If you're struggling with mental health, you don’t have to face your pain alone.  You might be smiling on the outside and having a panic attack on the inside.  You might be struggling to get out of bed every morning.  You might be experiencing a bad week or even a bad year.  One of the worst parts about mental health issues is feeling like you have to deal with them by yourself, but you don’t.  You don’t need to hide your so-called weaknesses from your loved ones.  Keeping up an illusion of strength will only take strength from you.  If you share what you’re going through with your friends, you can create a support network that allows you to voice your fears, and even let a few of them be lifted.

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I know, easier said than done.  But I’ve been there; I used to hide my struggles with mental health from people, which was fairly easy because I had a high-functioning form of anxiety.  Then, I discovered how liberating it felt to share my fears and insecurities, and my relationships grew stronger as a result.  I want you to have the same experience.  If you decide you want to have a conversation about mental health but don’t know how to go about it, here are four tips to keep in mind:

1) Start small 

You don’t have to tell everyone in your life at once with a bullhorn.  You can start with just one person, a person you trust more than anyone else and who knows how to have a serious conversation.  When I began talking about my anxiety, I first told someone who had already professed to having mental health problems as well.  Having a conversation with someone who knew where I was coming from made it easier.  I felt safe, validated, and appreciated.  Some of my deepest friendships have come from honest talks about mental health.  If you want to connect with people with similar struggles and don’t know someone in your personal life, there are plenty of resources and communities out there.  This Is My Brave is a wonderful organization that I would recommend if you want to see other people openly talk about mental illness.

2) Be open and honest

I tried to protect my friends from being overwhelmed by my problems, but the more I concealed my pain, the more it hurt.  Ask if your friend has time for a long (and possibly intense) conversation.  If they don’t, that’s okay.  We all experience difficult or busy times.  I used to schedule a weekly chat with a friend to talk about our current mental health.  I appreciated having time already set aside for this kind of conversation, and perhaps you will find that useful as well.  Don’t downplay how you’re feeling when you do start talking.  If you feel silly or weird or awkward, that’s typical and not a sign that the conversation is going badly.  Keep trying.

3) Remember that some friends might not totally get it

While people sometimes have misconceptions or just plain ignorance about mental health, don’t feel it is your obligation to educate your friends if you don’t have the capacity to do so.  If they want to know more, direct them to online resources to do their own research.  I wrote an open letter about my experience that you might find helpful to send to friends who might be going about the wrong way to help you.  But that letter is only my experience.  There are tons more out there!  MentalHealth.gov has resources, phone numbers, and information that you and your friends can look into as well.

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The more you talk about your mental health, the more you reduce the stigma—for yourself and for others.

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4) Seek professional help if you need it

Friends and family can provide a lot of emotional support, but sometimes you need more help, and that’s okay.  Group therapy, mental health centers, and individual therapists can guide you through some of the deeper issues, mindsets and/or trauma that you may be dealing with.  I hesitate to make any particular recommendations because every person has different needs, and I acknowledge that not everyone can afford therapy.  Do research.  Look for free or paid counseling services in your area (or at your college if you’re a student).  Ask for recommendations.  Try something online or something in person.  This is your life and your recovery, so you know what is best for you. 

The more you talk about your mental health, the more you reduce the stigma—for yourself and for others.  You might be surprised to discover people in your life who have the same experiences you do.  Even if you’re afraid,  the best thing you can do for your mental health is to talk about it.  So speak—speak out loud and become free. 

 

Bridgette is a hardcore nerd who hopes to find a wardrobe to Narnia, tap into the Force, and join the Avengers, but since she hasn’t yet, she writes to compensate. Originally from West Covina, California, she is a Creative Writing student at Scripps College.  She reviews books and movies on her blog at goldengatebridgette.blogspot.com.

'Knowledge is pleasure' – these were the first words I saw upon opening my What’s in Your Box? shipment.  What’s in Your Box? is an organization whose aim is to ‘open the dialogue around women’s sexual health to empower all women to explore their bodies freely without shame.'  I'm a 24 year-old woman who has never bought a sex toy or purchased any products to enhance my arousal and sex life, so needless to say, I was excited and curious about receiving a package from such a sexually empowering and informative organization.  My curiosity and excitement were definitely fulfilled by my first What’s in Your Box? experience and I highly recommend you subscribe.  According to their site, ‘each month, WIYB subscribers receive a discreet delivery to their door including four to five product samples for sexual health, hygiene, and pleasure (retail value up to $50).  From toys to washes, lubricants, condoms, lingerie and so much more, What’s in Your Box? provides you with the latest and greatest vagina-friendly items in a fun, convenient and affordable way.’

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Start your 'What's in Your Box?' subscription here!

There's a stigma associated with women owning their sexuality, feeling confident in their sex lives, and knowing about and maintaining vaginal hygiene.  I recently bought and started using a menstrual cup and the reaction I got from people about how it works (i.e putting it inside of you and emptying the blood out every so often) was insulting.  I’m not sorry if my period or my vagina are uncomfortable subjects for you.  Receiving my What’s in Your Box shipment and using their packaged products helped me realize that discussing my sex life or exploring sex in new ways shouldn’t be gross or shameful.  I’m learning to own my sexuality and sexual health more and I’m glad there’s an organization that supports that.

