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    The Women's Health Resource Center

    Birth Control

    There are several different methods of birth control available and there is no single perfect method, outside of abstinence. Decisions about birth control are complex. Choices a woman makes about whether or not to use birth control, what method to use, and whether or not to have children, are all very important decisions. Information empowers a woman to make decisions that are in keeping with her values and lifestyle. Your decision will be influenced by the depth of your understanding of reproduction, how each birth control method works, its safety and effectiveness, its cost and availability and its potential effects on other aspects of your health. Birth control methods are not barriers to the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, some methods decrease the chances of transmission, but none offers complete protection.

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    Barrier Methods

    Barrier devices that prevent sperm from getting into the uterus or barrier devices are often used with spermicides, which are chemicals that kill sperm before it can fertilize an egg. If sperm cells cannot get into the uterus and up into the fallopian tubes, they cannot fertilize an egg.

    Barrier methods include the diaphragm, cervical cap, male condom, and female condom. Unlike other methods of birth control, barrier methods are used only when a couple has sex.

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    Oral Contraceptives

    Birth control pills contain hormones and are taken daily to prevent pregnancy. Combination birth control pills are the most commonly used. They contain synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone. Birth control pills prevent the release of eggs from the ovaries and eliminate the menstrual hormonal cycle. They also make the cervix mucus thick and sticky, preventing sperm from entering the uterus or fallopian tubes. Birth control pills may also change the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg cannot implant. Oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy and usually cause lighter, shorter menstrual periods.

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    Subcutaneous Birth Control Methods

    Depo-Provera is the brand name of a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone. It is given by injection into a woman's buttock or shoulder every 3 months.

    Depo-Provera makes the cervix mucus thick and sticky, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. It also prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. The drug starts working almost immediately after the injection. A backup birth control method should be used for the first 7 to 10 days. The drug stops working about 12 weeks after the injection.

    Norplant is a method of birth control that uses a synthetic form of progesterone, called levonorgestrel. Implants containing the drug are inserted under the skin of a woman's arm. The implants release levonorgestrel for 5 years. Norplant causes the cervix mucus to become thick and sticky, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. It also prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs.

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    Intrauterine device (IUD)

    The IUD device is a small, plastic, T-shaped device that is inserted inside a woman's uterus. The IUD is the most commonly used reversible method of birth control in the world. Studies have proven that current IUDs are safe and effective and American women are again using IUDs for birth control.
    It used to be thought that IUDs prevented pregnancy by causing an fertilized egg to not implant or to abort early. New studies have indicated that the IUD prevents fertilization from occurring. The copper in the most commonly used IUD, the Copper T, seems to increase the number of white blood cells in the uterus and cause other changes that kill sperm. The hormone in progesterone-bearing IUDs makes the mucus in the cervix thick and sticky, so sperm can't get through.

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    Tubal Ligation

    This procedure is known as female sterilization and is a form of permanent birth control. The fallopian tubes are either cut or tied so the ovum can no longer travel down the tubes to be fertilized. The woman's body reabsorbs the ova. This form of birth control should only be used if a woman is very sure that she does not want any future children. It can sometimes be reversed, but this is not recommended to be used as a temporary birth control solution. A woman still has a monthly period, has a normal sex drive and will go through menopause.

    For more information on birth control contact the Women's Health Resource Center at 415-600-0500 or the Community Health Resource Center at 415-923-3155.

    What you can do to help you make a birth control decision:

    • Your answers to these questions can help you decide which birth control method is right for you. Your health care provider or other health care professional can provide you with information about each method.
    • Is it important that you don't get pregnant right now? Can you handle an accidental pregnancy? Do you plan to have children in the future?
    • How often do you have sex? It this method the right one given this frequency?
    • Is this method safe for you?
    • How easy to use is this method? Will you and your partner use it correctly every time?
    • How does your partner feel about birth control? About this method?
    • Can you afford this method of birth control?
    • Will you be embarrassed about using this method? Will your partner?
    • Do you need a method that protects you from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
    • Does this method fit in with your religious beliefs about birth control?

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