how does birth control work

How the Birth Control Pill Works

The invention of the birth control pill was a revolutionary event that completely changed the sex lives of cis-gendered women around the world. It finally allowed them to take control over their reproductive system, and be in charge of their sexuality a little bit more. 

However, while it’s a super popular contraceptive method that many cis-gendered women choose to use, how well do we know how exactly the birth control pill works? That’s what we’re about to find out!

Your guide to how birth control pill works

What is the birth control pill?

A birth control pill is an oral contraceptive pill designed to prevent pregnancy. But that’s not the only use for the birth control pill, as some women take it for other purposes, for example: to treat hormonal acne

Essentially, a birth control pill is a hormonal medicine that’s supposed to be taken daily that alters female hormones and prevents ovulation from happening. 

The birth control pill is the most common form of contraception in the United States. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) 41% of women aged 15-24, and 22% of women aged 25-34 take the birth control pill. 

Birth control pill is said to be the most effective contraceptive method when taken correctly, with a failure rate of less than 1%.

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What are the different birth control pill types?

Currently, there are two types of oral contraceptive pills available: 

  • Combined pill: the combined pill has both hormones, estrogen and progesterone that prevent ovulation.
  • Progesterone-only pill: this pill contains only the synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, called progestin. This pill is often called a “minipill.”

The combined pill is the most commonly prescribed contraceptive pill in the United States.

How do birth control pills prevent pregnancy?

So, the way the combined pill and progesterone-only pill work is a little bit different. First, let’s talk about the progesterone-only pill or minipill. 

Progesterone-only pill thickens the mucus in the cervix, which makes it much harder for the sperm to reach the egg. It also suppresses ovulation (though not as effectively as the combined pill). Lastly, progesterone-only pill alters the endometrium (lining of the uterus, where the egg implants when it’s fertilized) thickness. 

When the lining of the uterus is thinner (altered by the minipill), it’s much harder for the egg to implant itself, which prevents the pregnancy from developing. 

The combined pill mostly works by preventing ovulation from happening. That means that the ovaries won’t release a ready-to-be-fertilized egg each month, which means the pregnancy can’t happen. Also, just like the progesterone-only pill, the combined pill thickens the cervical mucus which makes it harder for the sperm to move. 

Is it safe to take the pill? 

Yes, generally it is safe to take the pill as a contraceptive method. Before you do, it’s best to consult with your doctor to ensure that you are using the right pill and that there are no health conditions you have that might be affected by the pill. 

How To take the birth control pills

For birth control pills to be effective, it’s important to take them correctly. Depending on which type of contraceptive pill you choose, there will be different rules.

Combined pill

Most combination pills come in either a 28-day pack or a 21-day pack. 

If you use 28-day pack pills, then you should take one pill every day around the same time for 28 consecutive days and start the new pack on the 29th day without a break. 

If you use 21-day pack pills, then take one pill every day around the same time for 21 consecutive days, and then don’t take any pills for seven days. Remember to start the new pack on the 29th day to be protected. 

Progestin-only pills

For progestin-only pills, they come in a 28-day pack. You have to take one pill per day, at the same time. When you finish the pack, on the 29th day start a new one without breaks. 

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Advantages of birth control pills

Now, let’s discuss the reasons why taking birth control pills is a good option. 

Help prevent unwanted pregnancy 

The most obvious reason is that birth control pills help prevent unwanted pregnancies. If you are not ready to have children yet, or don’t want to have children at all, but are sexually active, then using the pill can help avoid getting pregnant and it helps to alleviate any anxieties you might have around accidentally getting pregnant. 

More effective than condoms 

As we previously discussed, the pill is the most effective form of contraception when taken correctly. The research shows that if you take the pill regularly, as per instructions, your chances of getting pregnant are 1 in 100 in the first year of using birth control. 

But even if you don’t take the pill correctly all of the time, it’s still an effective contraceptive method. The chances of unwanted pregnancy when the pill is not taken perfectly are 9 in 100.

Doesn’t disturb sex 

One of the reasons why many people don’t like using the barrier method during sex is because it disturbs the moment. You have to stop mid-way what you’re doing and put on a condom, which can be a turn-off for some people. 

You also have to always remember to have condoms on hand and replenish your stash so that you don’t accidentally run out of them. That is also one of the obstacles that some people don’t like.

The pill removes those headaches and allows you to have a smoother sex experience, without having to stop and take a pause, or having to remember to buy condoms. 

Plus, many people believe that sex without the barrier feels much more pleasurable, and the pill allows you to enjoy all the sensations to the fullest. 

Alleviates certain health conditions

Hormonal pills might also have a positive effect on your health. As we already mentioned, the pill might help treat cystic acne, which can be extremely painful and uncomfortable for some women. 

It might also help alleviate menstrual pains and cramps, help regulate the menstrual cycle, and manage endometriosis-related pain, and even menstrual-related migraines in women. 

Disadvantages of birth control pills

While there are many reasons why the pill is an amazing contraceptive choice, it might not be for everyone for a few reasons:

They don’t prevent STIs

Sadly, while the pill protects you from unwanted pregnancy, it doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and many more. 

In a long-term relationship with one partner that might not be a concern, but if you enjoy casual sex or have multiple sexual partners, then you should consider using a barrier method (like an external condom) to prevent contracting STIs. 

You always have to remember to take the pill

You only have to take the pill once, but you still have to remember to do it daily for it to be effective. While for the majority of people that’s not an issue, it might be for some people who struggle with a hectic lifestyle or have other issues that might prevent them from remembering to take the pill on a schedule. 

For those people, an option like an IUD or an implant might be a better choice because you don’t have to think about them on a daily basis. 

They might have side effects

While the pill is effective and safe to use for the majority of people, some might experience side effects while taking the pill. There are many different side effects one can experience, and there are also some risks involved like developing blood clots that can lead to strokes, deep vein thrombosis, and heart attacks. However, these are very rare. 

What are the side effects of the pill? 

Okay, so what are the side effects of the pill? Generally, this is what women report the most often:

  • Bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Breast tenderness
  • Increased vaginal discharge 
  • Decreased libido

If you experience any side effects while on the pill, talk to your doctor. Some conditions might be managed and the doctor might switch your pill to a different one that might work better for you. The progesterone-only pill is known to have fewer side effects, but it can cause more menstrual changes.