Exploring and using the products mailed to me was empowering—the sexual arousal gel specifically.  In my box I received three kinds of female arousal gel (which you apply to the clitoris).  It’s easy to use, not messy at all, and best of all, feels sensational (no pun intended).  You can apply it yourself to ease into the mood or have your partner apply it for a little extra play.  Not only was experimenting with the products in my What’s Your Box? shipment empowering for myself as far as owning my own sexuality and sexual experiences but it was also empowering for my relationship—we could learn about the sexual and vaginal health products together and figure out what works well in the bedroom, for me, and for us.

Along with three different kinds of arousal gels, I received a Lovebug Yeast is a Beast probiotic to help with potential vaginal itching, burning, discomfort, and smells.  It's suggested you take one a day along with a meal.  Receiving this product was pretty close to fate considering I just had a conversation with my gyno about my vagina’s health (specifically relating to yeast) because that’s been a concern for me.  I take one probiotic everyday and I feel like it’s a small way of taking control and owning my vaginal health.  Remember ladies, your yearly gyno appointment shouldn’t be the only time your vaginal health is a focus.  Make sure to check in on it and keep it healthy everyday.  Receiving (and now knowing about) this probiotic has made me more aware of how my vagina feels and smells so I’m grateful to have found a product that jives well with my lady part and me.

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What's in Your Box? is a monthly subscription box filled with products for a woman’s pleasure, health, hygiene, and empowerment.

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In addition to the Lovebug Yeast is a Beast probiotic and Sensuva ON arousal gel, I received what may be quite possibly the best (and most romantic) smelling candle I’ve ever burned–and used!  The Babeland Honey Almond Massage Candle is not just for burning, it’s for massaging too.  According to the What’s in Your Box? product description card, ‘not only does it create a lustful lighting that raises libido, this fun-size massage candle melts into a warm body balm perfect for a relaxing rubdown.’  How it works: ‘Once liquified, blow out the flame and dip your finger into the pool of massage lotion to check the temperature is to your liking.  It should feel smooth and slippery...in more than just one place.’  What’s better than a dual action candle?  Especially if a sensual massage is involved…

Along with the massage candle, my What’s in Your Box? shipment kindly included a pack of matches to help get my massage started. The matchbox design, ‘Burn baby burn’ was made by WIYB’s creative director, Jen Serafini.  Not only was my box informative, empowering, and useful but it was a great dose of trendy and creative too!

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Check out sample 'What's in Your Box?' products!

And last but not least, the hippie, socially-conscious, and eco-friendly side of me was enthralled by a pack of Sustain Ultra Thin vegan and fair trade condoms.  These condoms help the environment and your body by keeping out harmful toxins while having sex, and according to What’s in Your Box?, 10% of all profits are used to support women’s health initiatives...condoms for men that support women’s health?!  Especially in this time of political turmoil when male politicians keep making health-related decisions for women because they think they know what’s best for our bodies?  This isn’t too good to be true folks, this is the world (and bedroom) changing for the better.

My shipment supply has almost run out so it’s definitely time to jump on this opportunity to access  safe, healthy, and empowering sex and vaginal health, and subscribe to their monthly shipment.  Just one box restored my confidence in my sex life and my reproductive health.  I highly recommend you visit their website, whatsinyour-box.com to learn more and find out how you can unabashedly own your sexual health and sexual performance.  Remember, knowledge is pleasure (and empowerment)!

 

The year 2016 was a year of self-exploration, self-love, and seeing how different my life would be if I had decided to take a plunge into the deep end of life to prove to myself that my fears are all in my head.  Last year was filled with lots of laughter and sadness, but this year I plan on using those experiences to fuel my motivation for 2017.  There are a lot of issues that I have yet to rectify and this is the year that I plan on making strides to surpass those goals.

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But first let me start with my inspiration for this post.

Andrea Lewis is a Canadian actress best known for her role as Hazel in the popular Canadian show 'Degrassi: The Next Generation.'  Along with her long list of credentials, which includes her role in the web series Black Actress, what most attracts me to her is her daily vlogs.  I was specifically inspired by her video How to Challenge Yourself, which aligns perfectly with the new direction I'm trying to go in.

I've started, stopped, and restarted my journey to becoming healthier many times.  Lately, I've been in a negative headspace where I have focused on foregone opportunities, rather than looking ahead.  

Thanks to Lewis’s daily videos, I've been inspired to start over and embrace the challenges that come with my fitness and health journey.  As I mentioned before, at beginning of 2016, I devoted myself to focusing on my personal journey of self-love.  This included being brave enough to wear clothes that made me uncomfortable because of how I thought I looked.  At the beginning of the summer, I allowed myself numerous trips to the beach in a bathing suit (this was huge for me!!), wearing strapless dresses, skirts, and shirts without sleeves.  This showed me that the fear I had was all in my mind and really began and ended with me.  I never saw anyone looking at me in a weird way which for me was a huge fear.  It was euphoric, as I hung out with my friends on the beach, going from the water to the sand and enjoying some Lay’s chips in the process.  

