Preventing pregnancy: Info about birth control & safer sex
If pregnancy is a possibility for you or your partner(s), and you’re not planning on having a baby right now, it’s important to think about birth control and safer sex.
Throughout this content piece, Kids Help Phone uses the terms people assigned female at birth and people assigned male at birth to refer to individuals who are born with certain sex organs, hormones and/or chromosomes. However, it’s important to note that people may have a different gender identity than the sex assigned to them at birth. As well, people may use different words for their body parts than those used in this piece. Kids Help Phone supports everyone in using whatever terms fit best for them.
What is birth control?
Birth control (a.k.a. contraception) is a term used to describe the different things you can do to help prevent pregnancy. There are many different kinds of birth control available, and each has its own pros and cons.
You can find some types of birth control (e.g. condoms, spermicide, etc.) over-the-counter at most pharmacies across Canada and at sexual health clinics. Other types of birth control require a prescription and/or assistance from a doctor (e.g. the pill, an IUD, surgery, etc.). It’s essential to follow the instructions as closely as possible for your preferred birth control method for it to be effective.
Did you know birth control isn’t only used to help prevent pregnancy? Some types of birth control may have additional benefits for the people who use them. For example, some types of birth control can help protect against things like sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And some types of birth control can help regulate periods, decrease acne and/or alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some forms of birth control may also come with risks, including things like increased chance of stroke or cancer, depending on the type of birth control used.
You can reach out to a doctor/nurse or sexual health clinic for more information and to choose a birth control method that will work best for you. You can also talk to your partner(s) about ways you can protect yourselves together.
What types of birth control are available?
Birth control methods fall into six categories, with different options available for each.
1. Hormonal contraception
This type of birth control involves the use of synthetic (manufactured) hormones to help prevent pregnancy. There are several types of hormonal contraception available, including:
- An intrauterine device (IUD): also called intrauterine contraception (IUC), the IUD is a small, T-shaped device placed into a uterus by a doctor. IUDs are the most effective form of birth control available. They can also be a long-term solution for pregnancy prevention. (You can ask a doctor about non-hormonal versions of IUDs, too.)
- Oral contraceptives: also called the pill, oral contraceptives are taken by mouth daily.
- Injectable contraception: also called the shot, injectable contraception is administered by a doctor/nurse every few months.
- The contraceptive patch: the patch is a small, square patch that sticks to the skin and is changed weekly.
- A vaginal ring: a vaginal ring is a small, flexible, plastic ring that is placed into a vagina and changed monthly.
Hormonal contraception is usually prescribed by a doctor to people assigned female at birth who have periods. You don’t need a parent/caregiver’s permission to use hormonal birth control. It’s important to use hormonal contraception exactly as prescribed and according to the instructions — otherwise, it may not be as effective.
Hormonal contraception is reversible, which means if you stop using it, you can get pregnant. Hormonal contraception doesn’t protect against STIs, so it’s recommended to use a secondary form of protection that does protect against STIs when engaging in sexual activity (e.g. a condom, a dental dam, gloves, etc.).
Some people may experience side effects when they use hormonal contraception. If you have questions about how to use birth control, its effectiveness or its side effects, you can reach out to a doctor/nurse or sexual health clinic for more information.
During sex that could cause pregnancy, condoms help prevent sperm from entering a vagina by creating a physical barrier. Condoms are the only contraceptive method that can help protect against both pregnancy and STIs.
External condoms are worn over a penis, while internal condoms are placed inside of a vagina. Condoms are available in different textures, sizes and materials. You can buy condoms over-the-counter without a prescription or a parent/caregiver’s permission. It’s essential to follow the instructions that come with condoms — otherwise, they may not be as effective.
It’s important to know condoms can sometimes break or slip. If this happens, you can explore emergency contraception options soon after having sex. Condoms can be combined with other birth control methods (e.g. the pill, spermicide, etc.) to help reduce the chances of unplanned pregnancy.
3. Other barrier methods
Similar to condoms, other barrier methods of birth control can help prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg during sex that could cause pregnancy, including:
- Spermicide: spermicide is available over-the-counter at most pharmacies as a cream, foam, gel, film or suppository that is inserted into a vagina. It blocks the cervix and contains a chemical that slows down sperm.
- The sponge: the sponge (available over-the-counter at most pharmacies) is a small piece of foam that contains spermicide. It’s inserted into a vagina and over the cervix, creating a physical barrier to block sperm.
- A diaphragm: a diaphragm is a soft, flexible, reusable cap that helps block sperm from entering a cervix. Diaphragms are available with a prescription from a doctor and must be used with spermicide.
- A cervical cap: similar to a diaphragm, a cervical cap is also worn over a cervix to help block sperm from entering. Cervical caps are available from pharmacies with a prescription from a doctor and must be used with spermicide.
These types of birth control are less effective at preventing pregnancy than hormonal birth control or condoms. It’s a good idea to combine spermicide, the sponge, a diaphragm or a cervical cap with another method of birth control, such as the pill or a condom.
Because these types of birth control don’t protect against STIs, it’s recommended to use a secondary form of protection that does protect against STIs when engaging in sexual activity (e.g. a condom, a dental dam, gloves, etc.).
You can reach out to a doctor/nurse or sexual health clinic about these types of birth control to find out if they’re right for you and how to use them properly.
4. Withdrawal (the pull-out method)
When it comes to sex that could cause pregnancy, withdrawal means that a person assigned male at birth pulls their penis out of a partner’s vagina (and away from their genitals) before they ejaculate. This is an unreliable method of birth control, partly because it requires a lot of self-control. People assigned male at birth also can’t control the release of pre-ejaculate fluid (also known as pre-cum), which can contain sperm. Withdrawal doesn’t protect against STIs, so it’s recommended to use a secondary form of protection that does protect against STIs when engaging in sexual activity (e.g. a condom, a dental dam, gloves, etc.).
In relation to birth control, abstinence means not engaging in sexual activity — specifically sex that could cause pregnancy — to prevent the possibility of unplanned pregnancy. To be extra careful, contact between a vulva/genitals and ejaculate or pre-ejaculate fluid from a penis can also be avoided. Abstinence is the only method of birth control that’s 100% effective.
There are also two surgical options available for preventing pregnancy. People who choose surgery are usually sure they don’t want to get pregnant in the future and no longer want to worry about birth control. There are two surgical options available:
- Tubal ligation and tubal occlusion: one procedure for people assigned female at birth who can get pregnant is tubal ligation. During this procedure, the fallopian tubes are disconnected from the uterus, which prevents eggs from reaching the uterus. This type of surgery is permanent. Another procedure for people assigned female at birth who can get pregnant is tubal occlusion. During this procedure, a micro-insert is placed in each fallopian tube to form a barrier for eggs. This type of surgery is also permanent.
- A vasectomy: this procedure for people assigned male at birth that can release sperm involves removing or blocking the vas deferens — the tube that transports sperm to the penis — so that no sperm is released. This type of surgery is generally reversible.
It’s important to remember surgery doesn’t protect against STIs, so it’s recommended to use another form of protection that does protect against STIs when engaging in sexual activity (e.g. a condom, a dental dam, gloves, etc.).
Each contraceptive method has its pros and cons. If you have questions about birth control and/or safer sex, you can reach out to a doctor/nurse, counsellor or sexual health clinic for more information and support.