Condoms and beyond

Choosing the right birth control option for your specific needs can be frustrating. The Student Health and Counseling Center offers a range of birth control options for you to consider and contraceptive counseling to help you understand the various methods.

The pill is frackin’ delicious, no doubt, but try and limit yourself to one a day—unless it’s a special occasion, or Flag Day. Photo by Miles Sangunetti.
The pill is frackin’ delicious, no doubt, but try and limit yourself to one a day—unless it’s a special occasion, or Flag Day. Photo by Miles Sangunetti.

Choosing the right birth control option for your specific needs can be frustrating. The Student Health and Counseling Center offers a range of birth control options for you to consider and contraceptive counseling to help you understand the various methods.

For other reproductive health care needs, SHAC also offers wellness exams such as pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the human papillomavirus vaccination and trans-specific health care services. SHAC also has a sexual assault nurse examiner on site to help support students of all genders who are survivors of sexual assault.

What SHAC provides is actually fairly comprehensive. I’ve broken down some of the most common birth control options below. However, the best way to decide on the method that fits your situation is to meet with a medical professional.

Condoms and Dental Dams

Condoms are the only method of birth control currently available (aside from abstinence) that prevent both pregnancy and STDs. Condoms are available at several places on campus including SHAC, the Queer Resource Center, the Women’s Resource Center and in the dorms. For those with latex allergies, it’s also possible to get non-latex condoms.

Female condoms—aka dental dams—are another option that can be used for both vaginal and anal intercourse by any gender (the name is a bit of a misnomer). There are plenty of advantages to the female condom, the biggest one being that it can be inserted ahead of time instead of in the moments immediately before sex. Dental dams can be used to prevent STD transmission during oral sex, and there are helpful instructions out there regarding how to turn condoms into dental dams in a pinch. Gloves are another option in this area.

Birth Control Pills

The birth control pill is a daily medication that, if taken correctly, is effective in preventing pregnancy. There are a number of pills on the market, so it’s worth exploring which one, if any, is best for you. Less than one in 100 women end up pregnant if they use birth control pills correctly. Birth control pills are also used to treat a variety of other health problems.

Like all options aside from condoms, these do not protect against STDs. The pill is a wonderful option with a variety of benefits, but some antibiotics and behaviors may make these pills less effective. And smoking while on birth control may cause blood clots.

Intrauterine Devices

An IUD is a small device that’s inserted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. These devices last much longer than some of the other methods (from five to 12 years, depending on which one you choose), and while insertion is more costly than the pill, it’s a one-time rather than monthly expense. They are one of the most effective forms of birth control available.

There are two IUDs currently on the market, the ParaGard and the Mirena. The first is a copper IUD and the second is hormonal. Serious problems are rare but, like with any form of birth control, they can happen. If an unintended pregnancy does occur while you’re using an IUD, it’s imperative that you see a doctor immediately because of the increased risks while pregnant with an IUD in place.

Birth Control Shot

The birth control shot is a shot in the arm that prevents pregnancy. The shot is administered every three months. It’s a good option for someone who has trouble remembering to take the pill at the same time every day. It’s also worth considering if you plan on traveling for a time period of less than three months and don’t want to worry about the daily requirements involved with other methods. The shot is commonly referred to by its brand name, Depo-Provera.

Birth Control Vaginal Ring

Also called the NuvaRing, this device is a small ring that’s inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy for three weeks. As with oral birth control, certain medications make the ring less effective.

Birth Control Patch

Also known as Ortho Evra, the birth control patch sticks to the skin and releases hormones that prevent eggs from leaving the ovaries and make the cervical mucus thicker, which keeps sperm from reaching the eggs.

Birth Control Implant

The birth control implant is a small rod
inserted into the arm that releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. It’s effective for up to three years after insertion.

Emergency Contraception

Also known as the morning-after pill or by brand names such as Ella, Next Choice or Plan B One-Step, emergency contraception is a pill that will prevent ovulation if taken up to five days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. It will not terminate an already existing pregnancy and will not cause an abortion. The sooner this pill is taken, the more effective it will be. If taken within 72 hours it will be about 85 percent effective. It needs to be taken after unprotected intercourse and will not protect you if you engage in unprotected intercourse after taking it.

EC offers no protection against STDs, so if you do have unprotected sex and want to get tested, SHAC can help you with that. Several brands of this pill are also available at most pharmacies to those over the age of 17, and they can be obtained at clinics as well.

I strongly recommend purchasing this pill as a preventative measure. Since SHAC may not be open the moment a condom breaks, it may be helpful to have EC in your dresser drawer.

Certain birth control pills can also be used at an increased dosage as EC if no other options are available, but that depends entirely on the brand of pill you use. Consult with your prescribing physician to see if it’s a viable option for you.

A ParaGard IUD can also function to prevent a pregnancy if inserted soon after unprotected intercourse.


Abortion is a safe and legal medical procedure that many women in all sorts of situations from a host of backgrounds and belief systems have chosen. By age 45, about half of American women will face an unintended pregnancy. One in three American women choose abortion.

Portland State’s student health insurance will partially cover this procedure if needed. If you do find yourself facing an unintended pregnancy and want to discuss all of your options, Backline (1-888-493-0092) is a toll-free and confidential talk line here in Oregon. Responders offer to listen and will provide support and resources in a nonjudgmental fashion as you consider every possibility, including pregnancy, parenting, adoption or abortion.

There are definitely other methods to consider, including spermicide, sterilization, withdrawal, birth control sponges, cervical caps, diaphragms or abstinence, et cetera. Some of these may work for you and some may not. They all have varying degrees of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy, and the best way to decide on the method that works for you is to schedule an appointment with a medical professional.

This list is slightly gendered, but unfortunately, temporary or easily reversible male birth control is not yet available in this country (aside from using condoms, outercourse,
abstinence, withdrawal or obtaining a vasectomy). However, it’s in the works in a couple different places and is looking less and less like a pipe dream every day.

In the meantime I urge people of any gender who find that this article applies less directly to them to communicate with their partner(s) about safe sex and have conversations about the methods used by everyone involved, and what would happen should those methods fail.

Lastly, reproductive coercion (sabotaging birth control) is a very serious form of abuse. Forcing a partner to have sex without a condom is just plain wrong. So is tampering with any form of birth control (poking holes in condoms, pulling out IUDs or hiding pills) or pretty much anything else that will impact a person’s reproductive health without their consent.

For that matter, lying about one’s STD status is a crime that has been successfully prosecuted. Just don’t do it! Part of safe sex involves ensuring that all parties consent to everything that occurs, and reproductive abuse means going against this consent.