Bruckner recommends hormonal birth control over the rhythm method. Others disagree.
Katy Anderson/the Gauntlet

The down low on birth control

The decision is individual, but partners should be informed

Publication YearIssue Date 

Ladies and gentlemen, in the interest of having no boys and girls, let's talk about birth control.

There are many different contraceptive methods to choose from, so how one should decide what method will work for them was the main issue raised in the Understand Your Body, Inform Your Choice film series on campus this week. There were films screened in the Women's Resource Centre dealing with sexual health Nov. 20-22.

"My intent with this film series was to encourage people to ask more questions," said event organizer Delshani Peiris. "[And to] not just do exactly what their doctors tell them to do. I think it's really important that girls and guys start to question what's going on and what is the best way for them."

In Canada, the preeminent methods of birth control are oral contraceptives and condoms. The pill operates by putting artificial hormones into the body, which prevent ovulation. There are two types of the pill, the combination pill and the "mini," progestin-only pill. The combination pill, named as such because it has both progestin and estrogen, acts by preventing an egg from being released, and by thickening the mucus lining of the cervix so that sperm cannot enter. If used properly, it has an effectiveness exceeding 99 per cent.

"[The combination pill must be taken] every day within a three hour time period," said Sexual Health Access Alberta program assistant Lana-Marie Leitch. "Often women forget to take them, or intuitively don't want to take them."

The progestin-only pill works by thickening the mucus lining and may have fewer side effects, but also needs to be taken with much more accuracy.

Barrier methods such as condoms are the most accessible birth control method and are very effective if used properly. They are the only birth control methods that help prevent against STIs.

"In the western world, there is still a significant instance of STIs," said Wellness Centre director Debbie Bruckner. "The answer to preventing that is the use of condoms. People seem to be more concerned with controlling pregnancy. To protect against [STIs] and pregnancy, people usually recommend you use condoms and the pill."

While a strong advocate of the use of condoms, especially in tandem with another method, Peiris wanted to point out that they are not the only contraceptive available.

"People either go to hormonal birth control or just condoms," said Peiris. "There are a whole bunch of other different methods. You can use a diaphragm, the cervical cap, female condoms. I think that the reason that those aren't used as frequently as condoms or [the pill] is that it reduces spontaneity. A diaphragm is pretty big, you can't just throw that in your pocket."

There can be many side effects associated with the use of the birth control pill that people may not realize, as well as with other hormonal methods which operate in the same way, such as the ring or patch, explained Bruckner.

"Every kind of medication has a side effect," she said. "Side effects of birth control pills are spotting or bleeding between periods, upset stomach, mild headaches, breast tenderness, and moodiness or bloating. There is a very small chance of blood clot development."

One method of birth control that does not have any side effects is natural family planning/fertility awareness, explained Peiris.

"Menstrual charting [is when] you measure your internal body temperature so you know when you're ovulating," said Peiris. "It is a natural method in that you know when you're ovulating, which is when you can get pregnant."

Leitch suggested that menstrual charting was nearly as effective as hormonal methods when used properly, and may be a good option for those who experience bad side effects from other contraceptives. Despite this, not all feel it is advisable.

"I think it's risky," said Bruckner. "Because there are a lot of things to monitor and because cycles are not always that reliable. If you were in a relationship where becoming pregnant would be acceptable, you might choose that as a birth control method, but if the risk was [unacceptable], you might look at other methods."

The issue of contraception all too often falls to females, she explained.

"It is a responsibility of both partners," said Bruckner. "I think it's critical that there are conversations before engaging in sexual [intercourse], and an understanding that being safe doesn't detract from romance. [Men] shouldn't make assumptions that it's only the responsibility of the female partner."

Peiris noted she hopes the film series will cause people to think about their sexual health.

"There are so many different types of birth control that are out there right now, people need to figure out what's best for themselves," said Peiris. "The things we do for sex. Why don't we care enough about our minds and our safety as we do about getting laid?"