By Belene Demeke
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 10 of VARSITY News.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to give a brief description of what family planning is and the various contraceptive options available. This article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
According to the WHO, family planning allows individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and plan the spacing and timing of their births. This is achieved through the use of contraceptive methods. Deciding on which contraceptive method is right for you can be a difficult and overwhelming decision. One has to consider a wide range of factors, this includes one’s medical history, future pregnancy plans, side effects, costs etc.
The various contraceptive options include:
- Male/Female Sterilisation
- Long acting reversible contraceptives
These are methods that act over a long period of time but are reversible. The duration of use can range from 3 months to 12yrs. These type of contraceptives include:
a. Intrauterine Devices (Placed within the uterus):
- Levonorgestrel IUD
- Copper IUD
b. Subdermal Implants:
- Single rod containing a hormone (progesterone) inserted under the skin of the upper arm.
c. Progesterone only injectables:
- Can either be a 2 or 3 monthly injection.
3. Combined oral contraceptives (COC pills)
All the above methods should always be used in conjunction with a condom as they do not offer any protection against STIs and HIV.
Besides preventing unplanned pregnancies, some contraceptives have other medical benefits including:
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Decreasing dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
- Controlling hormonal acne
- Helping with the management of endometriosis
- Long term use has shown to decrease the risk of uterine cancer.
It’s impossible to provide all the necessary information on each contraceptive option here, however, the following websites are an excellent source of information. They contain information on how the different methods work, their effectiveness and side effects. In addition to that, both websites have a quiz aimed at helping you find a contraceptive option that may work for you:
- https://www.itsaplan.ca (Developed by the Society of Obstetricians and Genealogists of Canada).
- https://www.contraceptionchoices.org (Developed by the NHS and University College London).
Student Wellness does offer family planning to UCT students. They provide COC pills, subdermal implants and the progesterone only injectables. One can book a consultation with a clinical nurse practitioner for appropriate counselling as well as the insertion/dispensing of the chosen contraceptive. This whole process is at no cost to the student. The clinical nurse practitioner will arrange the necessary follow up consultation.
This brief overview of contraceptives would not be complete if emergency contraception (EC) was not discussed. Emergency contraceptives are intended for use after intercourse where no contraception was used (i.e. unprotected intercourse) or where a method was used incorrectly (i.e. condom slipped or broke, pills or injections were missed).
EC works by disrupting the timing of ovulation or preventing fertilization of an ovulated egg; it is not an abortifacient (i.e. abortion-inducing drug). ECs are not meant to be used as regular contraceptive methods. There are two EC options:
- Copper IUD:
It is the most effective form of EC. The copper IUD can be inserted within five days of intercourse and remain effective. Although, one will need to see a health professional for consultation and insertion.
- Levonorgestrel (LNG) pill:
LNG pill is easily accessed at most pharmacies. One does not need a prescription. However, one will need to answer a questionnaire. The questionnaire is used to screen that there are no possible contraindications to the use of the LNG pill. It’s effective if used within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.