At the end of each year, many people might be at a point where they reflect on all they did or didn’t do.  Normally, around that time of year, I dig myself into a mental rut by being down on myself for all of the things I did not do to better myself.  However, I'm glad to say I grew largely since the start of 2016 thanks to my experiences over this past summer.  It gave me the momentum to take charge of my 2017 goals, even before the start of the New Year.  In particular, I chose to sign up for a gym membership and acquire a personal trainer to help me stay accountable in regards to my fitness goals.  I don’t have a problem with working out, but I tend to do the same workouts over and over and it becomes quite boring after a while.  By getting a personal trainer I’m gaining knowledge on how to utilize the machines and weights to my advantage.  I’m at a point where I love myself enough to embrace the change that is weight loss and the new experiences that come along with it.  

Below are the ways I found helpful to get back into working out:

1)  Start a new gym membership

I recently signed up for a gym closer to my home.  My previous gym was far from my house, and that made it easier for me to not go if I didn’t want to.  Now that my new gym is closer to my home, getting to the gym won’t have to be such a struggle, especially in cold weather.

2)  Start alone

The idea of starting the gym with a group of friends is fine and makes sense.  However, from previous experience I’ve found that I relied too heavily on always going to the gym with someone else, and that would sometimes determine if I would go to the gym or not.  It’s better to get used to going alone so I can make sure I make it there, regardless of my friends’ schedules.

My previous gym was far from my house, and that made it easier for me to not go if I didn’t want to.

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3)  Focus on healthy eating

I know for many of us who come from households where healthy eating wasn’t always at the forefront, learning to eat healthily can be a bit hard.  I started by adding small doses of healthy changes: I substituted small things such as sparkling water for soda, added fruit to my oatmeal instead of sugar, and substituted almond milk for whole milk.  I learned that flipping your diet in one day is not possible, and once I started to treat this as a lifestyle change instead of a quick fix, I was able to process my healthy decisions more clearly.  

4)  Keep motivation around you

For me, getting myself to the gym starts an hour before I even leave; it’s very easy for me to not go.  I’m still not at a point where the gym has become second nature.  So to make sure I make it to the gym, I have a Pinterest board filled with fitness-related motivational quotes, a Spotify account full of hype workout music, and fitness blogs that I follow to keep me motivated to reach my goals.  

While sometimes I do mess up and I don’t go to the gym or I have an unhealthy meal, it’s important to know that this is a lifestyle, and I’ll have my moments of weakness.  However, I’ve realized that it’s important not to wallow in my failure and allow it to consume me.  I’m working towards my own satisfying 'glow up' period when I can look back at how far I’ve come.  I’ve worried about my fitness for a while, and at the beginning of this year I started the journey to get to where I want to be; I’m not all the way there just yet, but I definitely will be there soon.

 

Kaycia is a 23-year-old Brooklynite from Jamaica who is also an inspring writer. She enjoys listening to music and discovering new shows on Netflix and new web series on YouTube. 

 

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This year, I’m a bit late on the New Year’s resolutions.  I’m usually not one to make them, as a lot of the ones I make seem unattainable, or I eventually forget about them when the responsibilities of my everyday life catch up with me.  However, as I take time to reflect on the past year, I realize there are some ways I need to improve myself as a person outside of improving physical fitness or drinking more water (not that these aren’t important).  One of the goals I have set for myself is focusing on community.

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Regardless of everyone’s individual experiences in 2016, most people would agree that fostering community should be a goal of 2017.  It's seemed increasingly easier to become self-absorbed, especially with certain advancements in technology and the popularity of social media.  Even with these aspects aside, it can be easy to become wrapped up in one’s own work and life in general.  For this reason, moving forward I've outlined some goals for myself to be more engaged with what's going on around me, both in the immediate and global communities.  I encourage others to do the same in whatever ways they may feel comfortable.  In order to improve where we stand as a world today, we must be in touch with one another and our inner selves.

Listen

Everyone’s experience is unique.  Each individual’s life has its own background and its own problems, whether those problems are unjustly imposed by society, branches stemming from a deeper story, or something new that came up that they are trying to work out.  Whatever it is, it's part of a greater fabric of life—more often than not, issues are more than what they seem on the surface.  It’s okay if you don’t know or understand everything about a person’s background, but listen to them and try to recognize what they need or don’t need in the given context.

Read up on current events

I’ll be the first to admit I don't read or listen to the news as much as I should.  I get it:  It’s difficult to take time away from our busy day-to-day lives to read up on what’s going on in the world.  However, I can’t stress how important it is that we start.  It’s impossible to form educated opinions on current events if we have not researched them through reliable sources.  In this day and age with climate change, political conflict, and many other events occurring, it’s vital for our earth’s future that we understand the current conditions, so we can figure out what differences we each can make as individuals.  They may be small, but if every individual strives to educate themselves and make a difference, the numbers will add up.

Breathe

As we all know, life can easily overwhelm us.  To overcome life’s stresses, set a time every day to relax for a few minutes, and respect that time.  Be mindful of your body and breathing.  You can do this in nature or in the comfort of your own room, just make sure you take time to do it.  A good time to do this might be before you go to bed since doing work too closely to when you go to bed can cause your mind to race, and studies such as one recently conducted by Harvard Health have shown that looking at the blue light from screens an hour or less before bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep.  Replace working or looking at screens with time to simply breathe, and you may find yourself more relaxed and well-rested when you wake up.

