I remember the first time I bought groceries for myself. My fresh-faced 18-year-old self, standing in the middle of Woolworths with a sea of pasta sauces before me. Did I want the classic Napoletana or the generic red jar of unspecified ‘pasta sauce’. Who knew there were so many versions of the Exact Same Thing at so many different prices. I was stuck there for 10 minutes, frozen by indecision.
It might seem like a strange analogy to make, but my pasta aisle conundrum felt all too similar to my experience with contraception. Too many options, too many decisions, and no idea how to make sense of it all.
I started on the Pill at 16. At the time, it felt like the only way to take ownership of my health (and, well, prevent an unwanted pregnancy). I then spent the next three years ping-ponging my way through every brand name my GP could prescribe. I went from one pill to the next, before circling back again and ending up where I began. The names might as well have been ex-lovers for all I cared. None of them were right for me.
Like so many women, I struggled to find a version of the Pill that ticked my boxes. Some made me bloated, others made me sad, and none of them fixed my acne. So, what are our choices when we can’t find a version of The Pill that suits us?
Since hitting Australia’s pharmacy shelves in 1961, the Pill has reigned supreme as the most popular form of contraception in the country. But like any form of medication, the oral contraceptive Pill has side effects. The degree and severity of these are different from person to person, which means everyone’s experience with the Pill will be unique.
However, there are some patterns that do emerge. Some of the common side effects of the Pill can include:
In rare cases, there is also a very small increase in your risk of deep vein thrombosis (a.k.a. blood clots), heart attacks, strokes and cervical cancer. And when it comes to the notion that the Pill causes low mood, a recent Danish study has revealed women taking the Pill were 1.23x more likely to be diagnosed with depression. However, there is no clear evidence to suggest the Pill directly causes depression.
But shouldering the burden of these side effects doesn’t need to go hand-in-hand with having control of our fertility. In fact, between 2008 and 2015, usage of the Pill among women 18 to 49-years-old has dropped by 4.5%. The reasons for this shift are varied and numerous but stem from a rise of alternate contraception options coupled with a desire to manage fertility on our own terms.
Although the oral contraceptive Pill might seem like the only form of hormone-based contraception, there are more choices than most of us realise.
Remember: no matter what method of hormonal birth control you use, none of them will protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Make sure to use practice safe sex with your partner by using a condom during intercourse (because there’s nothing sexy about an STI).
Aside from hormone-based contraception methods, there are a number of different options that can prevent unwanted pregnancy. These include:
Every woman is different, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to contraception. For some, remembering to take a pill at the same time each day will be a breeze. For others, opting for barrier contraception might be more suited to their needs and lifestyle. And when it comes to effectiveness, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of each option.
Contraception is most effective when taken correctly. But regardless of which option you choose, no form of contraception is 100% effective. As a general rule, progestogen IUDs (99.8%) and contraceptive skin implants such as the rod (99.95%) are statistically the most effective at preventing pregnancy.
And this tends to be due to their ‘set and forget’ design, which takes the guesswork out of contraception. There are no daily pill doses or packets of condoms to pick up from the shops, which can help increase the effectiveness of these options. For many women, this level of convenience makes these an attractive method of contraception.
For me, the mood swings and side effects of the Pill didn’t suit me. So I’ve found other options that work better. However, it’s important to speak with a GP to consider unique circumstances when deciding on the most effective contraception for your situation. Each option has a range of side effects to bear in mind, so make sure to do your research before deciding on the best method for you.