Health Information

Choosing a Contraceptive

Introduction:

The choice of a contraceptive method is a personal matter - a decision individuals or couples must make for themselves. The decision to use a contraceptive can be a weighted one and there are various factors to consider before making a choice: life-style, cost, feelings about one's body, health status/health history, safety, effectiveness, etc.

None of the methods are perfect - no one method is risk-free or appropriate all of the time. Use of any particular method may change as one's needs change.

This information covers most of the available methods and may be useful as you make your decision. If you have questions or concerns about contraception, call Amherst College Health Service, 542-2266.

Effectiveness of Contraceptive Methods:

Effectiveness Rates are described in two ways:

  • Theoretical Effectiveness is obtained in control or laboratory setting; assuming perfect conditions without error.
  • Actual / use effectiveness is the actual method with / without error and possible inconsistent use among "contraceptors".

The effectiveness rate is only one factor to be considered when choosing a contraceptive. One method rated higher than another does not necessarily make it the most appropriate method.

Decision Making:

Many factors influence the selection and use of contraceptives. Perhaps some of these questions have or will come to mind.
  • How safe is the method?
  • How will your lifestyle, sexual relationship(s) be affected?
  • How will your body / self image influence your use?
  • Will you use the method consistently?
  • Do you have past or present health problems?
  • Is the cost of the method OK for you?
  • Are you / your partner opposed to any of these methods?
  • Are there non-contraceptive benefits of a method?

Sexually Transmitted Diseases:

In addition to the prevention of unintended pregnancy, sexually active people need to be concerned about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). There are many different types of STDs, and they occur commonly. Despite their frequency, many people are unaware of the importance of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

STDs and Contraception:

Birth control methods have varying degrees of effectiveness in STD prevention. For example, some methods provide high contraceptive benefit, but no STD protection.

Latex condoms, used alone, offer high protection against most STDs. When used along with any other birth control method, they increase both the STD and pregnancy prevention effects of the method.

Barrier methods such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, and vaginal spermicides offer moderate protection against STDs.

"The Pill" and IUD offer no protection against STDs, and in some instance may foster STD complications.

Discussing STDs and contraception with your sexual partner is on the way to take personal responsibility for being sexually active.

Your risk of exposure to STDs increases with the number of sexual partners you have. Periodic examinations by your health care provider can assist with early detection. If you suspect you have been exposed to an STD or if you have symptoms, prompt medical attention is advised for you and your partner(s).

Sexual Health Education Sessions:

If you would like a more in-depth information on contraception, Contraception Education Sessions are conducted every Monday at 7 p.m. at Health Services.

Attendance at one of the sessions is encouraged if you are changing methods or considering contraception for the first time. Sessions are open to men and women.

For all women seeking a GYN exam, attendance at a Sexual Health Education Session is the first step. These sessions are also conducted every Monday at 7 p.m. at Health Services, or an individual session may be arranged by contacting Health Education at 542-2760.

Dorm programs may be requested on a variety of sexuality topics by contacting Health Education at 542-2760.


Adapted from Contraception Choices
University Health Services
University of Massachusetts Amherst
1995