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Questions to Ask When Choosing a Birth Control Method

Birth control is a reproductive right and the World Health Organization reports that, as of 2019, 842 million people worldwide are using various forms. Aside from preventing unwanted pregnancies and pregnancy-related risks, it also helps those who are in the midst of family planning.

However, despite the freedom and support we now experience regarding contraception, SymptomFind, a site that aims to help educate people about their health, discusses that this wasn’t the case some 60 years ago. The year 1916 saw one of the first birth control clinics in America. During this time, birth control was deemed obscene and illegal. This meant the clinic wasn’t allowed to distribute any information on it, nor suggest or perform birth control methods. Fortunately, by 1960, birth control pills as a contraceptive were eventually approved.

Nowadays, contraceptives are less controversial, but religious and moral views still create a stigma around them. Despite this, the Affordable Care Act states that health insurance plans that are being offered in the Health Insurance Marketplace should cover FDA-approved contraceptive methods. So, if you’re considering using birth control, asking the following questions can help you choose the right method for you:

How effective is it?

Birth control methods are measured by a “failure rate,” which is the estimated percentage of people using that birth control method who get pregnant within the first year of using it. The Guttmacher Institute lists the failure rates of different methods, explaining that these come in two types: typical-use failure (which includes everyone who uses the method), and perfect-use failure (which only counts those who use the method consistently and correctly).

The most effective methods are the implant, copper and hormonal IUDs, with a 0.1% failure rate in both typical and perfect use. Meanwhile, the least effective methods are the use of spermicides and withdrawal, with the failure rates of 22 to 28% for both methods . The two common methods – the pill and the condom – fall somewhere in the middle.

What are the side effects?

Contraceptives may come with side effects that can differ per user and product. For instance, Insider notes that hormonal IUDs can cause irregular bleeding and hormonal side effects like acne and mood swings. Meanwhile, copper IUDs can cause heavy bleeding and intense period cramping. Basically, any hormonal method can cause menstrual changes and other hormonal side effects. Meanwhile, barrier methods like condoms can cause irritation and allergic reactions, while surgical procedures for sterilization may result in pain, bleeding, and complications after surgery.

Is it reversible?

A good rule of thumb here is the easier the method , the more reversible it is as well. Surgeries are one-time procedures, which make them permanent. If you plan on getting pregnant in the near future or are not sure when you want to get pregnant, condoms and pills are good options since you can easily stop them at any time. But if you’re sure you don’t want to get pregnant for a long period of time, you can consider LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives) like IUDs and other hormonal implants. These can last three to twelve years. Meanwhile, your partner can consider getting a vasectomy, which can actually be reversed. When deciding on a method, you should also think about your timeline for having kids.

Can I afford it?

Despite the Affordable Care Act, some insurance providers don’t provide a lot of coverage, so check if your preferred method and brand are included. If not, the out-of-pocket costs still vary widely, so do some research about how much your preference costs. The cheapest method is using a condom, with boxes of 3 typically costing $2 to $6.nn Meanwhile, pills cost around $300 a year. If you have a bigger budget, an IUD or implant will cost $1000 to $1,300 – that’s an annual cost of $200 to $433 respectively, and an injection or patch costs around $245 to $560 per year. Being able to afford your preferred method ensures that you’ll be able to use it consistently and correctly.If you can’t decide what method you’d like to use, pharmacy student Samantha Thompson assures you that pharmacists can talk you through the process and refer you to the right services.

Article reviewed by Quyen Nguyen, PharmD Candidate