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.

Bona - - Contents -


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

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