QJSex: Everything you need to know about the pill

Happy September everybody! Lots of things happen this month, whether you’re new to Queen’s or a returning student. For one, most of us are no longer living with our parents. Instead, we’re surrounded by our peers.

If you end up needing birth control this year, the first go-to option is usually the birth control pill – it’s a great starting point for a lot of people. If you’re thinking about any type of medication, it’s always best to be informed, so without further ado: the pill!

But what is it really?

The pill is one of many types of hormonal contraception — that is, it alters your hormones to protect against pregnancy, but provides no type of barrier protection against STIs. The pill, along with most other methods of hormonal birth control, requires a prescription from your local GP or walk-in clinic, and is generally covered at least partially under most types of insurance.

There are two types of pill, the combined pill (a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin) and the progestin-only pill. The combined pill is far more popular these days. The combined pill works by preventing ovulation, or more accurately raising your hormone levels so that your body does not release an egg when it’s supposed to, preventing fertilization. Many brands also thicken the cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to penetrate and alter the lining of the uterus to make implantation less likely.

Okay, how do I use it?

The pill comes in 21-day and 28-day packs, the difference being that the 28-day pack contains seven placebo (or sugar) pills, which can be useful as a reminder to take a pill every day. Most brands make both 21 and 28 day versions, so you can choose whichever you feel more comfortable with.

The pill must be taken at the same time every day (with about a one hour window on either side), and missing a pill can reduce the effectiveness by allowing an egg to be released. It doesn’t matter what time you take it, just that it’s consistent.

What if I miss one?

Although it will vary by brand, the typical instructions for a missed pill are to take it as soon as you remember, which may mean you take two in the same day. If you miss more than two pills you should discard the rest of your pack and begin a new pack seven days after the first missed pill.

It’s really important to check with your specific brand as soon as you start with it so that you know what to do if you miss a pill. If you’re looking for immediate assistance, the Stay on Schedule app at Sexuality and U is a helpful tool. If you do miss a pill, make sure to use a back up method of birth control (like condoms) for the next week to ensure you’re protected against pregnancy.

If you start missing multiple pills in a month (or multiple months in a row), you may want to consider one of the other hormonal options of birth control out there.

Anything important I need to know?

The side effects are no fun, but it’s still important to know what’s normal and what isn’t when you’re starting on any type of medication. With the combination pill, some of the most widely reported side effects include bloating, nausea, mood swings and headaches, and all of these symptoms should subside within about three months (or you should try switching to a different brand of pill).

If you happen to notice any severe headaches, intense pains in your legs, lumps in your breasts or chest pains, get back to your doctor to make sure nothing is wrong.

It’s also important to remember that a lot of medications (including some antibiotics and antidepressants) can counteract the effectiveness of hormonal birth control, so it’s important to talk to your doctor know before starting any new medications.

On the flip side, a lot of people find some awesome benefits to the pill. It can reduce period cramps, make your periods lighter, reduce hormonal acne and reduce iron deficiency anemia.

If you have any questions about the pill or any other method of hormonal birth control, stop by the Centre or give us a call at (613) 533-2959.

This blog is being run in conjunction with the Sexual Health Resource Centre, located in the JDUC, room 223. Follow them on Twitter @shrckingston.

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