It’s no question--a high percentage of college students are sexually active, and that’s okay. In fact, one third of college students are having sex at least once a week. With sexual activity, though, comes mounds of responsibilities and, sometimes, people aren’t necessarily informed on how to have safe sex.
Most of us are familiar with condoms as a form of birth control and prevention of STIs. Condoms were probably the only contraceptive method taught to most students during sex ed, if they were taught about contraception at all. Many women seek another alternatives for pregnancy prevention rather than relying solely on condoms because of the worry about unwanted pregnancies that are caused by unsafe sex, unreliable condoms or irresponsible sex partners.
Women most often turn to “the pill” for a personal form of contraception. Something that has been stigmatized (but also used) for decades, the pill can be an interesting conversation among girls and women. There are the lucky few who had the introduction to the pill as teens and support of their parents, but there are still girls--women--in college who are completely and entirely uneducated about this or other forms of birth control, and are left with unanswered questions: Are there other birth control options? How/where do you get it? How much does it cost? What will my parents say?
Safe sex is extremely important, especially when trying to put a college career first. This is why women need to be informed about contraception in order to make a decision about whether or not it’s right for them.
Are there other birth control options?
Though the pill is the most commonly discussed method of birth control, there are actually plenty of other options for women to use! Here are some birth control methods most often used among women:
1. The Pill
The pill is just as effective as it is popular.
Pros: It can regulate your period, it prevents pregnancy (leaving women with only a 9% chance of an unexpected pregnancy) and it’s usually the cheapest form of birth control.
Cons: You have to take it every day at the same time in order for it to be fully effective and it’s infamous for making you gain weight.
2. Birth Control Implant
Birth control implants, in my opinion, are super cool (I even have one!). These are most commonly seen promoted by professional athletes because of their convenience, especially for those that are physically active.
Pros: They last for years at a time, they can essentially stop you from having a period and they are very effective (women only have about a 0.05% chance of pregnancy) at preventing pregnancy.
Cons: They can be expensive (we’ll talk about this later) and they have to be inserted and removed by a professional.
3. Birth Control Shot
Shots are also a popular form of birth control, especially among younger women. This could be a good option, especially for those of you that want something between the pill and an implant.
Pros: It lasts for a couple of months at a time and it prevents (only about 6% of women experience an unintended pregnancy) pregnancy.
Cons: You do have to return to your doctor about every three months for a new shot and it is also known to make you gain weight.
IUDs are becoming more and more popular among women that are not looking to become pregnant for a certain period of time. In fact, you probably even know someone with one.
Pros: It lasts for up to twelve years and is extremely effective (women have about a 0.2-0.8% of becoming pregnant) at preventing pregnancy.
Cons: It has to be inserted and removed by a professional and women are more likely to have complications with this form of birth control.
5. Female Condoms
For those of you that don’t want to be creating a chemical shift in your body, you can always turn to female condoms. Yes, there is such as thing as a female condom! These are inserted into the vagina before having sex and it works to catch your partner’s ejaculation.
Pros: It can be inserted hours before having sex, it isn’t a medicine that has to be prescribed and it does help to prevent pregnancy.
Cons: You do have to insert it before sex and remove it afterwards, so it doesn’t come with the “always protected” coverage that other forms of birth control have and it leaves the highest rate of unexpected pregnancies among women, at 21%.
For more information on each birth control method mentioned and more, visit Planned Parenthood’s website.
Where do you find it?
With these methods in mind, how do you get them and where do you find them? There are multiple answers to this question. For starters, you school’s campus health services should have plenty of information to guide you in the right direction. They usually supply condoms but, when it comes to women’s contraceptives, they usually send you to another place to actually have it prescribed. My campus health, though, does help to guide women in picking the birth control that is right for them. Campus health can be very helpful, even if they don’t actually prescribe the medicine.
Your Family Doctor
You can always choose to visit your family doctor while you’re home. Yes, family doctors can and DO prescribe birth control. If you feel more comfortable approaching your doctor at home about this, then--by all means--go to them. If you don’t feel comfortable going to your doctor though, you can choose another health provider to help you on your quest for birth control.
Local Health Centers
Most towns have standard health centers and, while most people see these as places for people with lower income to receive services, these are actually great places to get started with birth control. Depending on your health center, they may just offer the pill, but the pill is better than nothing in most cases. Places like these are typically easier to make an appointment with, affordable (free for most insurance) and pretty relaxed.
You can also choose to visit a gynecologist. Yes, most young women are scared by this daunting thought, but you’ll have to do it eventually, so why not start now? Plus, visiting a gynecologist will allow you to learn more about your body and the best methods for you so you will be more than likely to come out with the best birth control choice for your body!
Planned Parenthood is another great resource for women to use when looking for birth control. Much like the health centers I mentioned before, Planned Parenthood is meant to be affordable, accessible and non-judgemental (because private practices can kind of do what they want). Click here to find a Planned Parenthood near you!
But how does the process of acquiring birth control actually go down?
