If you don’t like the pill, here are some other birth control methods you can try

Words by Gabrielle O’Hagan




Demystify methods.

Contraception can feel like a heavy responsibility, especially if you’re a woman. After all, we’re the ones who have to face the music when things go wrong. Of all the different birth control methods we can rely on, the pill tends to be the one we turn to the most. Unfortunately, it is also one of the more onerous.

Contrary to what my friends and I believed when we were 15 and 16, the pill is not an easy, magical way to prevent pregnancy. Taking it can be tiring. There are last-minute frantic searches for prescriptions and regular visits to the pharmacy that make your wallet noticeably lighter.


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Oh, and let’s not forget the alarm (internal or otherwise) that sounds at the same time each day, serving as a shrill reminder that if you don’t take your pill that second, your chances of conceiving will increase. It’s like your ovaries are squirming the minute the 24 hours start to tick.

But logistics is only half the problem. Finding an oral contraceptive brand that doesn’t leave debilitating side effects like nausea, irregular bleeding, cramps, acne, sore breasts, or loss of libido is practically an Olympic sport. The mood swings are the worst.

Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, founder of the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, has done extensive research on the side effects of the pill and says some women can even develop depression from taking it.

“There are some side effects of the pill that I believe are not well understood by either the general female population or prescribing physicians,” says Professor Jayashri. “We usually focus on the physical side effects first, but I would say we should also focus on the psychological side effects.”

To be clear, not all women have had bad experiences with the pill. When it was introduced in Australia in 1961 it was revolutionary; it liberated women and gave us more control over our sexuality and reproductive choices. And it really is an excellent way to prevent pregnancy. When used properly, it can be about 99 percent effective.

But the pill is almost never used exactly as it should be. It’s difficult to remember to take it at the exact same time each day, and things like vomiting and diarrhea can interfere with its ability to prevent ovulation. As a result, about one in ten women on birth control pills become pregnant each year.

“As soon as you have that [time-sensitive] This factor makes compliance and adherence difficult for some women…then unwanted pregnancies can occur,” says Professor Jayashri.

Despite these problems, the pill remains the standard birth control method for Australian women. According to Professor Jayashri, this is because the daily dose helps us to be in control of our body. “It’s something that’s reversible…if the woman wants to stop taking it, she can, and so there’s control,” she says.

But there are many other contraceptives (even more effective, I might add) that are often forgotten. So if you’re fed up with the pill or just want to know what the alternatives are, consider these options.

Just a quick note – these methods are for birth control only and are not intended to protect against STIs. Methods such as withdrawal and fertility tracking have been omitted due to their low effectiveness.

spirals

For some reason these babies get a bad swaddle, but they’re actually super effective and easy to use. A small device is inserted into your uterus by a doctor (this is a very simple procedure, but it can cause discomfort or pain in some women). The IUD stays in your uterus, where it helps prevent fertilization and implantation.

Some IUDs also release hormones in a similar way to the pill, just with a different dosage. However, if you are looking for a hormone-free contraceptive, you can opt for a copper IUD instead.

Spirals can stay in place for up to five or ten years (depending on what type you use), but can be removed at any time. Less than 1 in 100 women becomes pregnant with an IUD each year. You don’t have to set daily reminders either.

Find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of spirals here.

The implant

It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. A small stick (about the size of a match) is inserted under the skin of your arm, where it slowly releases progestin. This hormone suppresses ovulation and thickens the mucus in the cervix to prevent conception. The implant can be removed at any time but can remain in place for up to three years.

Find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of the implant here.

contraceptive shot

If you are good with needles, you can get a shot every eight to 12 weeks. Similar to the implant, a progestin hormone is released into the bloodstream to ensure long-lasting protection against pregnancy. Without the hassle of taking medication every day, there’s less room for error (it’s about 99 percent effective as long as you don’t miss an injection).

Find out more about the pros and cons of injection here.

vaginal ring

I think you can be forgiven for not knowing about it. I didn’t know about it until recently. Basically, it’s a flexible plastic ring that’s inserted fairly high up in the vagina, where it releases the same hormones as the pill (estrogen and progestin). It stays in the vagina for three weeks and then has to be removed for seven days (during which time you have withdrawal bleeding) and then a new one is put in place.

Find out about the pros and cons of the vaginal ring here.

There are many other forms of birth control not covered here, including patches, diaphragms and condoms, and the morning-after pill. Keep in mind that this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

Many methods use hormones, so side effects may occur. If you’re thinking about switching birth control methods, you need to consult your doctor to find the best option for you.

Find out more about the different types of birth control here.

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