IUDs and Implants: It’s Not Too Late for LARCs

IUDAccess to contraception is coming under attack, and reproductive-health advocates are scrambling to find ways to protect it. In December, Obama did what he could to protect Planned Parenthood from losing its ability to serve Medicaid patients. In New York, the state’s attorney general has moved to ensure that New Yorkers will continue to receive no-copay birth control as part of their insurance benefits, and Massachusetts moved to defend Medicaid patients’ right to use Planned Parenthood’s services in the event of federal interference. And, across the country, people at risk for unintended pregnancy are clamoring for highly effective, long-term birth control to see them through the next four tumultuous years.


IUDs and implants can help you and your uterus make it through the Trump administration.


Tom Price, who was confirmed as secretary of health and human services last month, represents the most immediate threat to our birth-control access. As HHS secretary, Price has the power to declare that contraception is not a “preventive” service insurers must make available to their customers with no copay. In one fell swoop, Price could undo the enormous progress the Obama administration made in expanding access not just to all forms of contraception, but to highly effective forms of contraception that had for so long been out of reach to so many.

Before the Affordable Care Act, long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods like IUDs and implants were known to be highly effective — not just cost-effective, but also simply the most effective in terms of preventing pregnancy. However, the high upfront costs closed the door to many potential users. Let’s do some quick-and-dirty math: A copper IUD could set you back anywhere from $500 to $932, but it lasts for 12 years. That means it costs $3.50 to $6.50 per month, compared to the Pill, which can cost $10 to $50 a month out of pocket. Clearly, the IUD makes the most financial sense, but for many of us, a medical bill charging upward of $500 doesn’t fit into our budgets. Better to rely on methods like the Pill, which cost more over time, but aren’t as hard on the wallet of someone living paycheck to paycheck or on an otherwise tight budget. Continue reading

Ovarian Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, and the Pill

birth-control-pillsThe most popular method of birth control in the United States is the Pill, followed by tubal ligation (permanent sterilization, or getting your tubes tied) and condoms. The Pill is a hormonal method of contraception, while sterilization and condoms are nonhormonal. The distinction between hormonal and nonhormonal methods of birth control are simply that the former contain synthetic versions of human hormones, while the latter do not.


By suppressing ovulation and thinning the uterine lining, the Pill can reduce risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers.


Glands in our bodies, called endocrine glands, produce hormones; additionally, testes and ovaries — which are parts of the human reproductive system — manufacture hormones. Human hormones are powerful chemicals, which do all sorts of jobs, from triggering puberty to helping us extract energy from the foods we eat. So it’s not a huge stretch to wonder if exposure to the hormones present in certain birth control methods — such as the Pill, in addition to the patch, the ring, the shot, the implant, and some types of IUDs — might have unintended effects on the body. Because hormones can play a role in cancer — either in protecting against it or aiding in its development — researchers are very interested to know if the Pill might increase or decrease risk for various types of cancer.

It’s actually a bit tricky to investigate the possible associations between the Pill and various types of cancer. First of all, there are dozens of types of birth control pills, all with different versions of synthetic hormones, at different dosages, and in different proportions to one another. Furthermore, the types of oral contraceptives on the market change over time — today’s birth control pill is not your mother’s birth control pill. Studying “the Pill” as a single entity could obscure differences between brands. Secondly, most cancers tend to develop later in life, many years after someone may have taken oral contraceptives. Researchers need to be careful to control for all the variables that might increase or decrease cancer risk. Continue reading

Contraception Then and Now

When it comes to contraception, one thing is for sure: We’ve come a long way! And while the future might have even better things in store, like reversible male birth control, superior condoms, or remote-controlled implants, a look into the past reveals that modern contraceptors have a bevy of fantastic options to choose from. Unlike couples who had to forgo contraception or obtain birth control from the black market, nowadays Americans wishing to prevent or postpone pregnancy can select from a variety of legal, effective, and increasingly accessible family-planning methods.


While the history of birth control is fascinating, today’s contraception is the very best.


Let’s look at some old-fashioned birth-control methods and see how they stack up to their modern-day counterparts.

Linen and Guts vs. Latex and Polyurethane Condoms

Most people think of female condoms as new inventions, but the first condom recorded in history was made out of a goat’s bladder and inserted into the vagina — way back in 3000 BC. Ancient civilizations, from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Japanese, made penile sheaths and caps with a variety of materials, including linen, leather, lubricated silk paper, intestines, and tortoise shells. Linen and intestines remained popular through the Renaissance era.

A condom, with a user manual, from 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

A condom, with user manual, 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

Charles Goodyear might be most famous for tires, but his discoveries in vulcanizing rubber also led to the development of rubber condoms in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the Comstock Act of 1873 outlawed the manufacture and sale of contraception, and condoms were driven into a shadow economy. In the 1880s, New Yorkers might have been lucky to find black-market condoms made from surplus animal intestines, which were manufactured by Julius Schmid, a German immigrant who otherwise specialized in sausage casings — before his business was shut down by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Condoms weren’t legal in the United States until the Crane ruling of 1918, just in time for the 1920 invention of latex, a form of rubber that was much stronger and more elastic — and with a shelf life of five years vs. rubber’s three months. By the 1920s, Schmid was once again on top of the condom game, peddling brands like Sheik, Ramses, and Sphinx.

