Birth Control

This section talks about a variety of birth control methods, including emergency contraception, which can help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. It also outlines some steps one can take if they are pregnant, as well as what preventative measures one can take before, during, and after sexual intercourse.

 

The first row of buttons below lead to information on different types of birth control. The bottom two buttons discuss other sexual health-related topics: emergency contraception and what to do if you get pregnant.

If you would like to see a general outline of what birth control and STI prevention methods you should take before, during, and after sex, check out the Sex Checklist on the LGBTQA+ page (which can be utilized by anyone regardless of sexual orientation!).

Birth Control Methods

Birth control methods prevent pregnancies from penis-in-vagina sex. Different types and/or combinations of birth control can be used, depending on the person’s personal preferences and lifestyle. Even when these methods are correctly used, they are not 100% effective in preventing pregnancies (although IUDs are 99-98% effective)

Most of the birth controls mentioned here do not prevent STIs. Thus, utilizing multiple birth control methods with (at least) one that doubles as STI protection is arguably the safest way to go. This could include using external or internal condoms, which are forms of birth control that double as STI prevention, alongside an IUD, birth control pill, or vaginal ring. 

Here are some general resources on birth control from Planned Parenthood and the Mayo Clinic. It is important to do your own research to figure out what Birth Control method is best for you, but also conferring with a provider to get their opinion can be valuable. 

Hopkins provides several ways students can meet with a provider and get access to the resources detailed below. Refer to the Resource page for more Baltimore-based resources.

  • Medication vending machine in the Student Health and Wellness Center building (in the ground level lobby). They have $2 external condoms, $4 pregnancy tests, $8 Plan B Emergency Contraception (normally $50!!)

  • See a provider at the Student Health and Wellness Center to prescribe or insert birth control. You will only be charged if they perform a procedure, not for an office-only visit. Here is a list of all the contraceptions (and other medications) they offer. Set up an appointment by calling or making an online appointment (temporarily disabled due to COVID-19). Check out their website here.

 

Professionals at Planned Parenthood (here is the link to the Baltimore location) can also provide birth control, as well as abortion procedures. Emergency contraception can also be found on Amazon and at CVS, but they tend to cost around $50.  

Barrier Methods

These are only utilized during intercourse, and must be worn every time in order to be effective. Additionally, since they create a physical barrier between you and your partner’s genitals, they are the only birth control method that also protects against STIs. Therefore, it is highly recommended to use these every time you have intercourse unless you and your partner(s) have recently gotten STI tested and/or are exclusively seeing each other. (See description in STI section). Condoms expire, so be sure to check the best by date!

Here is a video on how to put on an external condom, the most common type of barrier method (this is put on the penis). Other types of barrier methods include internal condoms, which are inserted in the vagina (helpful video and webpage on how to use these methods). If the condom breaks during intercourse, it is a good idea to get STI tested, especially if you don't know your partner's STI status (or your own). If this occurs during penis-in-vagina sex, then it may also be a good idea to take an emergency contraceptive as well, depending on what other birth control the person with the uterus is taking.

 

Diaphragms and cervical caps are other methods but are much less effective than condoms. Spermicide can be used with another barrier method for maximum protection, but is not recommended to be used alone. To use, simply apply it on the outside of an external condom, the inside of an internal condom, and/or the inside of the vagina prior to intercourse based on the instructions on the box  (this is key, since the spermicide must be applied during a certain window of time).

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Far left: A comparison of an external condom (left) and an internal condom (right).

Middle: How an internal condom is placed in the uterus.

Right: A box of gel spermicide.

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Short-Acting Hormonal Methods

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This method has hormones in it and are taken on a relatively routine basis (whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly). For example, birth control pills are taken every day, and the patch is switched out once a week. Unlike barrier methods, these are used independently of when you have intercourse as they must be taken on a specific routine to be effective at preventing pregnancy. The hormones these methods contain can also help reduce the severity of periods. Check out this link to see how effective each option is.

Examples include:

  • Shot

  • Vaginal ring

  • Patch

  • Pill

Left: Birth control pills

Middle: Birth control patch

Right: Vaginal ring

 

Long-Term Methods

These methods are in the form of implants and can remain in the body for years at a time. 

  • IUD (Intrauterine Device): these are divided into hormonal (releases hormones) and non-hormonal/copper (doesn’t release hormones, works via the copper on the device). It is a small, T-shape piece of plastic placed into the uterus, and is more than 99% effective. The copper IUD can last for up to 12 years, while the hormonal IUDs can last from three to seven years. Hormonal IUDs can also help reduce the severity of periods.

