From hormonal to non-hormonal, to daily pills or wearing a patch, to surgically inserting a device in your uterus to just using a fertility app, we’ll help you navigate your birth control options in Australia.
It’s difficult to find a woman who wouldn’t say, ‘I wish I was told about *fill in the blank* when it came to learning about sex education and sexual health’. It’s a vital aspect of women’s health care that is continuously neglected. There’s a lot of hush-hush and taboo around the topic, particularly when it comes to birth control options. Whether your parents never talked to you about it or your education institution did a mediocre job that only really covered how to put on a condom, it has become increasingly more important to have candid conversations about it.
How many of you were informed of all the options available and potential side effects or were you just told to use a condom and take the pill? Did you even know that it’s not just the pill that’s available? Contraception is more than just sex and preventing pregnancies. Being able to use birth control gives you the freedom to make choices about your body and provides you with the autonomy to decide your future. You can plan your life, have a career and start a family when you are ready.
Australia has the luxury and privilege of being able to provide multiple effective contraception options. In places like India, sterilisation is the main form of contraception to control the size of their families – this could be due to a lack of knowledge and limited availability of other options such as the pill. In other Asian regions like China, there is still significant shame attached to contraception pills despite reports indicating Chinese attitudes towards marriage are changing. In the public space, menstruation and birth control have often been unspeakable issues for women but there are an increasing number of people who are breaking down barriers and putting up lines of communication. We’re all about that!
The important thing to remember is that every person is different and your body will react uniquely. There’s no one size fits all. What works for your friend may not work for you and vice versa. Finding the right birth control can be hard, it’s not uncommon for women to give one option a try for 3 – 6 months and need to change methods. The first option may not work and that’s okay, sometimes it can take 3 or more methods to work out what’s best for you!We’re here to fill in the gaps of your sexual health education and enlighten you on what birth control options exist out there. These should be your starting points on your own personal research on birth control in Australia and from there, you should seek professional medical advice and discuss with your doctor what to use. It’s also worth noting that birth control will not protect you from STIs, so you must stay vigilant in using condoms.
Your Birth Control Options in Australia
There’s a lot of positives to using birth control. As well as preventing unwanted pregnancy, it has the potential to reduce acne, lessen the severity of period cramps and can even help with the pain management of endometriosis, a disease that affects 1 in 10 women in Australia. It can allow you to regulate or eliminate your period, and yes that’s right, there’s no harm in skipping it which we bet can be very convenient during peak study times.
But there are potential side effects, which is why finding the right birth control for you can take a while. Hormonal birth control has come under fire recently due to some women saying it has caused mood swings, excessive and irregular bleeding, loss in libido and even mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It’s important to examine your mind and body over the course of 3 or more months and see if there are any negative changes, and be sure to ask those who are close with you if you’ve been acting differently. If this is the case and it’s severely impacting your life, you need to speak with your doctor and change your birth control method.
This is one of the most effective methods. It’s a little t-shaped device that is surgically inserted into your uterus where it will prevent sperm from fertilising the egg. It can offer anywhere between 3 to 12 years of protection depending on which type you get and it can be removed earlier if you want to fall pregnant. You can choose between a hormonal IUD which releases progestin or a non-hormonal copper IUD.
This is a good option if you want something easy with minimal responsibility. You need a specialist to perform this procedure which your GP and student health services could refer you to. You can also contact groups like Family Planning for advice. You can purchase the IUD with a script from a pharmacy and then have it inserted by a private or public provider. Whilst it is cheaper to go with a public specialist, the wait is likely to be longer. With Medicare it’s quite affordable but without, you shouldn’t be paying more than $500 and you may even be able to get some money back with your OSHC Cover if you’re an international student.
Another super effective method is the implant, a tiny rod of progestin hormones that’s inserted in your upper arm and can last up to 3 years. Similar to the IUD, it’ll keep you protected without having to worry about birth control. It’s 4cm long and unnoticeable once inserted. There will be changes to your period and most women experience less bleeding or none at all but there have been some who experience intense and longer periods. With Medicare the Implant will cost about $30 and without, it costs around $215. Again, it’s worth looking into your Health Care Insurance to see if you can get some of this back.