Take time away from work

This can be harder for some than others.  Of course it’s important to work, but rest can be just as necessary to help you keep your mind fresh and relaxed.  In the digital age, even if you're not at work it’s easy to be drawn back there mentally with a simple glance at your smartphone.  If you can afford it, put down your phone for a few minutes.  Close your computer.  Even if it’s for a brief period, give your mind a chance to rest.

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Regardless of your experiences in 2016, fostering community should be a goal for all in 2017.

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Practice gratitude

Say thanksto people, to yourself, and to the universe.  Practicing gratitude for your blessings is not only a generally polite thing to do, but it can remind you of the positive things in your life and the love that surrounds you.  And I’m sure you and the people in your life would always appreciate the recognition.  

Give back and receive

Any time is a good time to volunteer, but now is as good a time as ever.  Think of what you’re most passionate about, and find a way to share it with those who need it most.  Remember to stay humble and that the experience of sharing with a community in need is a two-way street; when you give, you receive valuable experience and happiness from doing good deeds.  Always respect those on both ends of this interaction, and make sure that you provide what is needed and asked for as best you can.

Pay attention to the small things

It’s often the smaller things in life that make us smile each day.  Keep track of what those things are for you.  Use them to your advantage when you're stressed or if your day isn’t going the way you want it to.  Take fuzzy socks, for example: nobody will be able to tell that you are wearing them, but they provide you with a little extra warmth and comfort nonetheless.  

Smile

It's been suggested that smiling even if you don’t feel the need to can boost your mood (check out this article from Forbes).  It can also cheer up those around you.  So show off your pearly whites to make the world a better place!


Have a happy year, and remember it doesn’t have to be New Year’s to make a change.

 

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Birth control.  Contraceptives.  Family planning.  No-baby pills.  Whatever name you prefer, there are a myriad of options available to help you navigate safe, consensual sex and even reduce some of the uncomfortable symptoms of your menstrual cycle.  Here, we’ll review several types of contraceptives, their pros and cons, and average price points.  So, let’s get started!

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Condoms

Let’s start with the very basic contraceptive.  Condoms are a one-time use method of protecting yourself from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy.  They are available at any local pharmacy, grocery store, or even gas station.  They are easy to find if needed, and relatively inexpensive.  While condoms have a 98% effective rate when used consistently and correctly, they do have risks involved.  Based on human error and usage patterns, condoms are actually only 85% effective in preventing pregnancy.  There are several reasons the actual use rate is much lower for condoms than the perfect use rate: it can be hard to detect a problem with a condom before you use it, the user must have some basic knowledge of how to wear one for it to be truly effective, and many people find condoms uncomfortable or feel like they dull the sensations during intercourse.  They also can slip or tear, requiring you to change condoms during intercourse, and can spill or leak after use if not removed correctly.

Condoms are a viable option for many sexually active people, and are a great backup method to other contraceptives.  They also are key for people who are not currently monogamous, as they prevent STIs as well–the only method of birth control to do both.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Works both to prevent pregnancy and STIs, common and easy to find, relatively cheap, and effective.

Cons: User error is more likely, can be uncomfortable or dull sensations, need to be kept on hand and expiration dates must be checked before use.

Price: Condoms average at about $1.00 each.  They are also available for free at many sexual health clinics and doctors’ offices.

 

The Pill

The first thought most people have when they hear ‘birth control,’ is the pill.  The pill is a daily medication that contains two hormones–progestin and estrogen.  These combine to ‘trick’ your body into believing you are already pregnant, so your ovaries will not release any eggs during your cycle.  For most forms of the pill, you take one pill at the same time every day for 3 weeks.  During the 4th week, you take placebo pills to bring on your period.  Some forms of the pill allow you to take pills continuously for 3 months before taking the placebo pills.  The pill has many positive aspects–it can reduce acne and lighten and shorten your period.  It also may possibly reduce the risks of ovarian cancer, anemia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and ovarian cysts.  However, the hormones in the pill can also have negative side effects: your weight may go up or down, you may experience migraines, some spotting throughout your cycle is possible, and it could increase or decrease your libido.  Hormonal birth control is always a bit of a shot in the dark for those starting it for the first time.  Many women love the pill, but many women hate it.  There is a wide range of hormone levels available now, and it may take some trial and error to find the right combination.

Also important to note about the pill is that it requires daily use–at the same time, every day.  In my experience, many women set an alarm on their cell phone to remind them to take the pill each day.  This is a fairly high effort birth control method, but if you can sustain the habit of taking it at the same time, then it’s a great option for people looking for hormonal birth control.  The effective rate of the pill is 99.7% in perfect use cases, but hovers around 92% in actual use cases–this change is likely the result of not taking the pill at the same time every day, or forgetting to take the pill at some point during your cycle.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Allows for reduced condom use (for those using condoms to prevent pregnancy), reduces acne, lighten and shorten periods.

Cons: Mood changes, weight gain, and migraines are possible side effects.  Available by prescription only, requires daily use.  May require trying several brands before finding one that works.

Price: In the United States, if you have health insurance, your birth control should be fully covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  However, the copay costs and out of pocket costs can range from $15/month - $50/month.  

An important note for women on the pill – there are many combinations of hormones available, and most women will try several different brands before settling on the pill that’s right for them.  Under the current law, brand-name medications will have copay if there is a generic version available.  However, if there is no generic available, or if your doctor has determined that the generic would not be medically appropriate for you, your insurer must provide the same coverage they do for the generic brand.  If your insurer denies you coverage for your pill, it would be wise to appeal the copay and ask your doctor to verify with your insurer that the medication you were prescribed is indeed necessary and a generic would not suffice.

