Pills, Rings and Hormonal Things

We’ve all heard the term “birth control” before, but what is it really? From the pill to the implant, people use birth control for a number of reasons. Steffie Goodman, a nurse midwife at Wardenburg Health Services, discusses different types of birth control and the reasons people use it.

What is birth control and why do people use it?

“Birth control” is the term that is used to refer to medications and devices that are made to imitate female-type hormones. These medications and devices are used for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy prevention. In addition, they are used to prevent or regulate the menstrual cycle, help relieve menstrual pain, reduce acne, reduce symptoms of PMS, and balance hormones. They do not protect against sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

What kinds of birth control are there?

There are hormonal and non-hormonal medications and devices that can be effective in preventing pregnancy and assisting with other reproductive health issues.

Hormonal birth control works by thickening the cervical mucous to prevent sperm from entering the uterus and fallopian tubes. This prevents ovulation and/or release of the egg so that conception and actual menstruation does not occur.

Short-term hormonal methods include the pill (daily), the patch (weekly), the ring (monthly) or the shot (every 3 months). Long-term hormonal methods include the implant, which is placed into the arm (good for 3 years), or intrauterine devices (IUDs) that are inserted into the uterus. There are four different types of hormonal IUDs which last between 3-7 years. There is one non-hormonal IUD that lasts for up to 12 years.

Non-hormonal birth control methods include barrier methods and natural family planning. Barrier methods can be internal and external condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps. Natural family planning involves timing and tracking menstruation to plan or avoid pregnancy.

What should I consider when choosing birth control?

One of the first things to think about when considering birth control is what your goals are for using it. Is it to prevent pregnancy or bleeding? What about cramping or acne? Clarifying your goals can help your health care provider make the best recommendation for you. They can also give advice on things like cost, efficacy, side effects and ease of use of each method.

When considering cost, a good place to start is checking with your insurance to see if birth control is covered under your plan. Those who don’t have insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover their needs can still access affordable care from places like Boulder Valley Women’s Health and BC4U.

How we communicate with sexual partner(s) about birth control is important to keep in mind. Figuring out what is important to you about your sexual relationships and choices around birth control, pregnancy and STI prevention can make it easier to have a conversation and express your values to any partners.

Where can I go to learn more about birth control options?

The Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic at Wardenburg offers sexual, reproductive and gynecological services to females and trans males and females.

Bedsider and Beforeplay are websites that provide useful information about the different types of birth control and tools to compare various methods.

About the Expert:

Goodman is a nurse midwife at Wardenburg’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic. She received her MSN from Yale University and her PhD from the University of Colorado. Goodman has worked as a midwife for over 35 years in multiple settings, including public, community, university, research, education and private health sectors. She is a medical anthropologist, interested in the political economy of health care in North America. In her spare time, she is an avid rock climber, gardener, beekeeper and enjoys time with her husband and 2 adult sons.

The Healthy Buffs series is brought to you by Wardenburg Health Services. Visit us online at www.colorado.edu/health