Birth Control- More Complicated Than You Think?
October 1st, 2020
To many, just the thought of all the options can be intimidating. We see commercials advertising new and revamped birth control methods with Hollywood stars explaining how a specific kind of birth control worked for them and how it could work for you... But is that really how we should be choosing our birth control?
We know that birth control is primarily known for its role in preventing conception, but people can use it for a variety of different things. Birth control can work or not work for someone depending on their one-of-a-kind body.
If you're here to ask how birth control works, what options are available, or you're just wanting to learn more about sexual health, the Peer Educators are here to help!
As we discuss the different kinds of birth control options available to those who have female reproductive organs (eggs, ovaries, a uterus, and a vagina), we will also go over different situations in which hormonal birth control can be extremely beneficial.
But first, let's talk about something that can help us truly understand how and why birth control works; The menstrual cycle.
What does a traditional menstrual cycle look like and what happens during a cycle?
All of the information in this portion of the article was found on the women's health page under the U.S Department and Human Health Service.
The length of a menstrual cycle varies from individual to individual, but we will be using the average 28-day process for this article. All times listed here are based on statistical evidence showing the average length.
FYI: It is okay and healthy to have a cycle or parts of your cycle that are longer/shorter or other time frames than are listed below.
If you are concerned about your cycle's length, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or gynecologist.
Now back to the menstrual cycle:
Day 1: The first day of your menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period. This is when the uterine lining is shed from the uterus and exits out of the vaginal canal. Fun fact: You should expect to see between 3-5 tablespoons of blood during this process.
This portion of your cycle can vary from 3-7 days in length. It's usually accompanied by cramping, mood swings, acne, and other symptoms. Due to low levels of the hormone estrogen, you may feel more depressed and irritable.
Follicles, or fluid-filled pockets on the ovaries, will begin to develop between Days 1 and 5 of your cycle. These pockets contain eggs. Eventually, one follicle will have most of the resources allocated to it and will continue to grow while the other follicles will be absorbed back into the ovary. During this time, the levels of estrogen being produced by the ovaries will also continue to increase.
Day 8: Your period bleeding has stopped and your higher estrogen levels will cause the lining in the uterus to become thicker. This happens because the uterine lining is rich in nutrients and will need to adequately nourish an embryo if a pregnancy occurs. Estrogen can boost endorphins, which may result in a better mood.
Day 14: It's Ovulation day! Ovulation is the follicle process of bursting and releasing an egg from the ovary due to a sharp rise in a luteinizing hormone. Ovulation only occurs over 1 day since the egg only lives for 12-24 hours.
Sperm cells, however, can live inside the vaginal canal for up to 5 days, meaning an individual can get pregnant even if sex is avoided on the day of ovulation. During this time in a person's cycle, they may feel the best (emotionally and physically) due to their estrogen levels.
Days 15 through 24: The fallopian tubes guide the egg towards the uterus, the follicle releases progesterone to build up the uterine lining more, and if the egg has been fertilized by a sperm cell, the fertilized egg will attach to the uterine lining.
Day 24: Both estrogen and progesterone levels will drop drastically if a pregnancy is not detected. This rapid drop can cause some pretty intense mood changes and can lead to PMS symptoms. By this time if an egg is unfertilized, the egg will begin to leave the body, starting the cycle over Day 1.
Now that we've gone through the cycle, let's get back to birth control!
What kinds of birth control methods are out there?
According to the CDC, there are two main birth control types: Reversible birth control and irreversible birth control.
Reversible birth control methods can be applied to female reproductive organs and consist of:
- Hormonal methods
- Barrier methods
- Fertility awareness
- Emergency contraceptives
- Lactational amenorrhea
For individuals with female reproductive organs, there are a few different kinds of hormonal birth control options available. These include the tried-and-true birth control pills (combination pills and progestin-only pills), the patch, the ring, the shot, the implant, and the IUD. Keep in mind that each of these options has unique characteristics and not every option is perfect for everyone.
Fertility awareness is a natural form of birth control that relies on the individual with female reproductive organs to recognize when the most fertile time in their menstrual cycle is and avoid intercourse or using a barrier method during those times.
Barrier methods are the traditional forms of contraceptives that we're more used to seeing - internal (female) condoms, external (male) condoms, dental dams, diaphragms, and spermicides. (In case you didn't know, we distribute dental dams, internal condoms, and external condoms in the RISE office!)
Emergency contraceptives are commonly known as the "morning-after pill," with brands such as Plan B One-Step, Take Action, My Way, and AfterPill. This is a small, hormone-filled pill that can help lower your chance of getting pregnant after unprotected sex.
Lactational amenorrhea is only a valid form of birth control if an individual with female reproductive organs has not had any menstrual periods after giving birth and they are fully breastfeeding. This type of birth control only lasts for the first 6 months after giving birth.
Irreversible birth control can be applied to both male and female reproductive organs and consist of:
- Tubal litigation
Male organs will receive a vasectomy, where the vas deferens is cut, and a portion of it is removed. This leaves a gap, which prevents sperm cells from leaving the testes.
Female organs can undergo a tubal ligation, AKA "getting their tubes tied." This means that the fallopian tubes are tied shut so that the eggs cannot reach the uterus and sperm cells cannot reach the eggs.
Please note: Irreversible birth control options are usually reserved by doctors for older patients. If you are interested in these options, you must consult with your doctor first.
Can I use hormonal birth control for something else other than preventing pregnancy?
The short answer: Yes!
Hormonal birth control options can be used as contraceptives (AKA the deliberate use of different techniques to prevent conception or pregnancy).
However, there are other reasons to use birth control, too!
Individuals who suffer from irregular and heavy periods (meaning greater than 3 to 5 tablespoons of blood being lost during a period), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), anemia, endometriosis, migraines, and acne can all use a form of hormonal birth control to reduce their symptoms and/or manage disorders associated with female reproductive organs.
So, which methods are best to use when not only focusing on preventing pregnancy?
Well, that's a blog post for another day!
Birth control can have many benefits to the individual who may be using it. Because of the unique chemistry of our bodies, sometimes we will have to try various birth control methods with varying amounts of various hormones to find one that works well for us. This process may be tiring or tedious, but know that you are not alone in this process.
Remember: It is essential to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or your gynecologist to discuss birth control options, especially if you are interested in using them for more than just pregnancy prevention.
If you have questions or concerns feel free to contact any of our RISE Peer Educators or our ProStaff members by emailing email@example.com or direct messaging us on any of our social medias. There is also a sexual health specialist available at the link here if you have more questions and concerns, and if you want to view the RISE Sexual Health resource sheet, it can be viewed here. Additionally, the Texas Tech Crisis Helpline (806-742-5555) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for those experiencing a mental health or interpersonal violence crisis.