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Contraception and You: How Not to Hear the Pitter-Patter of Tiny Feet

Posted in Contraception 15 Jan, 2016

Children are a gift. However, like all gifts, they're better received when actually asked for. In today's hectic world, having children is seen increasingly as a commitment many can do without. We'll leave the implications to social commentators, religious figures and politicians for now, but if you're here you're probably looking at a way to keep you or your partner from conceiving yourself. If so, you'll be pleased to know that there are a wide range of contraception options to you, all of which can help ensure you'll never need to shop for baby clothes until such a time as suits you.

Of course not everything is equal, and contraception is no exception. Certain methods give better results than others, while others may simply be preferable to you as an individual. So before you choose a method, let us count the ways they work.

Condoms

The good old fashioned Rubber Johnny. Tried and true since it was first developed back in…whenever (the exact point of origin is unclear).

They function simply by preventing sperm from fertilising a woman's egg by blocking it off from contact, and some are even coated in spermicide to better ensure nothing slips through. Although condoms are typically seen as a male apparatus, there also exists female variants. The former is slipped over the penis when it's erect to create a barrier, while the latter is worn within the woman's vagina. Both are made from very thin latex and fit like a second skin over sexual organs.

As a form of contraception, male condoms are 98% effective while female condoms are 95% effective. This effectively means that they will successfully prevent a pregnancy 98/95 out of a hundred times. They're only safe to use the once, however – reusing a condom will immediately reduce its effectiveness by a massive margin. Fortunately, both types are cheap and readily available in most shops.

As a bonus, condoms of both varieties also protect against pregnancy and STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) at the same time!

Caps/Diaphragms

Similar in function to condoms, caps act a physical barrier to prevent sperm from reaching an egg during intercourse. It's placed within the woman's cervix, and has to be used with spermicides to be effective. Once used, the cap needs to remain in place for six hours, after which it can be safely removed and washed out.

Unlike condoms, caps are reusable, and must be specially fitted by a trained doctor or nurse to be effective. When used properly, they'll stop pregnancy 92-96% of the time.

Combined Pills/"the Pill"

A pharmaceutical taken by the woman both before and after intercourse. This little piece of artificial women's hormones revolutionised sex – literally – and helped make the Free Love movement of the '60's possible.

It functions by releasing oestrogen and progesterone into the woman's system, which has a number of effects on her reproductive system. The first and most crucial is that it tricks the body into thinking an egg has already been released from her ovaries and fertilised, and as such another isn't released. Because it thinks a woman is already "pregnant", it will also attack any sperm that enter the womb, and prevents fertilised eggs from attaching to the stomach lining, after which they'll eventually be flushed from the system.

The pill is also regarded as a pharmaceutical God-send by women because, in addition to preventing pregnancy, it can also assist with painful menstruation, heavy vaginal bleeding (periods), premenstrual stress (PMS) and endometriosis. Further, the pill in no way inhibits sexual activity as a condom or cap might.

Used properly, the pill has a 99.5% success rate in preventing pregnancy. Now you can see why the pill was such a pharmaceutical revolution.

Vaginal Rings

Like female condoms and caps, vaginal rings are placed within the vagina. Hence the name. However it also functions like the pill.

Basically, when inserted, the ring releases oestrogen and progesterone into the system much like the combined pill does. However while the pill is only effective after it's used, and condoms and caps must be removed, the vaginal ring can be left for nearly a month and continually works throughout that time. This makes it ideal for women who don't always remember contraception, or who can't always get access to it.

After 21 days, the ring is removed and discarded. Then the woman needs to wait a further week before a new one can be inserted. It does not interfere much with sexual activity, although caution should be used to ensure it doesn't slip out during use.

Much like the pill, they're over 99% guaranteed to prevent conception.

Contraceptive Implants/Injections/Patches

The difference between these is how long they last. Implants last the longest, patches the shortest.

Another way of controlling your body through pharmaceutical prowess, these methods of contraceptive slowly release progesterone into the system to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg or accepting fertilised ones. While patches last for a week and injections a few months, implants can leave a woman pregnancy free for up to three years. This is great for women who may want children eventually, but don't want them now, and who don't always want to be worried about protection.

As you'd expect, these almost completely eliminate the chances of conception, just like their related treatments.

Sterilisation

This is the option for couples who will never want to conceive, whether because they'd had enough kids or think one child is one too many. There are two variants, male sterilisation (vasectomy) and a female one (tubal ligation, or "having your tubes tied"). These are generally considered to be irreversible, although it can be done with great expense and difficulty.

So before you decide this, make sure it's something you really want to do. You probably can't go back once you change your mind.

These work buy severing (and sometimes clamping) the tubes that carry sperm or eggs from the testicles or ovaries respectively. Where there's no sperm or eggs, there's no contraception. Eggs will still be realised from the woman's body as normal and she still goes through her usual menstrual phases, however eggs are simply reabsorbed back into the body rather than reaching the womb. Likewise, men can still orgasm, it's just there'll be no sperm within the semen – those too are reabsorbed.

Once undertaken, the procedure is over 99% effective.

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