A Doctor Tells Us The Latest Updates In Contraception
We use contraception for a bunch of different reasons: to ward off STIs, to stop unplanned pregnancies, to regulate hormonal issues, and as a general precaution when having sex with a new partner. There are heaps of different methods out there, and each of them has different advantages and side effects to think about.
You probably know about (and might have tried) the old faithfuls: condoms, the pill, maybe even an IUD. But what’s new when it comes to contraception? Technology has advanced, so what about contraceptive technology? What do you need to know about, and is the method you’re currently using the best way to go?
We spoke with Dr Mary Stewart from Family Planning New South Wales about new methods, old methods, and whether dudes will ever have to take a little pill every day.
A focus on ‘LARC’ methods
“There has been a new push in the past few years to make sure that women and their partners are aware of the increased effectiveness of LARC methods,” Dr Stewart explains. Don’t worry, we had no idea what LARC meant either. But, it refers to Long-Acting Reversible Contraception; methods that last for a long time, are reversible if need be, safe to use, and super effective.
A study conducted in the US showed that women who chose a shorter acting method of contraception (like the pill, patch or vaginal ring) were 20 times more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy than women who used a longer acting method like an IUD or implant. Which, we think you’ll agree, is massive. So, what long acting methods can you get in Australia?
IUDs: There are two types of IUD available: the hormonal and the copper IUD. Both are placed into the uterus and are 99% effective. The hormonal IUD is effective for five years, and the copper IUD can be effective for up to 10 years.
Implant: A tiny plastic rod inserted in your arm, the implant is 99.95% effective, protects you from unplanned pregnancy, and can be used for up to three years.
Injection: There’s a bit of debate over whether the injection is long-lasting or not, but we’re going to tell you about it anyway. The hormonal injection happens every three months, and is 99% effective as long as you go back for your follow-up injections on time. This one might be a little riskier than the others.
New emergency contraception
It’s likely that you’re already across the most traditional form of emergency contraception, and you probably know it as the morning after pill. You can pick it up from most chemists without a script, and it’s effective against potential pregnancies within 72 hours of having sex. But, there’s a relatively new pill on the market that trumps the traditional form, and can be taken within five days of having sex. According to Dr Stewart, it’s the most effective emergency contraceptive pill on the market. The only kicker is: you need a script from your doctor to get it.
Another little-known form of emergency contraception is the copper IUD, which, if inserted within five days of having unprotected sex, is 99% effective against a potential pregnancy. However, Dr Stewart says that it can be difficult to access within that time frame, as many GPs don’t insert IUDs. “It’s a really effective form of contraception that is being underutilised in Australia. The hormonal IUD in particular is very good at managing period problems as well as giving really effective contraception,” she says.
Men’s contraception on the distant horizon
If you have a penis, there is currently only one effective form of contraception on the market for you: good old condoms. No matter what the gender of your sexual partner/s, condoms will protect you both from STIs, and are 98% effective if used perfectly – and 82% effective for the average user. You can also use the withdrawal method, which can be incredibly unreliable, and if you have already had kids or aren’t planning on them, a vasectomy might be the way to go.
Dr Stewart says that when it comes to men taking responsibility for contraception against pregnancy, a solution is still a fair while away – but it is coming. “There are trials underway on both hormonal and non-hormonal methods, but the trick is to find something that is reversible,” she says. So, dudes, for now – no matter what the gender of a new sexual partner – no glove, no love.
The bottom line
Contraception isn’t one size or product fits all; what works for one person might not suit another. So, the most important thing to do when you’re checking out new options or taking the plunge with your first form of contraception, is to get advice and make sure you’re aware of everything out there.
Book in with your GP to talk about your options and get a full check up, chat with friends and family members about what has worked for them, and if need be, call up your state’s Family Planning hotline for confidential advice.
Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter here.