We asked a doctor about using female condoms (and other contraceptive methods)

Illustration by TwylaMae

Perfect match.

Contraception is no longer limited to just the pill or condoms. Yet despite the alternatives, only around one-third of Australian women research their choices.

So for those in search of their perfect contraceptive partner, we chatted to Sexual & Reproductive Health Specialist at Marie Stopes Australia, Dr Catriona Melville, to get the low down on all the options.

The Pill
A super popular choice, the combined oral contraceptive pill contains oestrogen and progestogen, primarily working to inhibit ovulation. Dr Melville suggests starting with a pill containing 30mcg of oestrogen in a fixed daily dose. “It’s important to give any new method at least three to six months to see how you feel as short-term side effects such as nausea and breast tenderness often settle within this timescale.”
Pros: Accessible, assists on managing periods
Cons: Relies on perfect use, possible side effects, script required

Hormonal IUD
The Hormonal IUD releases small quantities of progestogen directly into your reproductive system. The contraceptive – which thickens your cervical mucous so sperm can’t move – is also used to treat heavy periods. “It usually makes your periods very light and short, or they stop temporarily, while you are using the method.
This is not harmful and doesn’t affect your fertility,” explains Dr Melville. Plus, this IUD may be associated with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer.

Pros: Low maintenance, reversible, long-lasting, cost-effective
Cons: Doctor must insert/remove, possible side effects, small risk of perforation

Copper IUD
“It’s the most reliable hormone-free method of reversible contraception and is ideal for women
who can’t have (or don’t want to use) hormones,” explains Dr Melville. Unlike the Hormonal IUD, this one releases low levels of copper ions to stop sperm moving properly and fertilised eggs from implanting in the uterine wall. On the downside, this method can increase period cramps or bleeding. If your period’s already difficult, consult a doctor before committing.

Pros: Low maintenance, reversible, long-lasting, cost-effective, non-hormonal
Cons: Doctor must insert/remove, possible side effects, small risk of perforation

Vaginal Ring
If you’re on the fence between The Pill or an IUD/ Implant, the Vaginal Ring might be for you. It’s a thin band that slowly releases the same combined hormonal composition as The Pill. You’ll insert the ring into your vagina by hand, swapping it every three weeks. “The Ring’s helpful if you have a medical condition which causes issues with gut absorption, as the hormones are absorbed through the vaginal wall,” says Dr Melville.“It has a similar failure rate to the pill.”
Pros: Low maintenance, reversible, assists in managing periods.
Cons:  Possible side effects, script required.

Fertility Awareness Methods
Monitoring your fertility isn’t a reliable way of preventing pregnancy. “The effectiveness is very low and you need to be highly motivated and organised to use [successfully]. At least 25 pregnancies will occur in 100 women in one year using these methods,” says Dr Melville. These approaches calculate your fertile period (the days you’re at risk of pregnancy) so to use effectively, only have unprotected sex outside of those days. This may mean abstaining for several weeks a month or using other contraception.
Pros: Affordable, non-hormonal
Cons: User dependent, highly variable, higher unplanned pregnancy rate

Female Condom
The opposite to its male counterpart, the female condom wraps the inside of the vaginal canal to create a barrier and can be a bit tricky to get the hang of. You may want to use lube or a sex toy to help get it in and will need to watch out for slippage between the outside of the sheath and vagina. When used effectively, however, it’s 95 per cent effective, and can also be combined with other methods to help prevent STIs.
Pros: Affordable, non-hormonal
Cons: Susceptible to imperfect use and breakage, interrupts sex, difficult to use


This feature was originally published in Fashion Journal 184. To read the issue, click here.

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