 

Nuvaring

The Nuvaring is another method of hormonal contraception.  It’s a flexible plastic ring placed into the vagina once per month, available by prescription only.  It uses both progestin and estrogen to prevent the ovaries from producing mature eggs.  Nuvaring is a great alternative for women who have a hard time remembering to take their pill on time or every day (much like me), and also reduces how often you need to worry about your birth control.  You wear the ring for 3 weeks, remove it for 1 week for your period, and then reinsert a new ring for the next month.  Much like the pill, Nuvaring can reduce acne and lighten and shorten your periods.  Also much like the pill, Nuvaring can result in migraines, mood changes, weight gain, and decreased libido.  Because it is placed inside the vagina, the Nuvaring also can cause vaginal discomfort or irritation, discharge, and abdominal pain.  It’s not approved for use by women with high blood pressure or who smoke over the age of 35.  It also does not protect against STIs.  It’s effective rate is 99.7% in perfect use cases, and around 92% for actual use cases.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Allows for reduced condom use, reduces acne, lighten and shorten periods, is a monthly medication instead of daily.  

Cons: Mood changes, weight gain, and migraines are possible side effects.  Can also cause vaginal discomfort or discharge, and is not available for use by women with certain medical conditions.  Available by prescription only, and can be expensive.

Price: Nuvaring runs around $271 every 3 months.  Currently there is no generic version available, and Nuvaring may or may not be covered by your insurance.  

Again, you should discuss coverage with your insurance company, as the Nuvaring is a distinct class of birth control according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and should be covered by the Affordable Care Act.

 

Implant

Next on the list is the implant–a matchstick-sized plastic rod that is inserted into the arm for up to 4 years to prevent pregnancy.  This rod is implanted underneath the skin in your arm, between your bicep and tricep muscles by a healthcare professional.  It utilizes only progestin to thicken the mucus on your cervix and prevent sperm from reaching your eggs, but also to prevent eggs from leaving your ovaries at all, so there are no eggs to fertilize.  The best part about the implant is that it’s 99.95% effective in actual use cases.  There are no pills to remember, no rings to change out; once the implant is inserted, you can forget all about it.  The insertion process is fairly simple, as well.  They’ll make a small incision in your arm after providing some Lidocaine to numb the area, and will use a small tool to insert the rod through the incision.  Then you’ll receive some bandages to help the area heal and prevent infection, and away you go.  The process will usually result in some bruising around the incision area, and minor itching as it heals.  Once inserted, you can feel the rod through your skin with your fingers, but should not notice the implant unless you are looking for it.  All told, the process takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.

Because the implant does not use estrogen, it is a good option for women who may have experienced problems on other forms of hormonal birth control.  It also can cut down on period cramps and shorten your period, or eliminate it altogether.  It’s also easily removed by a healthcare professional, so you can get pregnant relatively quickly after removal if you are ready for that step.  Some women experience negative side effects when first trying out the implant, but most tend to go away after a cycle or two.  Most common is irregular bleeding or spotting, and some women experience heavier periods than normal.  There can also be headaches, nausea, weight gain, or ovarian cysts, but these are less common side effects. 

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Allows for reduced condom use, reduces acne, lighten and shorten periods, requires insertion/removal only once every 3-4 years.

Cons: Mood changes, weight gain, and migraines are possible side effects, as well as heavier periods and a small risk of ovarian cysts.  Must be inserted by healthcare professional.

Price: The cost of the implant ranges from $0 - $800 upfront.  The Affordable Care Act means the implant should not cost anything upfront for women with insurance, but may cost up to $800 for those without coverage.  You can always speak to the provider about a payment plan to help cover the cost if necessary.

 

Because the implant does not use estrogen, it is a good option for women who may have experienced problems on other forms of hormonal birth control.

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Intrauterine Device (IUD)

The IUD is a small t-shaped piece of flexible plastic placed inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are 2 types of IUDs available–copper and hormonal.  The copper IUD only comes in one brand called ParaGard – it has no hormones, is wrapped in a small amount of copper, and inserted to prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years.  The hormonal IUDs (Liletta, Mirena, Skyla, and Kyleena) use progestin to prevent pregnancy and last between 3 and 6 years.  An IUD prevents pregnancy by preventing sperm from ever reaching your eggs to fertilize.  Copper is essentially a ‘sperm deterrent,’ so sperm never reaches your eggs.  Hormonal IUDs utilize progestin to thicken the mucus of your cervix walls to trap sperm and prevent them from reaching the egg, and also by preventing your ovaries from releasing eggs at all.

IUDs must be inserted by health-care professionals.  During your appointment, you’ll receive an exam of your vagina, cervix, and uterus and probably offered some pain medicine prior to insertion to help numb and open your cervix.  The nurse or doctor will insert a speculum in your vagina, and use a special inserter to put the IUD through the opening of your cervix and into your uterus, with 1 to 2 inches of string exiting your cervix for removal later (which you can also use to insure the IUD is still in place – but don’t pull on the strings, you could dislodge the IUD).  The whole process takes less than 5 minutes.  You may feel mild cramps or pain during and after the insertion, but they should last only a short time.  Dizziness is also possible right after the procedure, with a small chance of fainting, so you may want to ask someone to come with you to the appointment to help get you home.   The copper IUD is 99.4% effective in perfect use and 99.2% effective in actual use, while hormonal IUDs are 99.9% effective in both perfect and actual use cases. 

