"It's for the NuvaRing." "Is that a pill?" "No, it's a... ring." "A what?" This phone call with a male customer service representative from my insurance company goes down in history as one of the most awkward conversations I've ever had, and Facts's "Men Explain Female Contraceptives" video illustrates why: male-bodied people often just have no clue about this stuff.
While the premise of the video is a bit cissexist — it portrays birth control as something familiar to women and foreign to men, when really the crucial distinction is between female-bodied and male-bodied people — the confusion expressed by the men in the video is actually common to a lot of people regardless of gender identity or sex. In fact, I myself had no idea what an IUD was until I found out a friend of mine was using one a few weeks ago, and I'd never even heard of the NuvaRing, a bendable plastic circle that looks sort of like those jelly bracelets you wore as a kid and goes into your vagina every month, until my doctor recommended I use one as a simpler alternative to the pill.
So, for the sake of everyone's education, here are a few forms of birth control that may have previously puzzled you as much as they puzzle the guys in Facts's video. Watch the full video at the bottom of the page for reassurance that you're not alone in your puzzlement.
1. The Implanon
The what? Okay, I'm going to be honest — I had never heard of this thing before. But, apparently, it's one of the most effective forms of birth control, with less than 100 people who use it correctly getting pregnant every year. Like other hormonal forms of birth control, it works primarily be preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs. And one man's speculation that "this is one that you do like a few days before the... the sexing" is not quite right. It's actually surgically implanted under the skin of the upper arm and stays in until removed — long before and after any "sexing" occurs. After receiving the correct information, the same guy's reaction is, "I would rather get pregnant than have a little bar in my arm." Not sure where you got the "bar" part, but yes, welcome to the life of someone who can get pregnant.
2. The Diaphragm
I've actually used a diaphragm (not to be confused with the body part) before, and though it's not quite as effective as the pill, the NuvaRing, or (as we've just learned) the Implanon, with six out of 100 users who employ the device correctly getting pregnant each year, it does make a good supplement to another contraceptive if you share my paranoia regarding pregnancy. Not to mention, it's fairly cheap and lasts for two years. Soon before getting down to business, you put spermicide on the bendable cup and basically stick it to your cervix, and it blocks the entrance to the uterus while killing off sperm before they can make it there. Contrary to one dude's suggestion, you should not use it as "a condom for a very large, very short man." And since two men suggested using it this way, I should also probably clarify that it's not a bouncy toy.
3. The Coil/IUD
A lot of people swear by this. It's the most effective reversible form of birth control, and it lasts from three to 12 years, depending on what kind you get, though it can be removed if you want to get pregnant. The IUD is inserted into the uterus and prevents sperm from joining with an egg. (As one man observes, a lot of people don't realize getting an IUD is kind of a big deal; it's a short but painful procedure that can cause major cramping afterwards.) Some users keep getting their periods with it, while others don't, depending on the person and the type of IUD. It is not an "on the moment" device for "when you're about to have sex," as one guy speculates, but if inserted under five days after unprotected sex, the ParaGuard IUD can serve as emergency birth control, reducing the risk of pregnancy by 99.9 percent. It's also not "a fishing game that you play," and you don't "fish the sperm or potential baby out." Sigh.
4. The Transdermal Patch
Like all the other forms I've listed except the diaphragm, correct use of the birth control patch results in pregnancy for fewer than one percent of users per year. You put a new hormone-releasing patch on your stomach, upper arm, buttocks, or back every week, and like the pill or the NuvaRing, it prevents the eggs from leaving the ovaries. Plus, one guy has this idea: "You can get people to sign it." Um, sure? Why not? Whatever makes you happy. A few of the guys said it would be their top choice since it doesn't involve "putting stuff up there." However, if you need birth control, I would guess you're probably not opposed to "putting stuff up there" in the first place.
5. The Female Condom
"It looks like it'd be awkward to put on," says one man, paraphrasing what you're all probably thinking. However, Planned Parenthood's website tells me that inserting a female condom gets simple with practice, though I honestly can't comprehend their instructions, and they also say it could move around a bit during the deed. The female condom is easy to get at your local family planning clinic or drugstore and only costs $2-4, but it's not quite as effective as hormonal birth control, with five percent of those who use it correctly getting pregnant each year. Fun fact: the female condom can also be used for anal sex, so you don't actually have to be female to benefit from it.
"It's weird that we have all these different versions of female birth control and you never really talk about them or see them," one man in the video observes. Uh-huh. This information definitely would have been helpful when I was first selecting birth control. And it could also help people who don'thave to worry about getting pregnant appreciate the effort we go through and perhaps make a greater effort of their own (for example, by not complaining about condoms). Which leads to the next question the video addresses:
The guys were a bit concerned they wouldn't be able to remember to take it every day. Again, welcome to the life of someone who could get pregnant. One concluded, "We have the easy part of this." Yes — as of now. But the burden for birth control doesn't actually have to be so unevenly distributed. There has been a lot of promising research on potential ways of creating a male birth control pill, which will probably hit the market within a few years.
Furthermore, an effective male birth control injection is currently being developed. A gel is injected into the scrotum in a minimally invasive procedure, it lasts for 10 years, and clinical trials in India have found nearly perfect results and no side effects. It's a bit of a mystery why this method hasn't been tested in the U.S. or gone to market — until you consider that people who can't get pregnant themselves haven't really been taught it's their job to prevent pregnancy. Making male birth control a reality requires more funding, which requires reprioritization.
In the meantime, it can't hurt for any of us — whether we are female ourselves, have female partners, or simply know female people who could use our understanding — to get up to speed on the different forms of contraceptives out there. This video does not do the best job with that, but it'll at least provide an amusing introduction.