Welcome to Advanced Sex Ed, Planned Parenthood’s newest Tumblr segment. Put on your smarty pants because we’re kicking things up a notch with some higher-level sexual learnin’.
Birth Control Effectiveness Rates: Perfect-Use vs. Typical-Use.
“Why are there sometimes two different effectiveness rates for birth control? Which is correct?”
One of the questions we get all the time is, “How effective is birth control?” Usually people are looking for one, definitive percentage that tells them exactly how well a certain method prevents pregnancy. But reality is more complicated than that.
Birth control effectiveness is measured two ways: how well it prevents pregnancy when used PERFECTLY every single time, and how well it prevents pregnancy after factoring in human error. These are called “perfect-use rates” and “typical-use rates.”
Let’s look at the birth control pill, for example:
Perfect-use rate: Less than 1 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year if they ALWAYS take the pill every day as directed.
Typical-use rate: About 9 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year if they don’t always take the pill each day as directed.
So the pill is extremely effective if used perfectly, but that old saying, “nobody’s perfect,” also applies to birth control. We sometimes make mistakes or life circumstances foil our perfect-use plans: things like forgetting a pill, losing a pill, not being able to get the next pack on time and barfing can all impact the pill’s effectiveness. Therefore, we have two different rates, and the “real-life” one applies to most of us.
But what’s up with birth control that has only one, very impressive effectiveness rate? (Lookin’ at you, IUDs and implants!) These LARCs — long-acting reversible contraceptives — are virtually impossible to screw up, so they get a perfect-use rate by default: more than 99%, the best there is. More and more people are using LARCs these days because they’re super convenient AND super effective — even the folks on our Planned Parenthood Tumblr Team are huge fans.
Life happens, so typical-use rates are the most true to life. The most common reason birth control fails is because we mess it up. So whatever method you choose, you’ve got to use it as perfectly as possible or it just won’t work as well as it should. Be honest with yourself: if your lifestyle just doesn’t jive with having to think about birth control on a regular basis, consider getting yourself a LARC.
And remember: no method of birth control is 100% effective, even if used perfectly. But you can increase your pregnancy-preventing superpowers by using both birth control and condoms. There’s another really good reason to do this: condoms are the only method of contraception that also protects you from STDs.
-Kendall at Planned Parenthood
Unfortunately, I’m not a doctor and cannot provide you with any sort of real medical opinion. My advice is, as always, if something feels really off trust your instincts and seek medical care. Generally, a bit of cramping, tenseness, and light-headedness are normal and can be caused by stress, normal menstruation symptoms, or any number of common things. However, if what you are experiencing goes beyond what is the norm for your own body or continues for more than a few days, I’d recommend seeking help.
If you have no money or insurance, you may be able to find care through a free clinic or in this case through your local Planned Parenthood affiliate where they often allow you to pay on a sliding scale based on what you can afford. Try running a quick google search for Planned Parenthood locations in your area, or for “free clinics.”
Forty years ago today Roe v. Wade gave all Americans the right to safe and legal abortions. This groundbreaking ruling forever changed the landscape of reproductive rights in the United States. Make no mistake, Roe did much more than simply provide access to abortion. It gave millions of people a chance. It saved the lives of countless people who would have otherwise had to seek back alley procedures. It gave opportunity to those not ready or able to take on the responsibility that comes with raising a child. It did this and so much more.
Today we are still fighting to maintain our right to reproductive choice. Legislation is continually being put forth by politicians trying to restrict abortion and make the procedure inaccessible to those who need it. In the last couple of years there have been unparalleled attacks on choice, with 2011 seeing a record 80 new abortion restrictions. This is unacceptable. It is clear that our fight is not over. There is work left to be done.
If the last few elections have showed us anything, it is that young people can and will make their voices heard. There is strength in our numbers and in our passion, and it is time for us to step up once again in support of choice. It is important to do what we can to make sure that we never go back. No step is too small: Write a letter to the editor or to your elected officials, blog about reproductive justice, get involved in local groups that protect choice. Go out and vote, or even better, campaign for the officials that can make the changes we need. Sign petitions, pass them on, tell everyone you know what they can do to help. It is time for us to do more, and together we can ensure that we never return to what life was like pre-Roe.
This is our call to action.