Mridu Khullar Relph
Mention birth control in a group of ten people, and you'll get ten widely different reactions and opinions, as well as many questions: Is birth control safe? What are the options? Is there a one-size-fits-all solution?
Most common birth control methods have been used for decades. They have been proven to be generally safe, or they wouldn't be available to the public. However, the method that is best and safest for your body and your particular circumstances may differ significantly from your friends or family.
That's why, says Dr. Jennifer Landa, Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD and author of the forthcoming The Sex Drive Solution for Women: Dr. Jen's Power Plan to Fire Up Your Libido, it's important that young women do their research and know what best fits their individual needs and lifestyle.
"A young woman is going to require birth control for a long period of time," says Dr. Landa. "She needs to look at her family history and assess her risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, strokes, and blood clots. She also should look at her family's history of breast cancer. There are many different risks associated with different methods of birth control, and if women are not familiar with these, they may wind up increasing their risks of certain health concerns."
Here are some of the most popular and effective birth control options available today and what you need to consider -- in consultation with a healthcare provider -- to make an informed decision:
1. Barrier methods
Barrier methods include condoms (male or female), diaphragm and the sponge. "For any women with more than one partner, or whose partner has more than one partner, the risk of sexually transmitted infection is real," says Dr. Alyssa Dweck, co-author of the book V is for Vagina: Your A to Z Guide to Periods, Piercings, Pleasures and So Much More (available February, 2012). "Thus barrier methods used alone or in combination with other forms of contraception --like the pill or UID, for example -- are ideal."
However, warns Dr. Dweck, those with a sensitivity to latex should avoid latex condoms, and women with sensitivity to spermicide should avoid condoms with spermicide. "Some women prone to urinary tract infections may see an increased infection rate with condoms," she says.
Dr. Landa says IUDs are being increasingly recommended, even for women who haven't yet had children. The letters IUD stand for "intrauterine device." IUDs are small, T-shaped devices made of flexible plastic. A healthcare provider inserts the IUD into a woman's uterus.
For some women there can be side effects. "IUDs can increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and are not recommended for women who are not in long term, stable relationships," explains Dr. Landa. "Multiple partners with an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases puts women at an increased risk of PID, which can impair and even prevent fertility in the future."
There are two brands of IUD available in the United States — ParaGard and Mirena. The Mirena IUD releases a small amount of progestin, a hormone. It is effective for five years. "Although it is likely that the progestin stays inside the uterus, which helps to decrease bleeding with menses by thinning the lining of the uterus, some women may have side effects as the progestin may have a systemic effect."
The ParaGard IUD contains copper and no added hormone. It is effective for 12 years and may increase the heaviness of menses temporarily. Other than that, however, Dr. Landa says both 'flavors' of IUDs have been shown to be safe and effective.
Mridu Khullar Relph
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist who writes for Time magazine, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Global Post, Ms., and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. She is a contributing editor at Elle’s Indian edition and has also contributed to the US and international editions of Glamour, Vogue, Self, and Marie Claire.