Birth Control 101 is a multi-part series covering everything you need to know about birth control. It has all the details you need to make the best decision for your body, like how each method works, the pros and cons, effectiveness, cost and where to get them. After we’re done, you’ll basically be an expert, and you’ll definitely be able to make an informed decision about how to stay safe when you’re having sex.
This segment covers everything you need to know about the most common form of birth control: The Pill.
Check out our Birth Control 101 section for details on every birth control method, and Birth Control Basics for a quick and dirty overview.
What is it?
The pill is a daily hormonal method of birth control. Pills contain estrogen and progestin, or just progestin. There are tons of different brands, each with a different combination of hormones, benefits, potential side effects, and price. Usually, women try a few different pills before they find one that is perfect for their body.
How does it work?
You take the pill once every day, around the same time. During the first three weeks, the pills release hormones that prevent your egg from dropping, so you can’t get pregnant. They also make your cervical mucus and uterine lining thicker, so even if an egg does drop, sperm will have a hard time swimming up to it. During the fourth week, you take no pills or placebo pills, and get your period. After your period is over, you start a new pill pack.
Types of Pills
Estrogen/Progesterone pills are the most common birth control pill. This combination of hormones is generally considered the most effective. Progesterone-Only pills, also called “Mini Pills”, are best suited for women who are sensitive to or cannot take estrogen. They are slightly less effective, and must be taken at the exact same time every day. Each of these pill packs lasts for one month, and then you get your period. Seasonal pills, like Seasonale and Seasonique, have an extended cycle with more active pills, so you only get a few periods each year, shorter periods, or no period at all… and are often just as effective as combination pills!
When taken at the same time every day, birth control pills are 97 to 98% effective.
- The pill is the most common method of birth control because it is simple, familiar, and non-invasive (nothing goes into your body). There are many different brands to choose from and they’re all a little different, with varying doses of hormones, side-effects, and period frequency. If you have side effects with one, another combination will be better, and many of the side effects reduce over time as your body adjusts to the hormones. With all these options, it’s easy to find a pill that fits your preferences and needs.
- Many pills significantly decrease PMS symptoms, like cramps, pain, headaches, mood swings, breast tenderness, and heavy flow. They can lighten your period, make it shorter, and even reduce acne by up to two-thirds. A win win!
- Birth control pills can decrease a woman’s risk for ovarian and uterine cancer. Women who take birth control pills are also less likely to have benign breast masses and develop pelvic inflammatory disease.
- As with any birth control, just knowing that you’re protected and won’t get pregnant can be a huge comfort. It can help you relax and make sex more enjoyable for you and your partner.
- In order to be effective, the pill must be taken every day around the same time (within two hours of your normal time). This can leave a lot of room for forgetfulness. If you miss a pill, you could get pregnant, especially if you miss two pills in a row or multiple pills in a month. If this sounds like you, or if this post reminded you to take your birth control, you might want to try another method, or check out our How to Remember to Take Your Birth Control (coming soon).
- Even though the pill is supposed to reduce PMS symptoms, it can still have some side effects, like spotting (minor bleeding without a full period) and nausea, or less common side effects, like cramps bloating, and mood swings. Often, these symptoms pass within the first two months, though you may have you give your body that time to adjust.
- If your symptoms persist into the third month, don’t give up. You may have to try a few different brands before you find the pill that works. Each pill has a different combination of hormones, so if your current pill gives you side effects, another may be side-effect-free. Switching brands is easy. Just wait until the end of your pill pack (when you get your period), then start your next cycle with a new brand. Just to stay safe, use a back up method (like a condom) for a few days. With this method, you’ll be able to find the brand that is the perfect fit for your body.
- Some women may experience lowered libido (sex drive). We haven’t experienced this here at Slutty Girl Problems… but we hear it’s a problem for some women.
- Progestin only pills, also called “mini pills”, do not have estrogen related side effects. They can be taken by women who are breast feeding or have problems with combination pills. Low-dose pills also have less side effects. However, these pills must be taken at the exact same time every day, so have a higher risk of pregnancy.
- The pill requires a prescription. It can be expensive if you’re not covered by medical insurance or a prescription plan. You will probably get a few pill packs at a time, and it’s important to renew your prescription BEFORE you run out, so you’re always prepared for the next month.
- As with most hormonal methods, women who smoke, are overweight, over 35, or have hypertension have a significantly higher risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack, compared to other pill users and women.
$15 to $50 monthly, with a prescription.
Where to Get It
Visit your doctor, gynecologist, or a health or family planning clinic (like Planned Parenthood) to get a prescription. Depending on your age, health, history, and other factors, they can give you a recommendation for which brand is right for you. If you have acne, painful or heavy periods, or want to have fewer periods each year, there are options that will be perfect for you!
Don’t stop there… learn more about the other methods so you can find the perfect fit! Check out these articles in our Birth Control 101 series.
Birth Control 101: The Basics of Birth Control
Birth Control 101: The Pill
Birth Control 101: The Patch
Birth Control 101: The Ring
Birth Control 101: The Shot
Birth Control 101: The Implant
Birth Control 101: Hormonal and Copper IUDs
Birth Control 101: Male Condoms
Birth Control 101: Cervical Cap
Birth Control 101: Diaphragm
Birth Control 101: The Sponge
Birth Control 101: Spermicide
Birth Control 101: Pull Out Method
Birth Control 101: Emergency Contraception (Plan B)
Common Birth Control Myths
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“Birth Control Methods.” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2013. Web. 27 Jul. 2013.
Corlett, Kathleen. “Should You Start the Pill? Here’s the Lowdown.” Her Campus. Her Campus Media, 18 May 2010. Web. 03 Aug. 2013.
Erman, Aylin. “The Birth Control Pill Where You Get Your Period Less Often: Is It For You?” Her Campus. Her Campus Media, 20 July 2012. Web. 03 Aug. 2013.
Katulka, Lauren. “The Pill: A Guide to Every Girl’s Best Friend.” Kinkly.com. Kinkly, 2 May 2013. Web. 03 Aug. 2013.
Levin, Sammie. “The Pill, The Shot, IUD’s & More: How To Figure Out Which Type of Birth Control Is Right For You.” Her Campus. Her Campus Media, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.
Taylor, Andrea. “We Asked an Expert: Which Birth Control Is Best?” Kinkly, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 27 July 2013.
“The Ultimate Guide to Safer Sex.” Greatist, n.d. Web. 27 July 2013.
“Types of Contraception.” Advocates for Youth, 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.
Whalen, Jenni. “A Beginner’s Guide to The Pill.” Her Campus. Her Campus Media, 9 Mar. 2013. Web. 03 Aug. 2013.