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Allows for reduced condom use, reduces acne, lighten and shorten periods, can reduce anemia, requires insertion/removal only once every 3-12 years, the copper IUD is the most effective emergency contraception if inserted within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex.

Cons: Mood changes, weight gain, and migraines are possible side effects, as well as heavier periods and spotting.  There can be some cramps or backaches for a few days after insertion, and some pain during the insertion process.   Some people feel the strings of an IUD that exit through the cervix during intercourse.

Price: The cost of the implant ranges from $0 - $1,000 upfront.  The Affordable Care Act means the implant should not cost anything upfront for women with insurance, but may cost up to $1,000 for those without coverage.  You can always speak to the provider about a payment plan to help cover the cost if necessary.

 

Shot

The Depo-Provera shot is an injection in the arm or butt that prevents pregnancy for up to 3 months.  The shot utilizes progestin, like most other methods listed above, to prevent pregnancy by preventing eggs from leaving the ovaries and thickening the mucus in the cervix wall to prevent sperm from reaching the ovaries.  Depo-Provera is 99.95% effective in perfect use cases and 97% effective in actual use–this has to do with the timing of the shots, and ensuring you get a new shot every 3 months without any added time.  The shot is an effective longer-term contraception option with no daily, weekly, or monthly medication to remember.  Some women report feeling more spontaneous on the shot with an increased sex drive.  It does not contain estrogen, which can be a problem for many women in hormonal birth control, and can also help prevent cancer in the lining of the uterus.  As for disadvantages, some women experience irregular bleeding and spotting, longer or heavier periods, change in sex drive, changes in appetite or weight gain, mood swings, hair loss or increased hair on the face/body, headaches, and nausea.  For these side effects, it’s possible they will last until your shot wears off, in 12-14 weeks, so they may last quite a bit longer than side effects from other methods of birth control.  Additionally, in the rare cases where the shot fails, a resulting pregnancy is likely to be ectopic, which can be a life-threatening situation. 

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Allows for reduced condom use, reduces acne, lighten and shorten periods, can reduce anemia, requires new injections only ever 3 months.

Cons: Mood changes, weight gain, and migraines are possible side effects, as well as heavier periods and spotting.  Hair loss or added hair on the face/body are possible, and ectopic pregnancies are more likely should this method fail.

Price: Cost ranges from $0 - $250 the first time, when you’d need an exam as well.  After the initial exam, the cost is somewhere between $0 and $150 for each following injection, unless you also need a pregnancy test (when you’re more than 2 weeks late for an injection).  This method should be covered under the Affordable Care Act for women with insurance coverage.  

 

Sponge

The sponge is a plastic foam that contains spermicide and is about 2 inches in diameter.  It is inserted into the vagina before intercourse, and removed using an attached nylon loop after sex.  Currently, the Today Sponge is the only version available in the United States.  The sponge works by both covering the cervix so no sperm can reach any eggs, and by releasing spermicide continuously to prevent sperm from moving at all.  The sponge is about 80% effective in perfect use and 68% effective in actual use for women who have already had children, but 91% effective in perfect use and 84% effective in actual use in women who have not yet had children.  The sponge does not contain any hormones, and is small enough to carry in a purse or pocket.  It also is rarely felt by women or their partners during intercourse, and can be inserted several hours before sex, and left in for up to 30 hours after sex.  It can be used as many times as you like within the first 24 hours of insertion without removal.  As a downside, it can be difficult to insert or remove, and can break into smaller pieces, which may require a visit to a healthcare professional to fully remove.  It can cause vaginal irritation, or may even make intercourse too messy or too dry. 

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Easy to carry around, does not disrupt intercourse by being wearable for up to 30 hours, and is inexpensive.

Cons: Low effective rate in actual use cases, can make intercourse too messy or dry, and can be difficult to remove.

Price: Cost goes up to about $15 for a package of three sponges.

 

Cervical Cap

This is a silicone cup, shaped like a sailor’s hat, that’s inserted into the vagina over the cervix to prevent pregnancy.  FemCap is the only brand currently available in the United States.  Cervical caps must be used with spermicide cream or jelly in order to be fully effective–it covers the opening to the uterus to prevent sperm from getting in, and the spermicide prevents the sperm from moving.  For effectiveness, the cervical cap is 74% effective in perfect use and 68% effective in actual use for women who have had kids, and 91% effective in perfect use and 84% effective in actual use in women who have not had children.  The cervical cap is small enough to be carried in a pocket or purse, cannot generally be felt by you or your partner, and is both immediately effective and reversible.  There’s no hormones, and doesn’t interrupt intercourse because it can be inserted several hours before sex.  However, it cannot be used during menstruation, and can be difficult to insert for some women.  Certain sexual positions or penis sizes can push the cap out of place, and the cap must be in place every time you have intercourse to be effective.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Easy to carry around, does not disrupt intercourse because it can be inserted several hours before intercourse, and is inexpensive.

Cons: Low effective rate in actual use cases, can be pushed aside during some intercourse, and can be difficult to insert.

