Let me be the first to say that I love babies. And (most) kids. That being said, I do NOT want any at this stage in my life. I’m a recent college grad looking to get in some life experience, travel, adventure, and money in the bank before I consider reproducing. That and a good man in my life… And I know I’m not alone.
So often, I see girls and women asking what the best contraceptive methods are for the female traveler (or females in general). It can be tricky! So after compiling some research and seeking out info from various females/travelers/doctors (on my own personal accord), here’s my (*note, I am not a doctor) list of the best contraceptive methods for us gals on the go:
- Implant Birth Control – 99.95% effective
The birth control implant is a thin, flexible plastic implant about the size of a cardboard matchstick. It is inserted under the skin of the upper arm. It protects against pregnancy for up to three years. The two most common methods of birth control implants are Implanon and Nexplanon. If you have health insurance, 90% (or more) of policies cover this as a totally free birth control option for women. If you do not have health insurance, the cost of the implant runs about $1,500. For more information, visit Planned Parenthood.
How it works: The implants work to prevent pregnancy with a continuous release of progestin, one of the hormones found in birth control pills. This keeps the egg from being released from the ovaries and prevents sperm from reaching the egg.
Pros: This is the most effective birth control on the market to date! (Aside from menopause or getting your tubes tied…) The implant is over 99.95% effective, meaning you have less than a .05% chance of becoming pregnant from using this method of birth control. Once in place, it is virtually undetectable to the human eye, but you can feel it. Unlike an IUD, the implant cannot really become dislodged from your body, making it more effective. Also, your body is constantly experiencing a release of hormones so ovulation is incredibly unlikely. Unlike the pill, you do not have to take any sort of daily medication or worry about differing time zones! Huge plus for travelers! Another plus – if you hate it, you can get it removed anytime! Otherwise it lasts, effectively, for 3 years.
Cons: There will be bruising after getting the implant in, for about 2 weeks. There may also be a small scar from insertion or removal, about 2mm in length in your inner arm. The biggest complaint females have with the implant is that it can cause menstrual irregularity. Because you do not increase, decrease, and stop certain hormones (rather, you experience a constant release of them), it can take a few months (or longer) for your body to adjust. This means that some women experience bleeding between their cycles or lighter, but longer cycles. Many women may see their cycles stop completely (that’s a pro in my book, but some women might not like it!). Again, if you dislike the implant, it is easily removed at the doctor’s anytime.
- IUD – 99.2 – 99.8% effective
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, “T-shaped” device made of flexible plastic. A health care provider inserts an IUD into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUD available in the United States — the copper, ParaGard, and hormonal, Mirena or Skyla. Like the implant, IUDs are typically covered by most health insurances, otherwise they run about $1,000 and can last from 3-10 years. For more information, visit Planned Parenthood.
How it works: Both the copper and hormonal IUDs work mainly by affecting the way sperm move so they can’t join with an egg. If sperm cannot join with an egg, you can’t become pregnant. For some women, hormonal IUDs (Mirena or Skyla) may prevent the egg from leaving the ovary (similar to the implant or pill).
Pros: An IUD is another very effective method of birth control. The hormonal IUDs are about 99.8% effective, while the copper IUD is between 99.2-99.4% effective. They are also very long lasting, with the hormonal going for 3-5 years and the copper up to 10! If you’re worried about hormones, the copper IUD Paragard has none! It does (safely) release copper but works more by blocking the passage of the sperm to the egg. Like the birth control implant, an IUD is not something you have to remember daily nor can it be affected by switching time zones. You can also get it removed whenever you want at the doctor’s office.
Cons: Slightly less effective than an implant, but still very effective. Some women (especially those who haven’t had children) experience pain/cramping when the IUD is placed. Menstrual cycles with the hormonal IUDs vary similarly to the implant (spotting between periods, infrequent cycles – usually only for a few months), while women with the copper IUD may experience heavier cycles and more cramping than usual. There are small threads at the end of the IUD that you can feel (personally, that would drive me nuts!) but otherwise you should not be able to feel the IUD at any time (during sex, during your period, etc). Although unlikely, an IUD may become dislodged or fall out a little. This is more common among women who have not had a baby. When this happens, pregnancy may occur. In rare situations, a woman may get an infection around the IUD. Infections, if left untreated, can cause fertility problems in the future.
