November is #ThxBirthControl month, and in celebrating all the reasons people are grateful for their chosen method of birth control, we thought we'd talk a little more about the topic!
My name is Naomi and I’ve been working with Planned Parenthood as an educator for more than 8 years.
Birth control is one of my favorite topics to talk about with my classes because I get to help people learn about something that empowers them to make the best decision for THEMSELVES and THEIR life! Seeing people realize that there are many different effective choices of birth control, and then being able to directly connect them to a health center to access exactly what they want is an amazing feeling. So, let’s get into it.
People take birth control for a lot of reasons – not just to prevent pregnancy. In fact, two common reasons are relieving menstrual symptoms and getting your period on track. Regardless of your reason, there are lots of different methods that work really well and are easy to use. Let’s go over a few methods below: The Pill, IUD, Implant, Shot and the Ring.
Of course, condoms – external or internal – are also an important form of birth control, especially since they can both prevent pregnancy and are the only form of birth control to protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
It’s also important to note that the withdrawal method and abstinence can also be used, but are significantly less effective methods of birth control than the methods shared above (and require a lot of will power!).
A question that I get pretty often is: “I’m forgetful, so remembering to take the pill every day won’t work for me. What are types of birth control that I don’t have to remember to take every day?”
Longer-term methods (sometimes known as LARCs – Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives), like IUDs, implants and shots (seen above), have become especially popular in the last few years because of their effectiveness. You can set it and forget it for up to 12 years! Once inserted, LARCs are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. And, when your LARC is removed, you are fertile again, which is why we call these “reversible” methods.
Since the IUD is one of the most popular methods right now, let’s talk about some commonly asked questions that I get in the classroom.
“I heard there are two types.”
Yes, there are two kinds of IUDs – copper IUDs, which are non-hormonal, and hormonal. There is one brand of the copper IUD, and there are four brands of hormonal IUDs available to choose from.
The copper IUD brand is Paragard: It doesn’t have any hormones and is wrapped in a tiny bit of copper, preventing pregnancy for up to 12 years.
The hormonal IUD brands include the Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta and Skyla and these use the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. Progestin is very similar to the hormone progesterone that our bodies make naturally. In terms of length of use, Mirena works up to 6 years, Kyleena works up to 5 years, Liletta works up to 4 years and Skyla up to 3 years.
Both kinds are teensy tiny devices that are placed in your uterus with strings through the cervix. Check out the diagram a few questions down to see what I mean.
“I’ve heard the insertion can hurt. How bad is it?”
Yes, there is some pain during insertion. Imagine a really bad menstrual cramp, but one that only lasts a few seconds. You may also experience a pinching sensation if the doctor uses a small clamp (like the one used for a pap smear) to hold your cervix steady. Some people take some Advil or Motrin just before their appointment to ease some of the pain. It’s also a good idea to have someone come with you to the appointment so that you don’t have to worry about driving home after.
“How soon after is it effective?”
Immediately. However, we usually recommend that you wait at least 48 hours after your insertion before having sex to avoid any risk of infection.
“What will I feel like afterwards?”
Cramping and some bleeding after the procedure is completely normal – expect it for about a week, much like a period. With the hormonal IUD, it’s common to see irregular spotting or bleeding for about three to six months.
Because there can be some discomfort on the day of insertion, I always recommend carving out for relaxing. Plus, it’s a good excuse for some comfort food, naps, a heat pad and Netflix, right? After a day or so, you should be ready to return to your normal schedule. If you have some residual pain, you can get one of those adhesive heat pads at a local pharmacy to relieve any cramping in your lower abdomen, and keep some painkillers on hand.
“Will it hurt to have sex when I have an IUD inside me?”
You may be a little sore immediately after insertion, but ultimately no. It may be possible for your partner to feel the strings of the IUD at first, but the strings usually get softer and less noticeable with time. And, you can always ask your doctor to trim the strings a bit shorter if you want.
“Can I use tampons or a menstrual cup still?”
Yup! Using a tampon or menstrual cup will not move your IUD or the strings. Check out the helpful diagram below that shows exactly how each device fits in your uterus and vagina.
Diagram credit: Intimina
There are so many methods available, and IUDs are just one of them. If you’re thinking about which birth control method might be right for you, talking to a provider, like those at your local Planned Parenthood, can help. PP also has this handy quiz that can suggest a method based on your lifestyle.
Know that whichever method you choose, you should feel awesome that you’re taking steps to stay healthy, protect yourself and take care of YOU!
Remember, birth control is a great way to prevent pregnancy, but it’s also important to protect yourself from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). You can read more about STIs here.