The good news is that about 68% of all U.S. women who are at risk for an unintended pregnancy use birth control consistently and correctly. These women account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies. Turns out contraception works really well! Awesome!
The bad news is that about 45% of all births in the U.S. are unintended, which is about 3.1 million pregnancies a year.
I’m not out to knock people who weren’t intended; they’re about half of my friends and family. But most of us would rather be financially and emotionally prepared for a kid, and studies suggest that it’s better for the kid too.
Though men have fewer birth control options than women, men do have an effect on birth control usage and method. The better you know and understand contraceptive options*, the more likely you’ll be able to help prevent unplanned pregnancies.
The most widely available and cheap barrier method is the male condom, though other methods include female condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges. Male and female condoms are the only forms of contraception that protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Perfect use of condoms has a pregnancy prevention rate of 98% – this means putting it on correctly before intercourse occurs among other best practices. Even considering that typical use is far from perfect, you can combine condom usage with other methods like the pill or a fertility awareness-based method.
Some will say that condoms are inconvenient or ruin the mood, but babies tend to do the same thing only more so.
In essence, the hormonal method causes a woman’s body to mimic the infertile period of her monthly cycle. There are various ways of delivering hormones into a woman’s system: a daily pill, a monthly vaginal ring, a quarterly injection, etc.
This method requires doctor’s visits, prescriptions, and someone who’s able to keep track of her dosages and drug interactions that may lower effectiveness.
While perfect usage of this method is greater than 99%, there’s a lot a woman needs to consistently get right. The best way to be supportive is ask what, if any, help she needs. It could be picking up her prescription, a ride to the doctor, or even just a simple reminder. If she misses a dose, don’t make using a back-up method a big deal. Truly perfect usage is about as rare as truly perfect people.
Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs)
A number of factors make LARCs some of the most effective contraception there is, including the fact that there’s no user error, which made them hugely successful in Colorado’s efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. They can be removed whenever a woman wants to start trying for kids.
LARCs include intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants. Implants are inserted in the upper arm and release hormones slowly over time. Implants prevent pregnancy for three years, hormonal IUDs for three to five years, and the copper IUD for up to twelve.
Americans aren’t too keen on IUDs since the horrifically designed Dalkon Shield gave them a bad reputation, but current models are quite safe regardless of whether a woman has given birth.
If you’re sure that you don’t want kids/anymore kids, sterilization is an option. Vasectomies and tubal ligation work by severing or blocking the tubes that carry sperm or eggs respectively. Except for a change in fertility, there shouldn’t be any other bodily changes due to the procedure. Women won’t automatically go through menopause, and the volume of men’s ejaculate should remain the same.
Nowadays, both procedures are relatively simple and non-invasive, though vasectomies remain the simpler and cheaper choice. While, you can try to have these procedures reversed, the surgery is expensive, complicated, and success is not likely.
Better Than Nothing
There are other methods that depend on behavior alone. They have some efficacy, but people tend to use them inconsistently and/or incorrectly.
There’s straight up not having intercourse, which can mean abstinence or sex acts that don’t cause pregnancy. In theory this totally prevents pregnancy, but sexy times tend to make people think less about “in theory” and what to do about their pants feelings. It takes some presence of mind to make this work.
Speaking of presence of mind, there’s also the pulling out method. The pulling out method is just the guy not ejaculating into his partner’s vagina or near her vulva. Pretty simple and effective when always done correctly, and correctly is the hard *snicker* part.
Fertility awareness-based methods involve a woman keeping track of her cycle and not having intercourse when she’s most fertile, which is about half the time. Honestly, to me, it can sound like figuring out when Easter is, but women can and do make it work, especially when their male partners are committed to using this method correctly.
* For more detailed information, check out https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control and http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/choosing-contraception-based-effectiveness/.