A baby that is wanted and planned for, a child by choice and not by chance, that is what modern contraception offers men and women. But you have to know what's out there, how it works, and where to get it. This is really important now more than ever.
This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah Health, and this is the "7 Domains of Women's Health" on The Scope.
Women and men all over the world have wanted to plan their families for thousands and thousands of years, but methods used in Cleopatra's time in ancient Egypt probably weren't as effective as what is available now. If no method of contraception is used, women in sexual relationships that would make them pregnant could expect to have more than 11 babies. That's in these days of good obstetrical and pediatric care, where women are less likely to die in childbirth and babies are much less likely to die in the first five years of life. Eleven babies sound like too much? One more baby sounds like too much right now?
Let's talk about contraception. It's an egg and a sperm problem. You need to stop egg production, stop sperm production, or stop the sperm from getting to the eggs. These are the main ways that modern contraception works.
About 50% of unplanned pregnancies happen to people who are "using" contraception but using it incorrectly. This is the most common reason that methods like abstinence or periodic abstinence, think natural family planning, or methods like barrier methods like condoms or diaphragms actually fail. They weren't used correctly or at all. Methods that you have to think about at the time of sex are more likely to fail because you're more likely to fail to use them. If you combine two methods, abstain during your fertile period and use condoms all the rest of the time, your chance of getting pregnant by accident is much lower. Two methods are better than one, and this is a combo where men can be the important user. You can get condoms most anywhere, and anyone with some smarts and gumption can figure out their fertile period.
So let's talk about hormonal pills, patches, and rings. They are considered moderately effective methods or ones that have an annual failure rate between 1 in 10 to 1 in 100. That means if women use them, the chance of getting pregnant is about 1 in 10 to 1 in 100 per year. Of course, you might be at risk for pregnancy for multiple years, so these chances literally add up. Considering a lifetime of contraception using these methods, it was calculated that women would have about two unplanned pregnancies. These methods work by blocking ovulation and by changing cervical mucus so sperm cannot get to the eggs, but women don't always take the pills, or patches or rings correctly. They miss some days or they stop for a week as directed, but they stop for longer than seven days, and they are very likely to ovulate. But you could team up with your sex partner and use a moderately effective method and condoms and get much more bang for your buck birth control-wise.
Hormonal methods aren't right for everyone, and you should know by reading up or asking knowledgeable clinicians if they're right for you. Now, there may be immense hormonal contraception on the horizon, transdermal hormones to block sperm production. If it has about a 10% failure rate per year, and women taking the pill as they will, not perfectly, have a failure rate of about 10% per year, if both members of the sexually active couple use the method not perfectly, the failure rate would be about 1 in 100 per year. The two methods multiply in terms of their effectiveness. If they both used effectively, if they both, men and women used hormonal methods effectively, it would be about 1 in 10,000 women per year, and that is effective contraception.
Now for highly effective methods, these methods have failure rates of about 1 per 1,000 women per year. They are so good because you don't have to think about them and using them correctly almost always happens. These include copper IUDs, hormonal IUDs, and hormonal implants under the skin. The hormonal implants' primary method of action is to work by blocking ovulation. The IUDs' primary method of action is by blocking sperm. Copper in the copper IUD kills sperm on their way up to the egg, and the hormonal IUD blocks sperm from getting through the cervix. The IUDs and implants are highly successful at preventing pregnancy but require a trained clinician to put them in. They last a long time, the copper IUD for 12 years, the hormonal IUD for 5, and the implant for 3, but they are immediately reversible as soon as they come out.
Now, all contraceptive methods have some side effects and risks, but none have as many risks and side effects as an unwanted pregnancy. Uh-oh, did you just say, "Oops?" Did you forget to take your pills? Did the condom slip off or stay in his back pocket? Was sex forced on you and you weren't using anything? Emergency contraception is for people who had unprotected or under-protected sex. They are pills over the counter or by prescription, that must be used in the first three to five days after the unprotected sex act, and the earlier, meaning the next day or the day after, the better. The copper IUD and hormonal IUD can also be used for emergency contraception, but they aren't FDA approved for that use, and you have to find a clinician to place one in a timely manner.
Using contraception means some work on your part. You have to know what you can use and want to use. You need to know where you can get them. You need to know how you can pay for them. All this information is available from many sources, but an overall good resource is bedsider.org. Many clinics around the country provide contraception on a sliding fee scale based on the ability to pay. Most insurance plans pay for a significant amount of the cost of contraception. There's a national family planning grant called Title X, that provides low-cost contraception to anyone who needs it, and it's available in most states. But you have to lace up your boots or put on your flip-flops and do it. Children deserve to be by choice and not by chance now more than ever. Thanks for joining us on The Scope.
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