5 Nerdy Things You Should Know About Birth Control

Liz SabatiukBirth control — 99% of women have used it at some point in their lives. Yet somehow it continues to be a taboo subject. Social media platforms shy away from advertisements that discuss birth control in non-clinical terms. Certain politicians and media personalities talk about it like it's a luxury item rather than basic health care.

Here's the thing about taboos: They make it easier for myths to spread and harder to get accurate information. Because having accurate information about birth control is crucial for a woman to take charge of her sexual health, I can think of no better way to honor National Women's Health Week than to share these five nerdy things everyone should know about birth control. 

  1. There are more methods than you think. That's been one of Bedsider's slogans since the beginning. We find that many people know about only a few of their birth control options (Hello, condoms and the pill). In fact, there are more than a dozen different birth control methods — and even more options within those categories. And, bonus, because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most health insurance plans cover FDA approved birth control methods without having to pay a deductible or copay.
  2. More than 99% of women have used birth control. I love being in good company.Lots of us still don't know about the most effective birth control methods. The Contraceptive CHOICE Project in St. Louis found that when women learn about the IUD and implant — methods that are easy-to-use, super-effective, and reversible — they want in. (Maybe that's why 40% of family planning providers use IUDs themselves.) When women in the study learned about the different birth control options and were offered any method they wanted for free, 3 out of 4 chose the IUD or implant. The researchers also found that when more women use IUDs and implants, rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion go way down.
  3. Different hormonal methods work in different ways. There are lots of different hormonal methods, but they all break down into two categories: combined and progestin-only. Combined hormonal methods like the pill, the patch, and the ring contain both progestin and estrogen. Progestin-only methods like the IUD, the implant, the shot, and the mini-pill contain — you guessed it — only progestin. For people with certain health conditions, some hormonal methods are better than others. Knowing the difference between combined and progestin-only methods can also be important for women who've just had a baby or who have high blood pressure, migraines, or a history of stroke or blood clots.
  4. Sometimes it's about making the method work for you. Did you know 41% of unplanned pregnancies in the United States are to women who were using birth control inconsistently or incorrectly? The IUD and the implant are so effective in part because you don't have to use them in any particular way. Once they're in place, they just do their thing. Methods like condoms, the pill, or fertility awareness need to be used carefully and consistently or they don't work. The good news is that with dedication, practice, and some handy reminders, you can make whichever method you choose more effective.
  5. The side effects aren't all bad. We try not to sugarcoat it: Birth control can have negative side effects. If you experience side effects that really affect your quality of life, don't settle. Talk to your doctor or nurse about switching to a different method. But many people don't realize that many negative side effects fade or go away with time. Some birth control methods even have positive side effects. For instance, some hormonal methods can reduce heavy or painful periods and the risk of ovarian cancer. Condoms can protect against many sexually transmitted infections. Fertility awareness methods can help women understand their bodies' natural cycles. And the list goes on…

Few things are more important to a woman's health than being able to decide whether and when to get pregnant. So take a moment this National Women's Health Week to make sure the women in your life have the information they need to get on top of their birth control.

Visit Bedsider and the CHOICE Project for more information.

Liz Sabatiuk is Senior Manager of Digital Media at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, where she develops and manages online content for Bedsider.org. Bedsider seeks to reduce rates of unplanned pregnancy among young adults in the United States by helping them use birth control consistently and effectively.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.