Women's Health

Sexual Protection Options for Women

Sexual Protection Options for Women

Key Takeaways

  • Not all methods of sexual protection can be used to prevent both pregnancy and STIs.
  • There are five types of contraceptives namely: hormonal contraceptives, barrier contraceptives, intrauterine methods, sterilization, and emergency contraception. Each works in a different way.
  • It is best to carefully weigh your options before choosing a method of protection.

Most of the sexually active women get pregnant in the first year if they do not use contraceptive methods. Women can get pregnant immediately after 10 days of giving birth, while breast feeding and also during menstruation. 

Several types of contraceptives are available. Contraceptives are generally used to prevent pregnancy. However, a few others can also offer protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). Different contraceptives work in different ways. For example, the pill which contains hormones, acts by either preventing the release of an egg or prevents the fertilized egg from getting implanted in the uterus, while the female condom or diaphragm works by preventing the sperm from reaching an egg.

The types of contraceptives can be divided into five categories namely: hormonal contraceptives, barrier contraceptives, intrauterine methods, sterilization, and emergency contraception.

No contraceptive method gives 100% protection. The only effective contraceptive method to reduce the risk of STDs, including HIV and AIDS, is male latex condom.

1. Barrier contraceptives

The following are examples of barrier contraceptives:

Female condom: The female condom is more commonly known as Femidom. Female condoms like male condoms are made of latex. However, women who are allergic to latex can use condoms made from polyurethane or lambskin. It is important to note that lambskin and polyurethane condoms do not offer any protection from STIs while latex ones do. Female condoms should be disposed after single use. Female condoms prevent pregnancy by 95%.

Diaphragm: This is a shallow flexible cup that is also made from latex. It is placed inside the vagina and prevents sperm from penetrating to the uterus. Diaphragms can be inserted for up to 6 hours before sex. It should be removed within 24 hours of having sex for cleaning. A diaphragm can be re-used depending on the material that is used to make it. Diaphragms should be used with spermicide. About 12 women in every 10 get pregnant over a year while using diaphragm.

Cervical cap: This is similar to a diaphragm but only smaller. It is also placed into the vagina to prevent sperm from reaching the uterus. It should remain in the vagina for up to 6 hours after sex and should be removed after 48 hours. Cervical caps should also be used with spermicide.

Contraceptive sponge: This is a small, round-shaped foam made from polyurethane that is placed inside the vagina. This sponge contains spermicide that kills sperm and thus prevents fertilization from occurring. It should be left in the vagina for at least 6 hours after intercourse and removed within 24 hours after having sex to prevent toxic shock.

A few side effects of the barrier contraceptives include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • It can result in toxic shock syndrome if not removed.
  • Spermicide can cause irritation and may increase the risk of contracting HIV.
  • They need to fit well. A trained doctor's prescription is required to get the right fit.
  • Possibility of contracting urinary tract infection

2. Hormone contraceptives

The following are examples of hormone contraceptives:

Pills: There are two types of pills: the combined pill which contains both estrogen and progestin and the mini-pill which contains only progestin. Women who are taking the mini-pill should keep in mind that the mini-pill should be taken every day at the same time.

Contraceptive injections: These injections can be effective for 8 to 12 weeks. These injections which consist of progestin are as effective as pills.

Vaginal ring: A vaginal ring is a small plastic ring that is placed in the vagina and stays there for up to three weeks. This ring contains a mixture of estrogen and progestin. It is only removed during menstruation.

A few side effects of hormone contraceptives include:

3. Sterilization

Sterilization is a method of contraception in which the fallopian tubes are tied to prevent sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. This is done in a procedure known as tubal ligation. It can be performed laparoscopically, and the woman can go home within the same day of the operation. Sterilization is usually irreversible.

4. Intrauterine device (IUD)

IUDs can be hormonal or made of copper. Both work by preventing the sperm from fertilizing the egg. IUDs provide long-term protection from pregnancy. They are placed in the uterus and can last as long as five to ten years without being removed.

A few side effects of intrauterine device (IUD) include:

  • Spotting during periods especially a heavy period
  • Cramps
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • It is not common that the women experiences pelvic inflammatory diseases or is not able to have a baby after removal of IUD.
  • Even though it is inserted by doctors, it is sometimes possible that the IUD comes out of the uterus.

5. Emergency contraceptives

If a woman has sex without any form of protection, she can use emergency contraceptives. A contraceptive pill should be taken within 24 hours of having sex. However, as the name suggests, this form of contraceptive should not be used everyday but only in cases of emergency.

It is important to note that the female condom, diaphragm, and cervical cap are the only forms of contraceptives that have the ability to provide some protection from STIs.

A natural method of contraception exists. This involves monitoring the menstrual cycle and avoiding sexual intercourse during the period when a woman is fertile. These three techniques consist of monitoring basal metabolism temperature, cervical mucus, and/or rhythm or calendar method. The natural method is more effective when all the three techniques are used. However, this method is not as effective as the other methods of contraceptives.

Few facts about emergency contraceptives:

  • It does not harm the ability to get pregnant in the future.
  • It does not cause any defects to the baby, if you do conceive.
  • It does not protect from STIs, HIV, and AIDS.
  • Few side effects include headaches and nausea for a few hours.
  • It can be within 120 hours after unprotected sex; however, if it is taken early, it works better.

There are side effects associated with every contraceptive method, hence the best and most accurate method of preventing pregnancy is abstinence from sex. This not only prevents pregnancy but also helps to prevent women from acquiring sexually transmitted diseases.