3 key things to think about when choosing your contraception
Choosing contraception is far from simple. Given that there are so many choices, it’s unsurprising if you don’t even know where to start.
Choosing contraception is far from simple - so it’s unsurprising if you don’t know where to start! It definitely isn’t something that most young girls are taught about in school or sex-ed, let alone later in life. The educational gap remains relatively high around the topic of contraceptive options and as women, it sometimes feels like you need to be your own detective out on a mission to investigate options, side effects, brands, and more.
Our aim is to shed light on important considerations when deciding on contraception methods. But first, let’s put things into perspective… In the UK, there are 15 different methods of contraception available. What do we mean by method? Different categories of contraception: the most common ones include combined contraceptive pills, progesterone-only pills, and IUDs, implants. Once you choose a method, you will find a number of different brands, combinations of hormone concentrations, materials, etc. In total, you are left with over 79 options to choose from the NHS alone.
Whether you are going to speak to a doctor about your contraception or use an online service to help you figure out what’s best for you (like Dama Health), there are a few things we recommend that you consider before making a decision around contraception based on what’s best for you, your personal preferences and unique body. It’s not something you have to rush or should feel you need to take lightly. Some questions that your provider will be asking you may require some consideration, reflection and perhaps conversations with your partner or family first, too.
You may want to refresh your knowledge and understanding of your medical history as well as your family’s (parents and siblings). This is really important to make sure that you are choosing something that is medically suitable and safe. Do you have high blood pressure? Are you taking any regular medications? Do you suffer from migraines? Has anyone in your family ever had a blood clot? Perhaps you often experience vaginal infections or have a breast lump that you are not so sure about? Remember that it’s very appropriate to share your concerns with your prescriber, and to try to trace back the names of contraceptives you’ve tried in the past and think about how you felt whilst on them - as your previous experience with contraception can be very insightful for future recommendations! Throughout this process, it is helpful if you are open and provide your doctor with the appropriate information, as it will help them provide you with the better recommendations if they are rightly informed.
Goals and plans
For many women, contraception is all about birth control. But actually, >80% of teenagers use contraception with a different primary goal! These can include managing painful periods or bothersome acne (check out our blog about these here). Take some time to think about what goals are most important to you - is it the highest effectiveness in preventing pregnancy, or is it actually helping you manage your painful and heavy periods? Implants and IUDs are highly effective but sometimes cause changes to your periods, while hormonal methods are more likely to make your periods lighter or regular if you wish. Or perhaps it’s important to you how long the method is going to last or how easy it’s going to be to reverse it if you change your mind? Your doctor is also likely to ask you about your pregnancy plans - are you thinking about pregnancy in the next months, years, or not at all? Some methods, like the injection, can stay in your system for a bit longer and thus may not be the best option if you are keen to get pregnant quickly after stopping the method. It might be a good idea to involve your partner here (if you have one) and discuss mutual goals too.
When you are choosing the method of contraception that is right for you, it is important to have accurate information about the different options available to you. It is also important to think about how well each method works and how easy it is to use. There’s no right or wrong here, it’s all about what you are comfortable with. Some helpful questions for you to think about at this point may be:
- Are you able to make contraception a part of your daily routine?
- Are you comfortable with inserting a contraceptive into your vagina?
- Would you be able to go through a short but potentially painful procedure (women have a range of experience with the IUD insertion)?
- How would you feel about a method that needs to be inserted before sex? And how would your partner feel about it?
- How about a natural method when you have to track your signs of fertility and avoid having sex on particular days?
- And then, a big one to think about - which side effects would you be able to tolerate and which ones would be an absolute nightmare?
For example, some women don’t mind if their periods change for the first few months or if they develop a slight headache, however, others really want to avoid these! Some common side effects for you to consider are: libido changes, mood swings, irregular periods, and headaches… (side effects are a topic to discuss on its own, stay tuned for more content from us on this!). If your doctor tries to ask you all of these questions in a 10-minute consultation, it might be pretty overwhelming! Especially if you haven’t thought about it before. Take the time to think about what’s best for you so that you can communicate your preferences confidently when it comes to choosing the one!
Every woman is different. We’ve all got different amounts of hormones charging around our bodies, different genes that may influence how we respond to contraception, and different goals, and preferences. The method you choose will depend on a range of factors. It is important to weigh the pros and cons and think about how each method meets your current and future needs. Dama Health is building screening tests that will take all of these factors into consideration and give you personalised recommendations. However, it all starts with you. Step one is about putting yourself first by learning about your options and thinking about your preferences!