Thursday, March 31, 2011

Condoms and Emergency Contraceptives

Not only do condoms offer excellent protection from STIs, they also act as a great back-up to other forms of birth control.  But again, it is critical to use condoms consistently & correctly in order for them to work.  Condom tips include:

  • Read the instructions.  Again, may seem like an elementary step, but in a day and age of abstinence-only education, it’s not wise to trust that your partner knows what they are doing.
  • Check the date.  Sure, it may seem impossible that you will not use this condom before the 2-3 year expiration date, but things can happen. Better to be safe than smug.
  •  Let’s be clear: if your partner pulls a condom out of his wallet and brushes the spider webs off of it, this is a deal breaker. Over time the body heat from keeping a condom in a back pocket condom can weaken the latex of a condom, making it prone to tears. The best place to store condoms is room temperature in a dry place. Keeping a condom in a wallet for a night or the weekend will not have consequences, but after months (or even years) a condom can suffer from wallet storage.
  • Join the condom club. As a woman you are in control of your own reproductive health, so why not have a few condoms on hand? Many health centers on college campuses have free condoms, as well as free health clinics and gynecologist’s offices.

Ultimately, only you can decide what form of birth control works for you.  You may find that it takes trying a few different kinds before finding the best fit. You may find that what you want in birth control changes over time.  Of course, you should talk with a doctor before choosing or starting a new birth control and if you are experiencing side effects (big or small, a slight change in dosage can make a big difference).

In the event that something goes awry, despite these awesome tips, and you’re nervous that your BC might not be working at its maximum potential, back it up with emergency contraception. Plan B One Step and the generic version NextChoice are available over the counter for those 17 or older and works the best if taken within 3 days after sex.  It can be taken up to 5 days after sex, but the effectiveness decreases. A new form of EC, ella, is only available by prescription and effective consistently for up to 5 days after sex.

Also be sure to check out our comprehensive reproductive health guide (available in both English and Spanish) Choices!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Info and tips for correct and consistent contraceptive use!

Recently, the Guttmacher Institute released a report saying what we have known for a long time to be true. Birth control works! Contraceptives are essential in preventing unwanted pregnancies and in the case of condoms, sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Correct and consistent use of contraceptives dramatically reduces the risk of unintended pregnancies.

In case you missed it, the key part of that sentence was correct and consistent. Most contraceptive failure is caused by the user (read: you and/or your partner). The good news is that most misuse can be easily prevented by following the directions of your chosen birth control method. In addition to that tidbit of common-sense, here are some additional tips to ensure your birth control is working at the highest level possible:

  • There are many hormonal contraceptive options, the most popular being the birth control pill. The pill works the best when it is taken once a day at the same time. Taking it around the same time of say 4-5 times a week just isn’t gonna cut it. If you find it hard to remember to take the pill each day, try setting a reminder alarm on your cell phone or sign up for one of the many free online services (like that send a daily reminder via text or an email. You could also make taking the pill part of your regular routine. Do you have a skin care or bed time routine that you perform every day at the same time? Take your pill at the beginning of your routine and soon it will become an unforgettable part.
  • If you miss two or more pills, be sure to use a back up method. Important side note: vomiting within a two hour period of taking the pill is the equivalent of skipping a pill.
  • If you are just beginning the pill or starting a new brand and find yourself facing nausea, try taking your pill at night, which can help reduce the side effect of nausea.

If you find that the pill doesn’t work for you – for whatever reason - there are other methods you can try:

  • The Patch is a hormonal birth control that is placed on your skin and changed once a week. Think square band-aid, but all adhesive. You wear it three weeks per month with one inactive week.
  • The NuvaRing is a soft plastic ring that is inserted vaginally once a month for a three week time span. Just like using tampons, it may take some getting used to, but once they work out the initial kinks, many women enjoy the freedom of only thinking about their birth control once a month.
  • The IUD is a small flexible plastic or copper device that is shaped like the letter T and inserted directly into the uterus. You can get an IUD with or without hormones and they last from 5-10 years. FYI: If you are a young woman without children, you may have to do some searching to find a doctor willing to insert an IUD.  
Because they are not taken daily, there is less chance of missing a dose with these methods. However, with the Patch or NuvaRing it is still important to mark your calendar to make sure you’re on schedule with replacing when needed.