Condoms made out of intestines are still on the market, sold as lambskin or “natural” condoms. However, they are not recommended for STD protection: Just as intestines need to allow nutrients to enter the body from digesting food, so too are viruses able to pass through condoms made from intestines. (Sperm, on the other hand, are thought to be too big.) These days, latex is the gold-standard material for condoms, while polyurethane can be used by people with latex allergies. Condoms constructed with these modern materials protect users from unintended pregnancy as well as many sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV and chlamydia. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Dispelling Myths About Emergency Contraception

EmergencyContraceptionSince 1998, when the Food and Drug Administration first approved the morning-after pill, there have been controversies about its sale and use. Initially, age restrictions were enforced to regulate its sale, and some hospitals and pharmacies refused to provide it to their patients. After considerable pressure from public and medical groups, emergency contraception (EC) is available for sale to anyone at their local pharmacy, with the exception of ella and the copper IUD, both of which require prescriptions.


Emergency contraception is widely available, easy to use, and safe!


And yet, after almost 20 years of remarkably safe use, there are still myths regarding its safety, actions and use. Let’s look at some of those myths right now!

First, there are misunderstandings regarding EC’s availability:

Myth: EC is hard to get and you need a prescription.

Since 2013, most ECs are available to buy in pharmacies over the counter to anyone, regardless of age or gender. There are two exceptions: If you need ella, another morning-after pill, you do need a prescription, and the copper IUD requires placement by a health care provider.

Myth: There is only one type of EC available.

There are several different pills available, such as Plan B One-Step or generic equivalents. These all contain levonorgestrol, a progesterone hormone that is also in many other contraceptives. Ella contains ulipristal acetate and works effectively and evenly up to five days after unprotected sex. Ella is dispensed with a prescription. The copper IUD also needs a prescription but is the most effective EC when placed within five days of unprotected sex. It is recommended for obese women or women who have had several episodes of unprotected sex, and its contraceptive effect lasts 10 years. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: What Contraception Does Your Doctor Choose?

IUD in hand croppedHave you ever wondered what birth control method your health provider has chosen to use for her contraceptive? Though it is usually not relevant or ethical for your provider to disclose something so personal, you might find it helpful and reassuring to know this information when you are deciding which contraceptive is a good choice for you.


Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you might not have to worry about footing the bill for an IUD or implant yourself.


New research by Planned Parenthood has some answers to this question. In a recent study published in Contraception, the official journal of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and the Society of Family Planning, Planned Parenthood researchers found that women’s health care providers are three-and-a-half times more likely to choose long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as IUDs (intrauterine devices) and implants as their contraceptive of choice. Forty-two percent of providers use LARCs, compared to just 12 percent of women in the general population. The birth control pill is used far less often, by only 16 percent of providers surveyed. Earlier studies have also shown these differences, but the Planned Parenthood study shows an increasing trend of women health care providers choosing LARCs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also conducts surveys and studies to look at contraceptive usage across the general population. Their surveys have shown an upward trend in LARC use — a five-fold increase in the last 10 years. Most of the women using these methods are 25 to 34 years old. But women in general use LARCs far less often than the percentage of health care providers reporting they use LARCs in the Planned Parenthood study. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: How Effective Is My Birth Control?

contraception 02According to the Guttmacher Institute, 62 percent of women of child-bearing age (roughly 15 to 44 years of age) currently use a contraceptive method. Most contraceptive users are married and on average would like to have two children. This means that a woman might be using a contraceptive method for more than 30 years.

Studies have calculated that if a sexually active woman is not using any contraceptive method, over the course of a year she has an 85 percent chance of becoming pregnant. Using contraceptives greatly decreases this chance, but there are still some possibilities that her contraceptive method could fail to prevent pregnancy.


To maximize your contraception’s effectiveness, use it as correctly and consistently as possible.


When choosing a contraceptive method, you might want to use the safest and most reliable method available. How likely is it that your choice could fail? With the many types of birth control at your disposal, how do you know which is most effective? And why, with even the most effective contraception around, do women still have unintended pregnancies?

If we rank birth control methods according to most effective to the least effective, how do they compare? How is effectiveness measured?  Continue reading

Contraception in the Zombie Apocalypse

The zombie hoard approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

The zombie horde approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

If you’ve watched a zombie movie with your friends, you’ve probably talked about what kinds of weapons you’d be packing in case of a zombie apocalypse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even has a list of supplies you’ll need for a zombie preparedness kit, which includes smart choices like water, duct tape, and bleach. (I would add toilet paper to that list. How you’ll miss it when you’re on the run!) But how many of you have discussed birth control?


You’ve probably picked out which weapons to use during the zombie apocalypse. But have you chosen a birth control method?


Even if your greatest dream is to have a baby, you must admit that the zombie apocalypse is the worst time to be pregnant, give birth, and raise a child. Fleeing and hand-to-hand combat can be a drag while pregnant, and childbirth can kill you, especially without access to trained personnel or hygienic supplies. And if you do manage to birth a baby into this cruel new world, diapers can distract from more pressing duties, and the infant’s cries can attract undead attention.

When you’re in hardcore fight-or-flight mode, taking a pill at the same time every day might be difficult, and besides, a supply of pills can take up valuable backpack real estate. Plus, even if you find an abandoned pharmacy to raid, birth control pills and condoms come with expiration dates and can be affected by high temperatures. The same goes for contraceptive patches and rings. For these reasons, you need a contraceptive method that’s well suited to the zombie apocalypse. Besides abstinence, what are your options? Continue reading