The Secrets Behind Birth Control

Carmin Sims, Copy Editor

When you hear the words “birth control” your initial thought is possibly about preventing pregnancy and that may be all you consider this medication can be used for. For most students at LSE information on the unexpected side effects and other uses for birth control has not been given to them. There are many misconceptions and misinformation about the side effects of birth control, complications it can lead to and the overall reason as to why people use birth control. It is very common to see this medication as something that is solely used in order to control pregnancy during sexual activity although this is not always the case.

Starting at the average age of 16, many women in the United States (U.S.) use a form of birth control for many different reasons. Besides preventing pregnancy, some lesser known uses for this drug include lightning heavy menstruation, relieving excruciating cramps, controlling acne and regulating periods overall. These medical ailments have been known to control young women’s lives and make it much harder to accomplish everyday tasks such as simply getting out of bed in the morning, making birth control a necessity.

A survey conducted from 2015-2017 by the National Study of Family Growth states that out of the 72.2 million women ages 15-49 in the U.S., 64.9 percent were using a form of contraception. The oral contraceptive pill (a very commonly used form of birth control among young women) was used among 12.6 percent as well as long-acting reversible contraceptives, also known as LARCs, were used among 10.3 percent of women. Female sterilization was used by 18.6 percent and the male condom at 8.7 percent.

A survey of 27 LSE students states that 25.9% do not know about the unexpected side effects of birth control. Preventing pregnancy was the most commonly known use of birth control coming in at 96%, and regulating periods was the second most common. The lesser known reason for birth control use among LSE students is regulating acne.

To truly understand the different uses of birth control, it is important to have the ability to recognize the commonly used types of birth control and contraceptives as well as the pros and cons that you may or may not know of.

  1. Oral Contraceptive Pills

An article from the Kaiser Family Foundation titled “Oral Contraceptive Pills” states that women in the U.S. have depended on the oral contraceptive pill for over 50 years with the goal of preventing pregnancy as it is 99 percent effective when used correctly. It is one of the most widely used forms of birth control and is also commonly used for managing other medical issues and health conditions. In order to receive the pill you will need a prescription from your doctor or gynecologist. You may also be able to get a prescription from a Planned Parenthood location near you if one is available. The general pricing of the pill is up to 50 dollars without insurance, but with health insurance or Medicaid, the cost should be covered.

Although this is one of the most widely used forms of birth control, it is important to acknowledge the types of side effects that can come with it. It is very effective, but you must use the pill accordingly. In order for the pill to be effective, you must take it at the same time everyday for a certain amount of days in a row. Planned Parenthood states on their website that you will take the pill every day for either 21 or 28 days in a row depending on the type of pill you are prescribed. You are not supposed to take the pill any longer than 24 hours apart. If the pill is not used correctly, the effectiveness decreases. The pill may also cause side effects such as nausea, increased or decreased appetite and possible weight gain all caused by the high dosage of estrogen and/or progestin in the pill..

The Kaiser Family Foundation also describes the three different types of this birth control: the combination pill, the progestin-only pill and the continuous pill. The combination pill has two hormones that stop the ovaries from releasing an egg each month. The progestogen-only pill has only one hormone that changes the mucus at the entrance of the uterus keeping sperm from passing through to fertilize the egg. The continuous use pill  is a lot less known than the other two pills, and this comes in 91-day packs. Planned Parenthood states on their website that the pill is 99 percent effective when used perfectly, but considering the forgetfulness of some users, the pill is realistically around 93 percent effective. Although this pill is not only used for preventing pregnancy, it can also improve acne and relieve uncomfortable symptoms and mood changes during or before menstruation. The progestogen-only pill will most likely not prevent a normal menstrual cycle, though, and it is suitable for women who are breastfeeding. 

  1. Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs)

This form of contraceptives are 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, and they last for several years, making them easier to use than the pill. These methods are also reversible and can be taken out at any time. The two main types of LARCs are the intrauterine device (IUD) and the birth control implant. According to Planned Parenthood, the IUD is a tiny, T-shaped plastic implant that is inserted into the uterus, and there are two different types of IUDs which are the hormonal IUD and the copper IUD. Another form that is not as long-lasting but can still be considered an LARC would be contraceptive injections, commonly known as “the shot.”

The hormonal IUD releases progestin into the uterus which prevents fertilization of an egg. Like the pill, it thickens the mucus around the cervix which makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus. This IUD, depending on the brand, is approved for up to three to eight years of use.

On the other hand, the copper IUD releases copper into the uterus. It does not contain hormones and makes it difficult for the sperm to move, which makes it harder for them to enter the uterus. This form of IUD is approved for up to 10 years of use.