This depends entirely on where you visit and what kind of birth control you want to get. Most women I’ve met are scared of being examined “down there” in order to get birth control. Whereas having an examination will do better for you than not having one, in most cases you are not required to be examined to get birth control. This is usually used as a scare tactic by people to sway women away from making an appointment with a doctor. For me, I’ve been on three different types of birth control, prescribed by two different doctors and I have YET to have an examination.
With the pill there's usually no examination required. When getting the pill for the first time, you’re most often required to take a swab of your own vagina (in privacy) so doctors can test you for STIs. In most cases, you walk in for your appointment, answer a couple of questions and walk out with a prescription to take to your pharmacy. Simple as that.
The process can be a little different for someone looking for an implant or IUD. After your initial appointment with a doctor, you’ll probably be required to make another appointment for an examination of your overall health. For me--since my implant (Nexplanon) is in my arm--, this simply required a health test, like any other checkup at the doctor. Pre-examination for an IUD can be different, however, since it does go in your uterus. Either way, if you’re getting an IUD, you kind of need to be comfortable having someone probe around inside of you since that’s where it’s placed during the procedure.
It can also depend on where you go to get birth control. Places like a family health practice or health service in your town is less likely to require a full (or any) examination of the vaginal area before prescribing birth control. Gynecologists, though, are going to be more likely to want to examine you before prescribing anything. This isn’t a bad thing, though. Having a full examination can only work to your benefit when going on a new medication, especially one that messes with your “down there” area.
How much money does it cost?
Once you have all of this figured out, the question of cost pops up. Birth control for women can, sadly, be expensive. The cost of birth control typically depends on what your insurance provider covers. You will need to check with your insurance to see how much/what they cover, possibly even before deciding what to go on.
For now, I will do a quick breakdown of how much the different types of birth control we’ve talked about can cost. Remember that these costs rely solely on your insurance.
The Pill: $0-$50
The pill typically remains one of the cheapest forms of birth control. It ranges anywhere from $0-$50 per prescription which, depending on your doctor and medicine, a new prescription/refill may have to be every month, three months, six months or a year. Usually this cost applies to the prescription, not the the amount of pills in the prescription.
Birth Control Implant: $0-$800
Implants can be a little pricier. They cost $0-$800 upfront but keep in mind that this is a one-time payment for three years of coverage. I paid nothing but the gas to get to the doctor for mine.
Birth Control Shot: $0-$100
The birth control shot can cost anywhere from $0-$100 per injection, which is typically every three months. Some doctors also require an additional examination fee as well .
IUDs are definitely the priciest but, depending on your insurance, you can end up paying next-to-nothing. This form costs $0-$1,000 up front and most last for around 12 years (so it pays off, no?).
Female Condom: $4
Female condoms are extremely cheap, but not covered by insurance. They cost about $4 a condom and are not reusable.
And, how do I tell my parents?
The final question for most women lies in the opinions of their family and friends. What will my parents think? Should I tell my parents? Will I be judged? There are many ways to approach these hesitations.
Deciding whether or not to tell your parents depends entirely on you, but one factor does play an important role: are you on their insurance plan? Chances are, if you share an insurance plan with your parents, the purchase of birth control will show up on their statements and they will eventually notice. Don’t let this scare you, but don’t surprise your parents and allow them to find out via a bill.
The best way to tell your parents is to just sit down with them. This is easier said than done, obviously, but it’s the best solution. Explain to them that you’re an adult, you need to make responsible decisions about YOUR body and--whether or not you’re sexually active--going on birth control can have its benefits (less cramps, lighter period, decrease in acne, control of emotions/hormones, etc.). Make sure you convey the positive side to going on birth control and how it will help you, as an individual. Parents can’t stop you from going on birth control, but they can have their say. Make sure you have your say too.
People shouldn’t judge women for going on birth control. The truth is, though, that women often find judgment for choosing to go on birth control. Fortunately, on most campuses, people tend to be pretty chill with the familiar idea of women using birth control. Families can have altered reactions, however. When it comes to letting your parents know if you want to start birth control, this can be a good move. Your grandmother, Aunt Susie and cousin Jim, however, don’t really need to know you’re taking birth control. It’s a private matter. If you decide to speak to your parents about it, speak of the benefits, ask that they respect your opinion and--if they tend to be rather chatty--maybe politely ask them to keep it between the two/three of you.
Going on birth control for the first time can be a confusing and scary experience for women, especially if you are doing it by yourself. Fortunately, there are many resources to use for women and girls to find out what works best for them and how to get it. Birth control can be an integral part of a woman’s life, especially if she is sexually active, so it’s important to be fully informed before making a decision. Birth control has its positives and negatives but it’s a great tool at preventing pregnancy and providing hormonal benefits for all women.
*Please don’t just use female birth control as the only form of birth control when having sex. Condoms are the second most effective way (abstinence being first) to prevent an unwanted pregnancy (99.9% effective) and the ONLY effective way to prevent the spread of an STI when having sex. Pairing female birth control with male birth control is the best way to prevent STIs and pregnancy.*
Lead Image Credit: Daniela Alejandra Robles via Wikimedia Commons