Price: Cost goes up to about $75 depending on the kind you purchase, plus the cost of spermicide or jelly.

 

Diaphragm

A diaphragm is a shallow, dome-shaped piece of silicon with a flexible rim, which is inserted into the vagina to block the opening to the uterus to prevent pregnancy.  A diaphragm must be used in conjunction with spermicide jelly or cream to be effective.   A diaphragm with spermicide is effective at 94% in perfect use cases, and at 84% in actual use cases. A diaphragm, much like a cervical cap or sponge, is small enough to be carried in a pocket or purse, cannot generally be felt during intercourse, and is immediately effective and reversible.  There’s also no interruption of intercourse, as a diaphragm can be inserted several hours beforehand.  However, a diaphragm can be difficult to insert, may be pushed out of place by certain sexual positions, may need to be refitted, and must be in place every time a woman has vaginal intercourse.  Additionally, a diaphragm must be fitted by a health care provider during an exam, meaning your provider will find the correct size, and you’ll have to pick it up as a prescription.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Easy to carry around, does not disrupt intercourse because it can be inserted several hours before intercourse, and is inexpensive.

Cons: Low effective rate in actual use cases, can be pushed aside during some intercourse, and can be difficult to insert.   Available only via a health care provider.

Price: Cost is anywhere between $0 to $200 for an exam, plus $0 - $75 for the actual diaphragm, as well as the added cost of spermicide as needed.

 

Female Condom

A female condom is a pouch inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy.  As a condom, female condoms can help protect you from STIs as well.  The female condom has flexible rings at both ends, and is inserted into the vagina or anus just before intercourse.  Much like a male condom, the female condom works to contain and collect pre-cum and semen, and prevent it from entering the vagina.  Since the open end of the condom covers the exterior portions of genitals, it also can reduce the risk of STIs.  Female condoms are 95% effective in perfect use, and 79% effective in actual use.  Female condoms allow women to share responsibility for preventing STIs, are fairly easy to get as they can be purchased in drugstores or supermarkets, and can be used with both oil-based and water-based lubricants.  There’s no prescription necessary, no hormones to contend with, they can be used as a part of sex play, and will stay in place whether or not your partner maintains an erection.  Female condoms can cause irritation of the vagina, vulva, penis, or anus, though, and they may slip into the vagina during intercourse. T hey could also reduce some feeling during intercourse for both partners.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Easy to carry around, inexpensive, readily available, helps encourage equality in preventing STIs, can be used as a part of sex play.

Cons: Can cause irritation of the vagina, vulva, penis, or anus, and maybe slip into the vagina or anus during intercourse.  Can reduce some feeling during intercourse, as well.

Price: Cost is about $2-$4 per condom, but may be available for free at local sexual health clinics.  

 

A female condom is a pouch inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy and can help protect you from STIs as well.  

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Spermicide

Spermicide is a substance that prevents pregnancy by using chemicals to stop sperm from moving.  It’s available in many different forms, including creams, film, foam, gel, and suppositories.  It can be used alone, or with other methods of birth control, some of which are stated above.  Spermicide is 82% effective in perfect use, and 71% effective in actual use, when used as the only form of contraception.  Spermicide is pretty portable and would fit in your pocket or purse, and can be inserted as a part of sex play; it also does not contain hormones.  It’s commonly available in drugstores or supermarkets and does not require a prescription.  However, it does require use exactly as instructed.If not, the barrier to the cervix may not fully form and be truly effective.  It can also feel messy or leak during intercourse, and may cause some irritation, although switching brands could solve this problem.  The most important side effect is that nonoxynol-9, the most commonly used spermicide in the United States, can cause irritation that increases the risk of exposure to HIV or other STIs when used many times a day.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Easy to carry around, inexpensive, readily available, can be used as a part of sex play, does not contain hormones.

Cons: Can be messy or leak, requires use exactly according to instructions, and if used too often can lead to increased risks of HIV and other STIs.

Price: Applicator kits for foam and gels average about $8, with refills costing up to $4 each.  Films and suppositories are about $8, as well.

 

Withdrawal

Withdrawal, otherwise known as the pull-out method or coitus interruptus, is when a man will withdraws his penis from the vagina or anus prior to ejaculation to prevent pregnancy by not allowing sperm to enter the vagina.  Withdrawal is relied on by about 35 million couples worldwide, and is 94% effective in perfect use cases.  However, it’s only about 73% effective in actual use cases.  While withdrawal is an option when no other option is available, and is free, there are many disadvantages to consider.  This requires a great amount of self-control, experience, and trust from your partner.  Men who may experience premature ejaculation should not use this method, nor should men who don’t know when to pull out.  This is generally not recommended for teenagers and sexually inexperienced adults as they still learn their bodies and when they will ejaculate.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Free, available when no other option is available.

Cons: Can be difficult to control, requires great trust and experience, not recommended for couples who may be inexperienced sexually.

Price: Free

 

Sterilization

Sterilization is a surgical procedure for both men and women to permanently prevent pregnancy.  Women have several options: a tubal ligation–where a doctor will surgically tie the fallopian tubes together, and cut them; the tubes can be sealed using electrical current; closed with clips, clamps, or rings; removing a small piece of the tube; or Essure – a small insert will be placed into the tube and tissue will grow around it to block the tube.  All of these methods prevent eggs from traveling through the fallopian tubes to the uterus;without an egg, pregnancy cannot occur.

