Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Happy Valentine's Day! Our theory is that February is the month of love because it is the coldest month of the year. What better way to keep warm than by staying indoors and sharing body warmth? Has anyone else planned to Netflix and chill this Valentine's Day… asking for a friend?
Ladies and gents - yes this information is for you, too, sir - we’ve put together a comprehensive summary of the contraceptive methods available in Canada. Here is everything you need to know about the ways of preventing unwanted pregnancy without giving up sex itself.
There are a number of contraceptive methods available. None of them is perfect, even if used properly, but they are significantly more effective than no contraception. Not everyone is able to use every form of birth control safely and effectively. So it is worthwhile to know the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of birth control so that you can choose a method that is best for you and your lifestyle.
The Birds and the Bees
Let's start with that facts of life: the purpose of all birth control is to prevent male sperm from travelling up the vagina, through the cervix, and into the Fallopian tubes of the uterus where just one sperm is required to fertilize a female egg. If this successfully occurs, 9 months later, a tiny human arrives.
Left: External latex condoms. Top right: Internal and external condoms.
Bottom right: A vaginal diaphragm.
Barrier methods work by keeping sperm from passing through the cervix. They are an effective and popular form of contraception. A major advantage of both external condoms and internal condoms is the protection they provide from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They are also easy to get since a prescription is not needed. However, condoms can break or fall off so how they are used can lower their typical effectiveness. It is safest to combine a barrier method with another form of birth control to combine the protection from STIs with the contraceptive effect of two methods.
Diaphragms are reusable barriers that are inserted into the vagina before sex. They can be fitted or unfitted, with fittings done by your doctor. They are commonly used with a spermicide patch, but their main disadvantage is that diaphragm use can increase the risk of getting a vaginal or urinary infection.
Above: Hormone pill.
Hormonal contraceptives require a prescription and are taken by women to stop ovulation (the 1-2 eggs each month that become able to fuse with sperm). They are a combination of two hormones (progestin and estrogen) available in the form of tablets, patches, injections, and vaginal rings and are highly effective if used as prescribed. The pill has to be taken every day so forgetting to take it on schedule will reduce how well it prevents pregnancy. It can help to establish a regular routine by setting an alarm as a reminder to take your pill every day or take your tablet at the same time as something you do every day (e.g. teeth brushing). Some people find hormone contraception has the added benefits of lightening periods and improving acne.
Left: Hormone Patch. Top Right: Vaginal ring. Bottom Right: Hormone Injection.
For those who struggle with taking tablets regularly, hormone patches and vaginal rings (Nuva ring) do not need to be changed as frequently. The patch is replaced every week. The ring is taken out after 3 weeks and a new one is inserted in the vagina at the start of the 4th week. Alternatively, there is an injection (Depo-Provera) that can be administered at a doctor’s office about once every three months. This is a good option for those who don’t mind injections, but it can take up to one year after stopping before fertility returns, so it may not be ideal for anyone who is planning to have children soon.
Not everyone is able to use a hormonal method of birth control. Some may experience side effects such as spotting, upset stomach, breast tenderness, and changes in mood. Usually these side effects go away after a three-month trial, but if they persist it might be worth trying a different contraception method. If you are considering a hormonal method of birth control, remember to inform your health care professional if you smoke, have migraines, have a history of blood clots, or if you take other medications (even non-prescription medications). It never hurts to ask your pharmacist if a new medication may affect your birth control.
Above: Copper intrauterine device (IUD).
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are an option for women looking for long-term contraception. They are available in hormonal and non-hormonal (copper) forms. IUDs are the most reliable form of birth control available, however, they need to be inserted and removed by a doctor. A hormonal IUD can be left in for 3 or 5 years and the copper IUD can be left in for 3, 5 or 10 years.
Generally IUDs are not associated with the same positive side effects (improved acne, light or no periods) of short-term hormone methods.
Emergency Birth Control
Above: Morning after pill.
For when you have sex without a contraception or have had a contraceptive accident, the morning after pill (Plan B) is an option to prevent pregnancy. It is a non-prescription medication available on pharmacy shelves that temporarily stops ovulation and fertilization. The sooner it is taken after sex, the more likely it is to be effective.
Speak to your pharmacist for more information about the contraceptive methods available and for further instructions on how to use them properly.
In honor of Valentine's Day, earn double DrugSmart Rewards points on all over-the-counter contraception until February 29th, 2020. See your local store for details.
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Contraceptive images by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition https://unsplash.com/@rhsupplies
World Health Organization https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/family-planning-contraception
Planned Parenthood Toronto http://teenhealthsource.com/birthcontrol/finding-birth-control-method/
Canadian Women's Health Network http://www.cwhn.ca/en/birthcontrolfaq