cons: Some people are allergic to latex, and so have to use latex-free condoms. Branded male condoms are costly. But, the female one is an option even though it is not as readily available as male condoms. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) have gained popularity in recent years. Both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs are available. These are tiny, and inserted into the uterus by a doctor or
nurse clinician. The procedure is quick with little discomfort.
Pros: They last for 5 to 10 years. Cons: Some women may experience excessive bleeding, period pains or bloating. Some stop menstruating, which is called secondary amenorrhoea.
Surgical birth control is generally permanent. So, it is important for a doctor to counsel you thoroughly. Make sure that you understand exactly what is going to happen before signing any papers. The male surgical method involves a vasectomy. This is when the vas deferens tube is blocked or cut. It prevents sperm from being released into the semen, thus preventing pregnancy. The female surgical method, also known as tying tubes, is called tubal ligation. The Fallopian tubes are blocked or sealed.
Pros: This prevents the eggs from reaching the uterus and getting fertilised.
Cons: Reversal is not always an option. So, you need to be certain. Hormonal contraception prevents the eggs from being released from the ovaries. It thickens cervical mucous to prevent sperm from entering the uterus, and thins the lining to prevent implantation of the egg. Hormonal contraception is contraindicated (not to be used or given because it could cause harm) on anyone with a history of significant hypertension/high blood pressure, ischaemic heart disease, stroke and venous thromboembolism. This is a condition in which a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the leg, groin or arm, and travels in the circulation, lodging in the lungs.
The pill is one of the most widely used forms of hormonal contraception. Other examples include the implant, patch and vaginal ring. Injectable contraception is also available, such as Depo-provera.
Pros: Taken consistently and correctly, it has up to 99.9% efficiency rate.
Cons: The man-made hormones oestrogen and progestogen are not for everyone. Your doctor has to first assess you thoroughly.
You can get information and receive birth control options at public and private sector facilities, Marie Stopes Clinics and selected pharmacies that have a clinic and nurse. Not all methods are always available, so enquire ahead of time.
Dr Sindi van Zyl HIV clinician and a patient rights activist. She regularly offers advice on her Twitter page @sindivanzyl