This type of birth control includes the benefits of easy use, privacy, reversibility and almost all women are able to use the IUD, stated by the Association of Women’s Health Care in their article titled “The Pros and Cons of an IUD.” It is a very tiny piece of plastic, therefore you will not feel it and no one will know it is there. Although it must be inserted by your doctor or OB/GYN, it allows for extremely low maintenance and very rarely slips out of place. According to Planned Parenthood, depending on which IUD you choose, the side effects may vary. Most women do not see any side effects while on the IUD, though if you do experience any, they should no longer be an issue after about three to six months once your body adjusts. 

The use of the IUD in women does vary among age groups with the most use from women at ages 20 to29. It is also a great option for women who need to treat heavy or painful menstruation cycles. 

The birth control implant is described by Planned Parenthood as “a tiny, thin rod about the size of a matchstick.” This gets placed underneath the skin in the upper arm. The implant must also be inserted by a doctor or OB/GYN, and it only takes a few minutes to be inserted. The implant contains the hormone progestogen which, as stated before, stops the ovaries from releasing an egg and thickens the mucus in the cervix. The main implant that is available in the U.S. is called Nexplanon. This form of birth control is only placed once and lasts up to five years. The implant is another great way to keep your privacy regarding birth control use as well as allowing for an easy process. 

According to Nexplanon’s website, there are possible side effects including mood swings, weight gain and acne. There may also be pain at the spot of insertion and breast pains. If you are considering the implant, it is very important to go over all possible complications with your care provider before making the final decision. Both the IUD and the implant usually cost around 1,000 dollars to 1,300 dollars when paying out of pocket, but it will last for several years. When using the help of insurance or Medicaid, the cost would significantly decline.

Lasty, the birth control shot, also known as the depo shot based off of the brand name Depo-Provera, is an injection that is needed once every three months. This also has the hormone progestin which prevents ovulation and makes the mucus on the cervix thicker. The Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit medical health and research center, states that the shot needs to be redone every 12 weeks or about every three months. You will most likely need to be given the shot by a doctor, although you may also be able to get a supply from your healthcare provider to be taken home and given to yourself. Because of the forgetfulness of follow-up shots, this form of birth control is about 96 percent effective.

This may require an exam before receiving the initial shot which may include an additional cost, but health insurance and any other programs are able to help cover it. The exam may also cost up to 250 dollars and the following visits up to 150 dollars. Similar to the IUD and implant, the shot is convenient and private. If used correctly, you will only need to think about your birth control about four times a year. A helpful benefit of this is that it often makes the user’s menstruation quite lighter, and some even stop getting their periods altogether. The shot is also reversible, and your period will go back to normal after a few months of no longer getting the shot. 

The main issue that people find when using the shot is remembering the need for a new injection every three months. The shot will only work effectively if you remain on schedule, and it can also be difficult to return to your doctor’s office every three months consistently.  Common side effects are weight gain, sore breasts and mood swings but have been found to go away after adjusting to the shot within  two to three months.


  1. Birth Control Patch

The birth control patch is one of the newest forms of birth control and is a lot less known. The brand name for the birth control patch is Xulane, which is a thin beige bandage of about 1.5 inches wide. It is applied similarly like a Band-Aid on the skin in a place such as the stomach or upper arm. A new patch needs to be placed once a week on the same day every week. 

The Mayo Clinic, a non-profit research organization, describes that the patch works by releasing the hormones estrogen and progestin through your skin. It has a very similar make up of oral contraceptive pills. Once you receive a prescription from your doctor you will need to place the first patch within the first 24 hours of your menstruation cycle. It is important to speak with your healthcare provider about the correct uses of this form of birth control. The patch also exposes you to about 60 percent more estrogen than an oral contraceptive with an equal amount, which could lead to medical conditions if there is a medical history of estrogen-related health issues such as breast cancer. It will also lose effectiveness if it gets loose regularly, or if you weigh over 198 pounds. Some possible side effects of the patch include acne or other skin problems, sore breasts, fatigue and menstrual cramps or pain. 

On the other hand, a benefit of this form of birth control is the convenience and the reversibility. Although, the patch is not usually considered a LARC because it is not as long-acting as the shot or IUD. It is also a lot less of an invasive birth control. Without insurance, the full price would cost around 30 dollars to 40 dollars.

There are many different forms of birth control, and it is important to remember that no matter what kind of birth control is being used, it does not automatically equate to pregnancy prevention. There are many other medical conditions that can be helped by the use of each of these different types of birth control, and you must consider this before judging someone on their rationale.