If you choose a hormonal type of BC, be aware (or beware!) that certain antibiotics and supplements can make any form of hormonal birth control less effective. Ask your doctor or pharmacists before you start any new medication or supplements!

The downer is that these methods do not protect against STIs, so condoms still play an important role in keeping sex safe.
Come back tomorrow to hear about condom use and some mistakes to avoid!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Say NO to Attacks on Maryland Women!

Since the November election, states across the nation have been faced with a barrage of anti-choice bills. Maryland is no different.
Anti-choice legislators have introduced an unprecedented 11 bills in the Maryland Senate and House. Tomorrow, a committee in the House will take up seven of these bills.
Proposed measures include:
  • Intrusive reporting requirements about women seeking abortion care.
  • The singling out of abortion providers for onerous regulations not imposed on other health-care providers.
  • Interference with the relationship between a woman and her doctor.
  • An outright ban on abortion in the form of a fetal personhood bill that contains no exceptions!
Tell legislators that these attacks on women and their families will not stand!

The House Health and Government Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on seven anti-choice bills tomorrow. They need to hear from you today!

Tell them to oppose legislation that would create barriers to safe, legal abortion.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pro-Choice Lobby Day in Washington D.C.

This legislative session has seen egregious attacks on the future of women’s health and reproductive rights. Congress has passed bills that would allow hospitals to refuse to provide women with life-saving abortion care, and there have been threats to take away private insurance coverage of abortion. Anti-choice legislators showed how little they care for women’s lives and health when they voted to defund Planned Parenthood and slashed funds for cancer screenings and birth control.

On Thursday, April 7th 2011 NARAL Pro Choice Maryland and choice activists from around the country will join together in Washington D.C. for a Pro-Choice Lobby Day. We need hundreds of NPCM supporters to show up in person in the Capital to carry a simple message: The War on Women ends now!

Decisions made on the federal level will directly affect Maryland. It is imperative for pro-choice states like Maryland to stand up for reproductive freedom! It’s time for pro-choice Marylanders to stand strong and fight this war on women.

Be sure that your voice is heard! Join NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and other choice activists from across the nation in Washington, D.C. on Thursday April 7th.

We will provide training and organize lobby visits with members of Congress in Maryland and follow up with updates to help plan transportation as the event draws closer. If ever there was a time to call off work or miss class for a cause you believe in, THIS IS IT!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Advances in Male Birth Control Could Mean New Options of Male Contraception

If you asked a woman to design the perfect birth control, she would most likely ask for one without side effects, without the high cost and one that wouldn’t need to be taken daily. We are a long way away from a birth control that could meet all these standards. Could the newest birth control option be one that could be taken by the male partner?

For decades, the brunt of contraceptive responsibility has fallen on women. If men had more options for birth control the benefits would be measurable. Presently, the male contraception options are limited to a vasectomy and condoms. A male hormonal pill or injection would dramatically change and, potentially improve, the reproductive rights landscape. It has the potential to be as effective as female bill control pills, over 99% if taken correctly. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization also show that men from many corners of the globe would welcome the introduction of another male contraceptive option.

The development of male hormonal birth control methods have been slowed by the difference in male fertility (sperm production doesn’t stop the way egg production does for women, making it harder for scientists to figure out the best approach) and a lack of investment from pharmaceutical companies/funding for research. Still, scientists are hopeful that we are only a few years away from reversible and temporary male contraceptives as opposed to the permanency of a vasectomy.

At this time, the most effective method known to stop male sperm production is to administer an artificial hormone called progestin. Progestin is the same artificial hormone found in female oral contraceptives, which in men, suppresses normal sperm production. However, it is necessary to combine progestin with testosterone to limit undesirable side effects. Progestin can be administered by daily pills, gel, or long lasting injections or implants. Testosterone is currently available only in gel form as the development of oral testosterone has proved challenging, but clinical trials are currently underway at the University of Washington.

Another promising option for men comes in the active form of vitamin A. Vitamin A can be found in many of the foods we eat daily including carrots and broccoli, but needs to be converted in to an active form in order to take part in biological processes. One active form of vitamin A also affects sperm production. Scientists are still actively testing the inhibitors, recently finding that the process is reversible but working on how to use this knowledge to create a viable birth control option.

These promising advances could provide men a chance to take control of their reproductive choices and put the role of preventing pregnancy equally in the hands of both partners.