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This is a hypothetical case:

I am in a new relationship and it’s starting to get serious. My boyfriend and I are talking about having sex but I am worried about getting pregnant. The problem is, since I have never been on birth control, I don’t know a lot about it. What is the best type?

Ah, sex! It’s fun, it’s healthy, but it can lead to babies. Now we are all in college so hopefully no one wants to take the Britney Spears route.

There are four major classes of birth control: hormonal, intrauterine devices, barrier methods and permanent birth control or sterilization.

The hormonal method includes birth control pills, the Depo-Provera shot, the hormonal skin patch, the implant and the vaginal ring. Birth control pills are the most common, and there are two basic types: a pill that combines the two hormones estrogen and progesterone and the mini-pill that contains only progesterone. The combined pill is about 99 percent effective and the mini-pill is about 98 percent effective.

The Depo-Provera shot is a hormone shot that releases progesterone slowly into the body, preventing ovulation. It lasts eight to 12 weeks, and has been reported to be 99 percent effective.

The patch is ideal if you are forgetful or don’t like to take pills. It is a progesterone supplement absorbed through the skin like a nicotine patch. There is a downside to this patch, though. Remember when you were little and you left a Band-Aid on for a while, then took it off and your skin was pruned and you had a dirt ring where the bandage was? Well that’s what is going to happen where you place the patch.

Implanon, which is an etonogesterel implant that also releases hormones into the body, is about 99 percent effective and can last for three years. Implanon-usa.com says that because Implanon does not contain estrogen, your healthcare provider may recommend Implanon if you cannot use estrogen. There is a catch to this, however: Implanon is a flexible plastic rod about the size of a matchstick that is placed under the skin of your arm.

Intrauterine methods are grouped into three categories: intrauterine device (IUD), the intrauterine system (IUS) and Gynefix. All of them work in a similar ways and all have to be fitted by a gynecologist. An IUD is a T-shaped plastic device that stops the sperm from reaching the egg and preventing the egg from implanting in the uterus. IUDs can be problematic because the body can reject the device and may even increase the risk of infections. IUSs work the same way, except they contain progesterone and estrogen and release these hormones into the body. Gynefix is like IUD and IUSs except it is composed of a row of copper beads, which bend to fit inside the uterus, and has a nylon thread that attaches to the uterine wall. It also can assist in releasing heavy and painful periods and is about 99 percent effective.

Another barrier method is using condoms, which are 94 to 98 percent effective on their own. Be sure to always use them properly by reading the directions on the box. Using condoms with lubrication and spermicide makes the experience more pleasurable. Don’t be cheap and use petroleum jelly because oil-based products decrease the effectiveness of a condom by 90 percent. Female condoms are another barrier method that fits inside the vagina and prevents sperm from entering. These are less common, however, and are about 95 percent effective.

E-mail Healthy Cane questions to a.gosselin@umiami.edu.

February 7, 2008

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.