    • ​The copper IUD can also be used as emergency contraception. If it is placed within 5 days after unprotected sex, it is 99.9% effective in preventing a pregancy.

  • Arm Implant: this is a thin plastic rod and is about the size of a match. It is placed into the arm and can remain there for up to 5 years. It is 99% effective.

Below: This shows what a hormonal IUD, a copper IUD, and an arm implant (source Planned Parenthood)

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Lifestyle Methods

These methods do not utilize any sort of birth control that can be prescribed by a provider, but rather depend on actions by the sexually active individual. Approach these with caution, since they need to be used properly on a consistent basis in order for them to work. For the first two methods, most people combine these with other forms of birth control for maximum protection.

  • Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)this method involves tracking one’s menstrual cycle, so that the time of ovulation is approximated. This gives insight into when you are most fertile; extra precautions are thus taken during these fertile days (using extra forms of birth control or abstaining from sex altogether). Taking your temperature, checking cervical mucus, and/or tracking your cycle on a calendar are all part of this method. FAM is around 80% effective, depending on how consistent and well-tracked your cycle is. It is recommended to use this method in addition to others. Definitely do more research before fully utilizing this method, but it can never hurt to be familiar with your cycle and understand what’s going on down there.

    • Tracking your cycle (whether you are actively using FAM or not) can be done easily with a number of apps. Here is an article with some recommendations). ​

  • The pull-out method: This is when the penis is removed from the vagina prior to ejaculation during penis-and-vagina sex. The effectiveness of pulling out is pretty unreliable, since even the smallest amount of sperm can cause a pregnancy. Thus, it is highly recommended to use another method of birth control in addition to the pull-out method, particularly a condom. Precum (which comes out of the penis during arousal but before ejaculation) can have a small amount of sperm in it, so it is still possible to get pregnant even if the penis ejaculates outside of the vagina.

  • Abstinence: Abstaining completely from any penis-in-vagina sex is the only way to prevent a pregnancy 100%.

 

Emergency Contraception (EC)

There is also emergency contraception that can be taken right after unprotected vaginal sex to inhibit a potential pregancy. These can be used if a condom broke (or wasn’t used at all) or if someone forgot to take or use their short-term birth control, thus increasing the likelihood that the individual with a uterus might get pregnant. Since emergency contraception isn’t as effective as some other types of birth control (and in the long run can be very expensive) it should not be regularly used in replacement of other methods. However, it is completely safe to use when needed.

There are two means of EC: inserting a copper IUD or taking a morning-after pill.

  • Inserting a copper IUD within 5 days of unprotected sex is the most effective type of emergency contraception. This IUD will remain in the uterus after the insertion, and is utilized as long-term birth control. Furthermore, the copper IUD is more effective as emergency contraception for those with larger bodies. The effectiveness of pills, as mentioned below, decline as BMI increases. The copper IUD is effective regardless of body weight. 

  • There are two types of morning-after pills: Plan B and Ella (note that these are brand names). Plan B is the most accessible but isn’t as effective as Ella since it loses its effectiveness the later you wait to take it. Ideally, it should be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex. Ella requires a prescription but can be taken up to 5 days after sex. For those with larger bodies who need to take an emergency contraceptive in pill form, Ella is more effective. 

Again, you can get EC for fairly cheap at the SHWC's vending machine for $8. Otherwise, you can find EC at CVS or on Amazon.

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What Should I Do If I Get Pregnant?

The symptoms of being pregnant include missing a period, tender or swollen breasts, nausea, and/or fatigue.

If you think you may be pregnant, take a pregnancy test. If taken correctly, these can be very accurate. Usually they are recommended to be taken a week after a missed period, or 1-2 weeks after sex (it depends on the specific test).

You can get a pregnancy test at a local drug store, at the SHWC, or on Amazon. They are normally around $10, but at the SHWC it is $4.

If you get a positive pregnancy test, there are resources out there to support you in whatever decision you make next. See this Planned Parenthood article for more tips.

  • If you need someone to talk to or want advice, consider talking to an adult you trust (which may be a counselor) Refer to the Hopkins counseling page for those options. 

  • If you choose to abort, the local Planned Parenthood would be the most accessible place to discuss that option with a professional. There is a Planned Parenthood 10 minutes from the Homewood campus. For more in depth-information on what this decision would look like, visit this page. Our resources page also has other locations where abortion care is provided in the Baltimore area.