Men will get a vasectomy.  A healthcare provider will surgically block the tubes that carry sperm, preventing sperm from leaving the male body during intercourse.  A vasectomy can be completed in two ways: incision method and no-incision method.  The incision method uses a local anesthetic, and the doctor makes an incision on each side of the scrotum to reach the tubes that carry sperm.  Each tube is then blocked, usually by removing a small portion of the tube, or tying them together, or closing them off with electrical current.  With the no-incision method, one tiny puncture is made to reach both sets of tubes, which are then tied off, cauterized, or blocked.  This method reduces the possibility of infection, bruising, and other complications.

Sterilization is a permanent procedure.  It allows both sexes to enjoy sex without worrying about unwanted pregnancy, which can in turn increase the joy of intercourse due to the lack of worry.  It does not change your hormones, and will not cause early menopause.  Most women will still have normal periods, as well.  It will not affect the ability of men to get or stay erect, and will not affect sexual pleasure.  Sterilization is a great option for people who do not want to have biological children (any more or at all),  don’t want to pass on hereditary illness or disability, for women whose health could be threatened by a pregnancy, or to prevent your partner having to go through the sterilization procedure themselves. However, sterilization is in fact permanent, and is not meant to be undone, and may not be able to be undone at all.  As with all medical procedures, surgery has risks of complications that should be discussed with your doctor beforehand. 

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Permanent, no permanent changes to hormones or sex drive.

Cons: Cannot generally be undone, is a surgical procedure with typical risks associated with surgery.

Price: Women’s sterilization can cost upwards of $6,000, but a vasectomy ranges somewhere closer to $1,000 (depending on insurance coverage).

 

Morning After Pill

If, after you’ve used birth control or not, you find yourself in a situation where you aren’t sure if your contraception method was effective, there is emergency contraception to consider.  The morning-after pill is birth control you can use up to 5 days after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy.  As discussed previously, the ParaGard IUD is an option here, as well.  As for the morning-after pill, there are two kinds.  Pills with ulipristal acetate, called ella, or pills with levonorgestrel, which includes Plan B One Step, Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, My Way, AfterPill, and others. ella requires a prescription, but you can get a fast medical consultation and prescription with next day delivery at www.ella-kwikmed.com.  It’s the most effective morning-after pill, and can be taken up to 5 days after intercourse (and works just as well on day 5 as it does on day 1).  If you’ve used the pill, patch, or ring within the last 5 days, though, it may not be as effective as other methods of emergency contraception.

The other kind of pill, with levonorgestrel, does not require a prescription.  They can be bought over the counter in most drugstores and pharmacies, and work best within 72 hours after intercourse.  The sooner you take the pills, the better they work.  They are not the abortion pill – if you are already pregnant, the morning-after will won’t affect your pregnancy.  However, it should not be used as a regular form of birth control, because it’s not as effective as a regular, non-emergency birth control methods.

Because sperm can live in the body for up to six days after sex, emergency contraception works by temporarily stopping your body from releasing an egg during that time.  If you’ve already started ovulating, however, emergency contraception may not prevent pregnancy.  This is why it’s important to get emergency contraception as soon as possible after intercourse.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: Can be used as a backup when birth control fails, or you weren’t able to use birth control; works up to 5 days after unprotected sex; will not affect an existing pregnancy

Cons: Can be stressful to deal with the need to use emergency contraception, can be tough to get in certain areas of the country, not for use as regular contraception

Price: Ranges in price from $20 to $60, generally.

 

Abstinence

Abstinence is the practice of not having sex at all. It is the most effective method of preventing pregnancy and STIs, at 100% if practiced in full.  It’s a method used by many people for many reasons.  Abstinence is free, and does not add any extra hormones to your body.  Additionally, women who abstain until their 20s, and who have fewer partners in their lifetimes, may be less likely to get STIs, which means they are also less likely to become infertile or develop cervical cancer.  However, many people find it difficult to abstain for long periods of time, either due to changing hormones, inability to control their urges, or just the desire to feel connected to another person.

 

The breakdown:

Pros: 100% effective, free, can lead to better health outcomes for women.

Cons: Can be hard to maintain due to societal pressures, hormonal changes, or need to feel connected to others.

Price: Free

 

With all of these contraceptive options available, it can be overwhelming to make a decision on what is best for you and your body.  This article should be used as a primer to understand what options are out there, and the possible effects they could have. This information should be taken to your doctor or healthcare provider so that you can ask more questions, run through your options, and really get the best contraceptive for your situation.  For women, there will likely be a lot of trial and error before you find something that’s just right for you.  As you get older, you may find you want something different, and as your relationships change, you may decide it’s time to stop birth control to have a family, or select a permanent birth control option instead.  No matter what you chose, make sure you have all the information.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to switch methods, and to find a doctor who’s willing to have that conversation with you before writing you a prescription.  It’s a big world, and there’s a lot to learn, but with the beauty of the internet and a great doctor, you can find something that works great for you. 

 

Courtnie is a licensed attorney and the Member Engagement Manager at WeWork. She’s a Chicagoan in New York City, with a deep love for live music, sports, and craft beer. With her husband of 3 years, Courtnie is raising 2 fur-babies and finding her path in life.

 

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