Birth Control & Sexual Health

There are two main types of birth control: hormonal and non-hormonal contraception.

Hormonal birth control methods work primarily by suppressing ovulation (preventing an egg from being released from an ovary). They might also work by altering cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to enter into the uterus, and by altering the uterine lining, preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. Hormonal birth control methods are very effective, reversible methods of birth control and safe for most young, healthy women. Before you start any of these methods, please read the material accompanying your medication.  

Hormonal contraception does not provide protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Types of hormonal contraception include:

  • The pill: Birth control pills contain hormones similar to those produced by a woman’s body. The Pill is the most common form of contraception among college-aged woman. There are many different types of birth control pills; it is important for a woman to find what type will be best for her, depending on her needs. The Pill must be taken around the same time each day in order for it to be as effective as possible.
  • The ring: The ring prevents pregnancy by transferring hormones into your body through the vaginal lining. This method uses a 28-day cycle. A ring is inserted and left in the vagina for 3 weeks (21 days). The ring is removed after 21 days and your period should start during this ring-free week.
  • The patch: The birth control patch prevents pregnancy by transferring hormones to your body through your skin. This method uses a 28-cycle. You apply a new patch each week for 3 weeks (21 total days). No patch is applied the 4th week and your period should start during this patch-free week.
  • The shot: The shot is an injectable form of birth control that lasts for 3 months; a woman gets a shot every 3 months.  As long as a woman gets her shot on time, there is no hormone-free interval, so many women find they no longer have periods or that their periods are much lighter when on the shot.  This form is reversible by stopping the shot. 
  • Implant: The contraception implant is a match-stick size plastic rod that is inserted under the skin of the arm.  Hormones are absorbed into the body through the blood stream.  It lasts for up to 3 years. It must be inserted and removed by a health care provider.
  • Intrauterine system: The intrauterine system (IUS) is a T-shaped device that is placed inside the uterus and delivers hormones into the body through the uterus.  This is also known as a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD). This method lasts for up to 5 years, and must be inserted by a medical professional.

Non-hormonal birth control methods primarily work by preventing sperm from reaching an egg, often by creating a barrier (these are also called “barrier methods” of contraception). Many of these forms of contraception are reversible (with the exception of sterilization, which is meant to be permanent). Abstinence and condoms (male and female) provide STI protection; the other types do not provide STI protection.

Non-hormonal birth control methods include:

  • Abstinence: Some people define abstinence as not engaging in penis-vagina sex. For other people, it is not engaging in any type of sexual activity with another person. Abstinence, when defined as not engaging in any type of sexual activity with another person, is the only 100 percent effective form of safe sex. Any type of sexual activity that involves contact with another person's body fluids may lead to unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Abstinence prevents unintended pregnancy and the transmission of STIs.
  • Male condoms: A popular type of birth control used by college students, these provide both pregnancy and STI protection. Male condoms can be used with all types of hormonal birth control.
  • Female condoms are made of polyurethane and are inserted vaginally prior to sexual activity. They provide both pregnancy and STI protection, and can be used with all types of hormonal birth control. They should never be used in conjunction with a male condom. 
  • A diaphragm is a silicone, dome-shaped cup that is inserted into the vagina and sits around the cervix, acting as a barrier to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. A diaphragm is usually used with spermicide. A woman must be fitted for a diaphragm in her clinician’s office.
  • An intrauterine device (IUD) is similar to the intrauterine system (IUS), but an IUD does not contain hormones. It is inserted into the uterus and is T-shaped. This method is also known as “copper T,” as it uses copper to help prevent pregnancy. This non-hormonal method lasts for up to 12 years and must be inserted and removed by a health care provider.
  • Sterilization: A vasectomy (for men) and tubal ligation (for women) are forms of contraception that are meant to be permanent. In a vasectomy, a clinician blocks or cuts the vas deferens, which are the tubes that carry sperm out of the testicles; this helps prevent sperm from being released from the body, helping to prevent pregnancy. In a tubal ligation, a clinician blocks or cuts the fallopian tubes, preventing an egg from being released into the uterus, helping to prevent pregnancy.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can be used to decrease the risk of pregnancy following unprotected sex or a known or suspected failure in your current method of birth control.

Emergency contraceptive pills do not provide ongoing protection against pregnancy! Emergency contraception is not a substitute for, and is less effective than, the consistent and correct use of an ongoing method of contraception. Emergency contraceptive pills provide no protection from sexually transmitted infections.

Several types of emergency contraception are available. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) consist of synthetic hormones similar to those normally found in your body. Plan B One step is available over the counter without a prescription for anyone age 17 or over. It is available at the UHS pharmacy at a discounted rate.

How do I take emergency contraceptive pills? Plan B One Step is taken as soon as possible within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. It may be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but effectiveness decreases as the time between intercourse and the start of ECPs increases.

How do emergency contraceptive pills work? Depending on the time in the menstrual cycle when ECPs are taken, they may delay or inhibit ovulation, interrupt fertilization or prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

How effective is emergency contraception? The sooner a woman takes ECP after unprotected sex, the more effective it will work.  If taken as directed, ECPs are up to 89% effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Do emergency contraceptive pills cause an abortion? No. ECPs do not interrupt an established pregnancy. Once implantation of a fertilized egg into the woman's uterus occurs, ECPs have no effect. If you have had prior unprotected intercourse in this cycle and are already pregnant, you will remain pregnant. There is no current evidence that ECPs harm a developing fetus.

Are there side effects if I take emergency contraceptive pills? It is fairly common to have some temporary side effects, which typically subside within a day or two after the second dose. Some women may experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, headache, fatigue, dizziness or breast tenderness. Medication to reduce nausea is available in the University Health Service.

How will emergency contraceptive pills affect my period? Your menstrual period may begin on time, a few days early, or a few days late. If you do not have a period within three (3) weeks after taking emergency contraceptive pills, you should speak to your health care provider about taking a pregnancy test, as there may be a chance that you could be pregnant.

Contact us

If you would like more information about birth control, including which type is best for you and how to use the various forms of birth control, you can schedule an appointment with the health and wellness nurse by calling 859-323-2778 (APPT).