Let’s face it — our high school sexual education curriculum didn’t prepare us for the real world. Leaving the safety bubble of your family home to join a busy post-secondary culture can be intimidating, especially when you haven’t been prepared for the sexual freedom you may gain. While exploring your newfound sexual freedom, it is important to stay safe. So to kick off the notorious Let’s Talk About Sex column this year, let’s talk about contraception!

Growing up in a Catholic family and education system, safe sex to me meant no sex at all. Abstinence was taught to be the only form of safe sex; all other forms of contraception were sinful. In retrospect, I can’t believe how much sex scared me. 

Sure, not having sex lowers your risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy, but the same can be said for any kind of activity: never stepping foot in a pool would absolutely lower your risks of drowning.

Contraceptive one: the common condom

A common form of contraceptives is condoms, which are one of the most effective forms of preventing STIsand pregnancy. Condoms are also an accessible, relatively low-cost contraception option. 

However, condoms are a little more complicated than the average user assumes. A downfall to condoms lies in the use of the condom being a correlative factor to its effectiveness. For it to be as effective as advertised, condom users must understand how to check the expiry date and know how to put on and effectively remove the condom. 

Additionally, condoms have a fatal flaw: they can finish early! When they interact with oils, like those in oil-based lubes, they can deteriorate. Water and silicon-based lubes are the perfect match for condoms — a good pick for those desperately in the know is Durex’s “Play More,” a water-based lube. You can also buy condoms that are prelubed. 

However, latex may not be the perfect partner for you. In fact, many people are allergic to latex. Don’t lose hope, though, there are also lambskin condoms made from a lamb’s large intestine. Although they’re effective in preventing pregnancy, they do little for STIs. They’re also good for some historically accurate Outlander cosplay.

A less popular, but still effective, contraceptive similar to a typical condom is the internal condom. Inserted into the vaginal canal and held in place with a cervical ring, an internal condom prevents semen from entering the cervix. This form of contraceptive additionally prevents STIs, although not as effectively as external condoms. Because of the way you insert it, it is possible that in the heat of the moment, your partner may slip out of the internal condom and into the vaginal canal. If internal condoms are your preferred choice, make sure to check in with your partner while doing the deed. 

Contraceptive two: birth control pill 

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about birth control. For most of my teens and early adult years, I was under the impression that there was only one form of birth control pill and that it is only used for pregnancy prevention. 

The most common type of birth control, the one you have probably heard about, is the combined pill. The pill is made of artificial hormones that stop sperm from reaching the ovum in the uterus. There are many versions of combined pills, all of which have different effects on the body. While they all work toward preventing pregnancy, some can cause nausea, while others can lead to a permanent headache. When it comes to birth control, it’s the luck of the draw. 

Contraceptive three: implants

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are a long-term form of birth control. IUDs are inserted through the cervix and into the uterus. Only accessible to those assigned female at birth, an IUD is essentially a copper cross and, like an anchor, copper makes sperm sink! The copper prevents the sperm from finding their way to the egg by altering the way they swim. An advantage of an IUD is that it is a low-maintenance option. The device is inserted into the uterus and can be effective for up to 10 years depending on the brand. 

A contraceptive implant is similar to an IUD in its long-term effects, yet unlike the IUD, you typically get it implanted on the inside of your arm. A downside of both of these options, and the one that turns many away from these methods, is the pain of insertion. Doctors insert both the implant and intrauterine devices without administering any localized anesthesia, making your visit quite unpleasant. 

Contraceptive four: emergency contraception

I can list forms of contraceptives all day, but at the end of the day, passion is powerful — powerful enough to make you forget everything in this article! So, keep emergency contraceptives in mind. Emergency contraceptive pills, sometimes known as ‘the morning-after pill’ are also available. They are to be used as the name suggests — in an emergency. After having unprotected sex, or if you are worried about your other form of contraceptive failing, morning-after pills release hormones to prevent fertilization. Although the morning-after pill can be taken up to five days post sex, the earlier you take it, the more effective it is. 

But we understand: sometimes a morning-after pill isn’t quite right for your situation. A safe, medical procedure to end a pregnancy, abortion is an option, and having access to one is a form of health care. If you find yourself pregnant and need options, find your nearest Planned Parenthood. Along with offering a lending ear and support, Planned Parenthood will help you find a clinic that offers abortions in your area.

With all of the available contraceptives on the market, it’s best to sit down with your partner to decide what works best for the both of you. After all, these types of conversations are part of informed consent, but that’s a topic for next time. It’s also normal to want to try different options, so don’t fret if one method doesn’t fit. Between condoms, the pill, IUDs, the implant, and emergency contraception, there are many ways to avoid STIs and pregnancy — it’s best to be prepared!