Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Hormonal Contraception

These days, you have a lot of options for locking up the old babymaker. Whether it be by the Pill, the Patch, the Ring, the IUD, or the Shot, each has benefits and downsides. We’ve compiled a list of everything you ever wanted to know about hormonal contraception.


First of all, let’s look at some very important tips. When selecting your hormonal birth control, always remember the following:

  • Whenever you are being prescribed medication, always remember to ask if it will interfere with your birth control! Antibiotics, antidepressants, antifungals, and St. John’s Wort can all have a diminishing effect on hormonal contraception. Depending on your type of contraception however, other medications can also have an effect. I had a doctor once forget to tell me this when I went on antibiotics for a sinus infection, even though she knew I was on a birth control that would have been compromised. Luckily, I was already well-informed.
  • Smoking can have a negative effect on many types of birth control and can cause health problems. Ask your doctor what’s best if you’re a smoker.
  • It’s always a good idea to use a back-up method even when you are consistent with your hormonal birth control. No hormonal birth control is 100% perfect, even if you use it perfectly. Condoms and other barrier methods are great ways to make sure you’re extra protected.
  • Using hormonal birth control can cause some serious side effects. Depending on the type and your personal health, any number of the following side effects are likely: nausea, headaches, dizziness, heavier periods, lighter periods, breast tenderness, breakthrough bleeding, decreased libido, weight gain, mood swings, issues wearing contact lenses, and acne. Hormonal contraception combined with your personal health and genetic history can also put you at a greater risk for blood clots, severe depression, strokes, heart attacks, breast cancer or cervical cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation of the pancreas, gallbladder disease, or liver tumors. It’s very important to schedule regular appointments with your doctor to check on any problems that you might have while on hormonal contraception.
  • Never substitute emergency contraception for other birth control. The only time things like Plan B or Plan B One Step should be used is if your other contraception fails for some reason.
  • Hormonal birth control does not protect against HIV and other STIs! I repeat: NONE OF THESE METHODS WILL PREVENT YOU FROM CONTRACTING HIV OR OTHER STIs! They’re great for keeping the babies out, but condoms are best for disease prevention. When in doubt, wear condoms!

There are two main hormones that go into making hormonal birth control: estrogen and progestin. Some forms of hormonal birth control have both. These are called combination methods, but many recent types only have progestin. Those that have estrogen often have more serious side effects, so it’s important to remember if you have a family history of disease to disclose it to your doctor before making a decision.


The Pill

This is the most popular type of hormonal birth control. There are dozens of different brands of birth control pills out there and some may have different effects, so it’s best to talk to your doctor first and it may take some time to find the right brand. The first type of pill I was on, I ended up having a really bad allergic reaction to, so my doctor switched me to a non-combination method which worked perfect.

The Pill is good for you if:

  • You are good at remembering things. Remember, you have to take it every day or you can risk pregnancy, even if you don’t have sex on the day you skip. If you take the pill at the same time every day of your cycle, you have less than a 1 in 100 chance of getting pregnant. But if you are more inconsistent, you have a 9 in 100 chance or greater. If you aren’t used to that regiment, there may be other options out there for you.
  • You aren’t a smoker. Smoking and the pill can put you at risk for heart disease and can even reduce the effectiveness of your pill–especially if it contains estrogen.
  • You might want to have a baby soon. After completing your last set of pills, it only takes about two weeks before your body is able to conceive once again. Infertility is not a risk when taking the Pill.



The Patch

Ortho-Evra is the main type of birth control patch available currently in the United States. When used correctly, it is just about as effective as the Pill, but it uses a lot more estrogen than most pills, which could put you at a greater risk for some serious health problems.

The Patch might be the best option for you if:

  • You’re good at remembering things but not great. You have to change the patch every week for three weeks. On the fourth week, you go without. If the Pill is too much but you think you can handle a weekly schedule, the Patch might be perfect.
  • You weigh under 198 lbs. Studies have shown a loss in effectiveness for heavier women.
  • You are under 38 years old. Older women can sometimes have complications from using the patch.
  • You have clear skin. The Patch can have trouble sticking if your skin is extra oily, or it can irritate conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Ask your doctor first if you have any of these conditions.



The Ring

If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it. Or up it. NuvaRing is the only available ring contraceptive in the United States currently. A gel ring is inserted into your vagina and slowly released hormones into your body to prevent conception. The NuvaRing stays in the vagina for three week period followed by the removal of the ring for one week.

The Ring is a great pick for you if:

  • You aren’t a smoker. Like with the Pill, smoking while using NuvaRing can cause some serious health problems.
  • You aren’t breastfeeding. The hormones in NuvaRing can pass through breast milk and cause jaundice and other problems for your baby. It can also have negative effects on the amount of milk your body produces.
  • You don’t plan on using a diaphragm as a back-up contraception method.  Since both are inserted into the vagina, the NuvaRing can mess up the alignment of your diaphragm, but it should not have a problem with male condoms.
  • You are on antibiotics that aren’t Rifampin, or antifungals that aren’t Griseofulvin. Unlike other forms of hormonal contraception, most antibiotics and antifungals won’t harm the Ring’s effectiveness.
  • You aren’t on medications for HIV, Epilepsy, or taking St. John’s wort. These will.


The Shot

The birth control shot is also called Depo-Provera, or DMPA. It uses progestin to prevent the egg from leaving the ovaries so that it cannot interact with sperm.

The Shot is a good option for you if:

  • You aren’t afraid of shots and are able to consistently get to the doctor every three months to get one.
  • You have bad periods. After one year of taking the Shot consistently, 70% of women stop having periods altogether while still taking the Shot. This is because the hormone released the uterine lining does not thicken if an egg is not released. It is not dangerous and it can sometimes be a positive side effect of other hormonal birth control methods.
  • You are not planning on having a baby any time soon. It can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months after quitting the shot for your period to start back up which means that it can be between a year and 18 months for you to be able to conceive again.
  • You just had a child but aren’t breast feeding.
  • You had a child more than six weeks ago and are breastfeeding. The hormones in the Shot do not transfer to breast milk.




It may look like a freaky little alien, but the IUD is quickly becoming a very popular form of hormonal contraception. Although they are more expensive than conventional birth control, they last much longer and many insurance plans cover them. Planned Parenthood can also help you get one if you don’t have health insurance.

The IUD will be a great option for you if:

  • You suck at remembering things. Like taking a daily pill. Or replacing your NuvaRing or patch. Or going to the doctor to get a shot. The IUD is placed inside your uterus by your doctor in a pap smear-like procedure and then you don’t have to do jack shit about it until you’re ready to have kids or you want to switch methods. The Paragard IUD can last up to 12 years and the hormonal one, Mirena, can last up to 5. Women using an IUD have a less than 1 in 100 chance of getting pregnant, which is comparable to using the Pill consistently and correctly.
  • You don’t like the hormonal changes that come with contraception. Not all IUDs are hormonal. The ParaGard IUD uses copper to prevent pregnancy and it’s just as effective as hormonal IUDs.
  • Your period sucks. They all do, don’t they? But Mirena, the hormonal IUD usually stops your period after about six months. ParaGard does not, and can sometimes make it worse for the first few months.
  • You like your birth control with no estrogen. Mirena is progestin-only. ParaGard has no hormones.

[Sources: mayoclinic.com, bedsider.org, plannedparenthood.com]

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