Playing It Safe Down Under
What’s a lady to do in these modern, post-sexual-revolution times? A lady is free to have all the sex that she wants, but the lady is nevertheless always restricted by that which makes her a lady: her fertile womb. Kids are great, but college women might not be up to having and raising them quite yet.
Medical technology, fortunately, has advanced past sheepskin condoms and Ye Olde Rhythme Methode. Women can now choose from a litany of options to cheat Mother Nature, many of them not reliant on the cooperation of a partner. Let’s review, shall we?
The most ubiquitous form of birth control is the condom, also known as the rubber, the safety hat, the raincoat or the “I’m Totally Gonna Get Latex Tonight.” It’s pretty straightforward—see instructions on the cardboard box. Condoms are great because they block both sperm and STIs, or sexually transmitted infections (the cool new term for STDs). The downside, of course, is that you have to have one available every time you get it on. Men also tend to treat condoms as the unfortunate “vegetable” that they have to finish before they can get any “dessert.”
What about female condoms? There are two different types: the cervical cap and the diaphragm. Both of these work by being slathered in spermicide, fitted by a medical professional and then pushed in front of the cervix before sex. The only real difference between the cervical cap and the diaphragm is the size and the shape, but really, they both look like little latex hats. The great thing about a female condom is that it requires no reluctant acquiescence from a second person. Unfortunately, these are also more expensive than male condoms since they’re used more than once. Some girls might also think that it’s weird to stick a little hat inside their vaginas. This is a perfectly reasonable qualm.
There are other options that you could explore, especially if you’re in a long-term relationship.
Any birth control product with hormones is a double-edged sword. Yes, hormones can shorten your periods, clear up your skin and ultimately ensure that you won’t have a baby while taking them. However, some women can experience several negative side effects from these hormones, ranging from very serious — high blood pressure, blurred vision or loss of vision, and an increased risk of blood clots, breast cancer and cervical cancer, according to Brown University’s Health Education center, to less serious — extreme mood swings, feeling scatter-brained and in general, acting a little crazy.
There are many different types and ways to take hormonal birth control. The first type is a shot of Depo-Provera, which will last three months, or Lunelle, which will last one month. Another form is the contraceptive patch, better known as Ortho Evra, which works a lot like a Nicotine patch. You used to be able to get hormone implants, but those have been recalled (whoops). These are all awesome options, but squeamish women who are prone to bouts of insanity (like me) might want to shy away from them.
There’s a new medium for hormones, which will hopefully replace the implants: vaginal rings. Vaginal rings (brand name: Nuva Ring) look a lot like one of those cheap jelly bracelets that you could win in a pizza arcade. These are wrangled inside the vagina much like female condoms, but instead of operating like a latex fortress barricading the cervix against sperm, these rings release a steady but small stream of hormones. With a diaphragm, you’re putting it in every time you have sex; with a vaginal ring, you keep it in for three weeks out of every month. It’s supposed to work even if you take it out for a little bit, and it’s also not supposed to feel weird when you wear it during sex. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me … unless it actually feels weird to walk around with a plastic bracelet up the yin-yang!
Of course, how could I forget about the pill? All you have to do is take one every day at the same time. That’s all there is to it. There’s also a week of placebos that you take to simulate a period.
Wait, what? You mean we’ve been simulating our periods all these years? That bottom row of different-colored pills wasn’t necessary?
Birth control pills have long been sold with a row of placebos so that the “time of the month” could roll around like clockwork. Apparently, the public was initially aghast about the idea that women could stop having their periods altogether.
New pills like Yaz seem to have a revolutionary claim to stopping the messy and bloated business of periods, but birth control pills have always had that ability. Birth control pill companies merely included a built-in “fake period” as a marketing ploy. Some women have been onto this trick, and just skip the week of placebos and move on to the next package of pills.
Of course, the only problem with the period-free pills is that there’s no red stain every month to assure you that there’s not a baby growing inside of you. So you might want to take a pregnancy test every month, just in case. And, also, there might be some breakthrough bleeding from your uterine lining.
Why is it so hard to get good birth control? The options are staggering, but each one seems to have a serious downside. Sure, there’s a few more that I haven’t yet mentioned: Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) which have become much safer and less invasive in recent years, hysterectomies, which tend to be quite effective but also fairly absolute and abstinence, which is completely effective but also not very fun.
Fortunately, medical technology is improving at an exponential rate, and may offer a foolproof and easy birth control method in the years to come. Until then — maybe you should just drink boiling hot radish soup. Old world secret.