Answers to your Contraceptives Questions

Dr. Matthew Scroggs, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, answers your questions about contraceptives.

Q. Which contraceptive is best for me?

A. Choosing birth control is a very personal decision, and the best method is the one that you feel most comfortable using. Since there are "barrier" methods that prevent sperm from reaching an egg and "hormonal" methods that adjust your body to keep a pregnancy from occurring, it's a good idea to know more about each in order to make an informed choice.

Q. What are some barrier methods?

A. Condoms act as a physical barrier to prevent the exchange of genital fluids so that sperm cannot reach the egg. A soft, disposable latex sheath that is placed over the head of the penis prior to sex, a male condom is 85% to 97% effective in preventing an unintended pregnancy if used correctly and is extremely useful in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Inexpensive and readily available without a prescription, condoms come in various shapes, sizes, thickness, textures and colors.

Q. Is there a condom for women?

A.   Yes. The female condom is made of a soft, disposable polyurethane material that is inserted into the vagina and over the cervix prior to sex. When used correctly, female condoms are 79% to 97% effective in preventing pregnancy, and are extremely useful in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Q.   Are there other barrier methods of birth control?

A.   Diaphragms (dome-shaped latex discs), cervical caps (thimble-shaped rubber caps), and Lea's shields (cup-shaped silicone devices) are non-hormonal, barrier methods of birth control that are inserted into the vagina and over the cervix to create a barrier. Approximately 68% to 84% effective in preventing pregnancy, these methods are used in conjunction with a spermicide to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. These methods require an internal exam from a medical professional to determine the correct size for a proper fit.

Soft, disposable and foam-soaked with spermicides, sponges fit over the cervix and block sperm from reaching the egg. They are readily available without a prescription and 68-84% effective in preventing pregnancy, but they provide very limited protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Spermicides, the clear, unscented creams, jellies, foams, suppositories or films used to kill sperm, are easily available without a prescription. While they can be used alone as a barrier contraceptive, spermicide alone has a higher pregnancy rate and provides very limited protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Q. Is the pill effective?

A. The pill is a hormonal contraceptive that typically stops the ovary from releasing an egg, thickens the cervical mucus making it difficult for the sperm to get to the egg, and changes the lining of the uterus making implantation difficult. When used as prescribed, the pill is 92% to 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy and can be beneficial to women who experience painful and irregular periods. However, the pill will not protect from sexually transmitted infections.

While the pill is basically produced as one of two types-one contains both estrogen and progesterone, and one contains progesterone alone-there are a variety of brand names with various strengths and formulas available by prescription only. It is taken daily.

The pill is not recommended for women who smoke, and there is an increased risk of blood clots in smoking women who are on the pill.

Q. Are there other hormonal contraceptives?

A. The transdermal patch and vaginal ring are hormonal contraceptives that you can administer yourself. While the patch, which can be applied to the buttocks, upper outer arms, lower abdomen, or upper torso, releases hormones through the skin, the vaginal ring, a 2-inch, flexible ring, releases hormones directly into the vagina.

Both the patch and ring are 92% to 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy if used as prescribed, but they do not prevent sexually transmitted disease. The patch is replaced once a week and the ring remains in the vagina for three weeks and removed for a one-week interval during menstruation.

Your physician may recommend injectable contraceptives, which contain progesterone. Given four times a year, they are an effective method of birth control, but do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

There is also Intra-uterine Devices (IUDs), which must be inserted into the uterus by your physician. There are 2 basic types: a T-shaped device containing copper, and a T-shaped device containing a hormone called levonorgestrel. A long-lasting method of contraception, an IUD can remain in place for up five (5) years and is 97% to 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy.

For more information on the various types of birth control talk with your physician, or call Dr. Scroggs at (337) 480-5575.