- The Pill – 90 – 99.7% effective
Birth control pills are still the most commonly used birth control method among females today. They are a medication that women can take daily to prevent pregnancy and may also be called “the pill” or oral contraception. With most health insurance policies, you can get the pill for free or at very low cost. Oregon has become the first state to offer birth control over the counter, but most places still require you to visit a doctor. For more information, visit Planned Parenthood.How it works: Birth control pills are made of hormones. Some birth control pills contain two hormones — estrogen and progestin. These are called combination pills. Some are progestin-only pills. Most women on the pill take combination pills. The hormones in the pill work by keeping eggs from leaving the ovaries. They can also create cervical mucus (eww, right?! not really… your body produces this naturally anyway). It changes in quality and quantity throughout the menstrual cycle, especially around the time of ovulation. The thicker mucus keeps sperm from getting to the eggs and keeps you from getting pregnant! To be most effective, birth control pills should be taken at the same time every day. Forgetting a pill can result in pregnancy.
Pros: There are a wide variety of pills to choose from! Most women simply choose a generic brand recommended by their doctor, but there are also options such as Seasonique which allows you to only have your period once every 3 months (or every season). The pill is known to help women who may experience acne during their periods. It also helps regulate the menstrual cycle for women who may have heavy or unusual cycles. Once you begin the last week in the pack (the non hormonal placebos) you can usually predict to the day (or close to it) when your period will start! Any woman who’s had a period can tell you how handy that is.
Cons: There is a wide variety in range of how effective the pill can be. If you take your pills every day at the same time, they should be 99.7% effective. However, this is almost impossible. We all have lives and sometimes we aren’t perfect. For women travelers, this is even more confusing! If you’ve crossed the dateline, you better do your math to make sure that you stay on a 24 hour cycle, otherwise the effectiveness of the pill goes down. If you accidentally forget one pill, you need to take it as soon as you remember. If you skip 2 pills, you should throw the pack away and start the next one. And of course have a back up birth control! So stressful! The pills can also become useless if you get on an antibiotic. Again, always have a back up birth control. Human error typically makes the pill somewhere between 90-99% effective.
- Condoms 82-98% effective
Ok, what kind of irresponsible woman would I be if I didn’t also mention condoms?! While certainly much lower on the effectiveness scale, condoms protect you against HIV, AIDS, and other STDs! NONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED BIRTH CONTROL METHODS PREVENT STDs!! Just because you can’t catch a baby doesn’t mean you can’t catch a disease… You can also visit Planned Parenthood if you have any questions about proper condom usage.
How it works: Ok, I know you probably already know how condoms work, but just in case your sex ed was subpar… Condoms are small, thin pouches made of latex (rubber), plastic (polyurethane, nitrile, or polyisoprene) or lambskin (for those with allergies), that cover your penis during sex and collect semen. Condoms stop the sperm from getting into the vagina, so sperm can’t meet up with an egg and cause pregnancy. Condoms also prevent STDs by covering the penis. This prevents contact with semen and vaginal fluids, and limits skin-to-skin contact that can spread sexually transmitted infections. Lambskin condoms do not protect against STDs. Only latex and plastic condoms do.
Please, ladies (and gentlemen) if you are not in a committed relationship with your sexual partner, or if you know your partner has a disease, use a condom every time!! Even if you really like the guy (or girl) and hate the way condoms feel, do yourself a favor and use one anyway. 5-25 minutes of bliss isn’t worth a lifetime of disease…
Pros: Condoms are cheap and effective when used properly! While they may vary in price and quality, you can get them for free at most health clinics. You can also buy them at basically any grocery/convenient store/pharmacy/shopping center. Unlike many forms of female birth control, condoms prevent against STDs/HIV/AIDS, which is absolutely why they are a MUST for any “hook up.” Until you are in a committed relationship with your partner and know they are disease free, a condom should always be used.
Cons: When used alone, condoms aren’t nearly as effective as a means of birth control. Unfortunately, condoms can rip. They can break. They can be incorrectly put on. They can slip off. They can get old and wear down. You could have some psycho take a needle to all of your condoms in an effort to become pregnant! (haha kidding! hopefully…) Human error greatly decreases their effectiveness, but they’re a MUST in line of defense against disease!
Phew! Ok, that was a lot of information, I know! I did my best to be as through as possible on the listed birth control options, so hopefully I did not disappoint! For a little added bonus, I’ll throw in a chart here to show the different contraception effectiveness options. Click on the picture to go to the website where you can find MORE options for contraception!
Note that every individual is unique. This list is meant to be a general guide to female/traveler reproductive and health assistance. Before deciding on any birth control option, discuss with your doctor what’s best suited for you. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to be armed with some knowledge beforehand, right?!
Ok, well please let me know if I’ve left your favorite birth control method out! Did you find any of this information useful? Let me know!