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The Dos and Don'ts of Contraception

If you don't know the importance of having protected sex by now, you have probably been living under a rock.

Society has repeatedly driven home the magnitude of safe sex. The message is simple -- if you don't want to end up pregnant or with a sexually transmitted disease, cover up during your intimate encounters. The most effective way to prevent pregnancy or an infection from an STD is abstinence. While refusing sexual contact does eliminate the risks of pregnancy and potential illness, it can also limit the development of a loving relationship.

If you choose to add a sexual component to your life, make sure to examine the wide selection of birth control methods at your disposal. Just as having sexual intercourse involves personal preference, so does picking a contraceptive. Not all types of birth control fit every person's needs. Luckily, there are a number of alternatives out there.

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Contraception for Women

To avoid pregnancy, some women find the birth control pill to be best. There are 2 different types: combined oral contraceptive pills and progestin-only pills.

Each kind of pill operates differently, so it's important to understand how they work. Then you can decide which one suits your lifestyle.


The combined oral contraceptive pill includes two hormones -- estrogen and progestin. These hormones work together to stop ovulation, or the release of an egg, and limit the sperm's movement. Although this pill is a good way to prevent pregnancy, it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or HIV. It is recommended that condoms be used in conjunction with these pills.

When prescribed and taken properly, this kind of birth control pill has many benefits; among them are decreasing a woman's risk for ovarian cancer and reducing the chance of benign breast masses. The pill can clear acne and make premenstrual cramps more bearable.

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But with these attractive features come some issues as well. One of the biggest problems with the pill is remembering to take it at the same time each day. If you ingest it a few hours later than your normal schedule, you could be unprotected. This means you run the risk of ovulating and potentially becoming pregnant.

Additionally, the combined birth control pill can cause:

  • nausea;
  • spotting;
  • headaches; and
  • depression.

Blood clots are also a risk that can occur from taking this pill, though it is rare. Smokers are 1 risk group who should not take the pill.


The other type of birth control pill is the progestin-only variety. Its greatest advantage is that it does not contain estrogen, so women don't have to worry about suffering from the side effects associated with this hormone. Also, the amount of progestin is less than in the combined version. Therefore, the overall hormone intake is reduced in this form of contraception.

Like the combined pill, the progestin-only type of birth control reduces:

  • menstrual cramps;
  • headaches; and
  • mood swings.

However, an irregular menstrual cycle is a reported problem with this kind of pill. Women also have complained about weight gain or bloating because of regular use of this contraceptive. A healthy diet and exercise can make these side effects much more manageable.

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If possible side effects and the burden of remembering to take a pill every day don't sound very appealing, another option is the cervical cap. Spermicide is placed inside this latex device before it fits into a woman's vagina and onto her cervix. It's designed so that the suction prevents sperm from entering the uterus.

Women who choose this form of contraception should make sure to get a new cap on a yearly basis through a doctor or nurse. This is not an over-the-counter purchase. Besides this, it does offer a lot of flexibility to the user.


Not only is it small and easy to transport, but it also can be inserted up to one hour before sexual intercourse. Also, at the time of its placement, it works continuously for 48 hours straight.

A couple can have sex multiple times, and the cervical cap will still be effective as long as it's left in at least six to eight hours after the last interlude. Although it's constantly at work blocking sperm from entering the uterus, it does not interfere with the pleasure of having sex. In fact, a woman's partner won't know it's there unless he's told.

There are risks, however, to using this kind of contraception. The cap can cause inflammation on the surface of the cervix. If a woman is allergic to latex, irritation could result. But the greatest danger of all is a serious infection called toxic shock syndrome. This can happen if the cervical cap is kept on for more than 48 hours.

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So if you choose this birth control method, be very aware of how long the cap has been in place and make sure to remove it after a suitable amount of time has passed.

A diaphragm is another way a woman can block her cervix from any sperm. Like the cervical cap, it is fitted by a physician and can be inserted several hours in advance without causing any hormonal side effects.


However, this birth control tool does have several risks. Not only is toxic shock syndrome an issue if the diaphragm is left in for too long, but it's been known to cause urinary tract infections.

There is also the chance it could move around during sex, so women who use it should consider sexual positions carefully and check to make sure the diaphragm is still in place.

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Contraception for Men

Women are not the only ones who are responsible for making thoughtful contraception choices. Men also have a role in this process. The most common form of birth control for men is the condom. They're made of polyurethane and are designed to prevent bodily fluids from mixing during sexual intercourse.

In addition to protecting against most STDs and the transmission of HIV, they stop sperm from entering a woman's uterus to block pregnancy. This form of birth control is the best way to prevent any kind of sex-related infection, too.


However, not all STDs are preventable with the use of a condom. Genital herpes and syphilis, for example, are immune to condom use because they can be passed from one person to another through infected skin surfaces. Also, condoms can be ripped or torn by fingers, jewelry or anything sharp, so great care needs to be taken when putting on this product.

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No matter what form of contraception you choose, be sure to understand the risks and benefits before engaging in any sexual activity