An oral contraception that you are required to consume once a day daily at the same time to ensure its effectiveness. It releases hormones that prevent your ovaries from forming eggs and also thickens the cervical mucus which blocks the sperm from entering the egg. You can have combination pills which contain progestin and estrogen that are taken for 3 weeks then you can have (or skip) the placebo pills if you want your period. If you are experiencing side effects then you can also try the progestin only pills which releases a smaller amount of hormones and doesn’t allow you to have your period in a set week.
There’s a heavy reliance on you to remember to take the pill each day which can be inconvenient with some people’s lifestyles but you will have better control over when you have your period. It’s the most commonly used form of contraception since it’s easy to use and accessible with just a script from your doctor and the price can vary anywhere between $13 to $80+ for 4 months.
Other Hormonal Methods
Whilst those are the 3 most popular options, there are plenty of other methods you can try. There’s the Depo Provera, a contraceptive injection you can receive every 3 months which prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs. It’s highly effective but you have to be cool with needles, and there’s been some reports of irregular bleeding and weight gain as side effects. It may also take a while for your fertility to return once you stop using this birth control.
There’s also the Patch, it’s about 5cm across and you stick it on your skin once a week every week. Like the pill, you can control when you have your period, it may reduce cramping and clear up acne. It’s less effort as well but you still need to remember when to put it on and when to take it off. There may be side effects such as irregular bleeding, sore boobs and/or nausea but it should go away in 2 or 3 months.You could also try the NuvaRing, a bendable ring that’s inserted in your vagina. You leave it in for 3 weeks and take it out on the 4th for your period. It’s like putting in a tampon and gives you the opportunity to skip your period if you wish. You can leave it in during sex or take it out but you must put it back in within 3 hours and only do that once in 24 hours. It can cause the same temporary side effects as the Patch.
The most common barrier method is the male condom, a sheath (usually latex) that covers the penis and prevents sperm from entering the vagina. It’ll protect you against STIs but 2 in 10 women still get pregnant whilst using condoms so it should be used in combination with other birth control methods.
There’s also a female version of the condom which is the same except it’s inserted in the vagina. Another similar method to this is the Diaphragm or Cervical Cap, it’s a soft silicone cup put inside the vagina that covers the cervix. You will need to add spermicide (a liquid that stops sperm from moving) and you’ll have to leave it in for 6 hours after sex. You can have sex more than once but you’ll need to add more spermicide and the 6 hours will start again from zero. The Diaphragm can be left in for 24 hours and the Cervical Cap up to 48 hours, both can be put in hours before sex.
These options aren’t the most effective forms of birth control, can require commitment and a lot of self-discipline but it’s important to protect yourself against STIs.
Natural Methods of Contraception
You could also take the natural route and opt for cycle tracking and fertility apps. They work in a way that tracks your menstruation and determines when you are ovulating and most fertile to conceive. The purpose is to simply not have sex on the days that you are. Whilst it’s hormone free and doesn’t cost anything, it requires discipline and planning and is not as effective as other methods.
There’s also what’s known as withdrawal. It’s simply the act of ‘pulling out’ before ejaculating, however this puts a lot of reliance on your partner and isn’t as effective as other methods.
For the times when birth control failed like a broken condom, you forgot to take your birth control or got caught up in the moment and had unprotected sex. Firstly, there is no shame in taking the ‘morning after pill’, any woman is entitled to buy one over the counter from any pharmacy without judgement. In Australia, we have the luxury of providing emergency contraception in a very accessible way. It needs to be taken within 72 hours. It offers a peace of mind solution to an accidental error that many couples commit, there may be some side effects like nausea but it’s an extra back up to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Whilst you may feel weird talking about it especially if you never have before, remember this is a natural process that every woman has to find answers to on what works for them, if they have the opportunity to do so. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about when using birth control in Australia, so have a conversation with your doctor, female support services, societies at your university and friends!
We do not have any medical expertise and therefore highly recommend that you consult a doctor before using any contraceptive listed above to find out what works best for you.