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Birth Control: The 21st century

The “on your body, off your mind” slogan that has hit the commercial airwaves advertises the new once-a-week birth control patch, Ortho Evra. However, the original idea of oral contraceptives, such as the pill, has become so ingrained into our daily culture that 80 percent of women born after 1945 have taken the pill at one time in their lives. Other methods of contraceptives recently developed, such as the patch, now give women more options to help ease menstrual symptoms.

The Food and Drug Administration approved six new contraceptives within the past year, the patch being one of them, which was approved in November. Similar to the pill, Ortho Evra offers the same hormones along with similar side effects, said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director for USF Student Health Services.

“It is the same type of development as the pill,” Terenzi said.

The patch measures 1.75 square inches, and the FDA says it is a more reliable method of contraception than the pill because 90 percent of patch users remember to replace it weekly, whereas 80 percent of birth control pill users remember to take their pill every day.

Terenzi added that the difference between the pill and the patch is that the patch only has to be changed once a week for three consecutive weeks. During the fourth week, the woman goes patch-free so she can menstruate.

“You can place it anywhere, except on the breast because of the tissue; it contains estrogen,” Terenzi said. “The hips, shoulders, lower back, etc. will work, though.”

Women who find it hard to remember to take their pill daily may be willing to try the new patch for more convenience, she said.

“There have been people interested in it, and the segment of the population who are on it are very happy with it,” she said. “We have been selling it for about a year now and so far, so good. But it is still not as big as Othro Tri-Cyclen.”

Another difference between the pill and the patch is the price. A student can purchase birth control at SHS for $14 for a single pack(one month’s supply) or $35 for a triple pack. In contrast, the patch is $20 a month.

However, the pill and the patch are not the only types of contraceptives that SHS offers, Terenzi said. The ring, shots and condoms are also available to students.

“Condoms are also available, especially in emergency cases and to prevent diseases,” she said. “But usually we discuss with the patient that if they are going to be in an active relationship, they need to be on something a bit more dependable.”

According to the FDA’s Web site, the ring, also known as NuvaRing, is a flexible device that is inserted into the vagina. It is placed in the same way a tampon is, and hormones are slowly released until it is removed three weeks later. During the fourth week the woman menstruates. For comfort, it’s shaped like a doughnut, and has a hole in the middle so it won’t block any fluids. Researchers say that if a couple experiences discomfort while having intercourse with the ring in, it can be removed. The woman can have intercourse safely without the ring for two hours and not risk pregnancy.

Lunelle and Depo-Provera are two types of birth control shots that are also available at SHS and local women’s clinics such as Planned Parenthood.

“Depo-Provera is our big-time seller,” said Wendi Grassi, director for public affairs for Planned Parenthood for southwest and central Florida.

Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1916 as America’s first birth control clinic.

Lunelle is a shot that lasts for less than a month, tapering off by the fourth week to allow the woman to menstruate. Lunelle contains progesterone and estrogen, also in the pill. The only catch is that the patient receiving it has to go to the clinic every month to get the shot, Grassi said.

However, Depo-Provera, another shot, only needs to be taken four times a year and is a progesterone-only shot, Terenzi said.

All these options for contraceptives allow the woman to choose the best one that is appropriate for her reproductive system. The pill and the patch, in some cases, can allow the woman in the fourth week of each month to skip the last week of pills/patch and move right into the next month’s pack, skipping her period.

“This is called continuous dosing,” Terenzi said. “This started because women had big pre-menstrual problems, cramping or headaches.”

Terenzi said there is no backflow or buildup of lining in the uterus, but there is the decrease of the hormone that just stays in the system.

“It is actually quite natural for women,” she said. “Women who just had babies don’t usually menstruate for a while.”

Women are thought to have a period every month, Terenzi said, but due to primitive culture and stress, some women only get their period three or four times a year.

“They are not giving up a lot,” she said. “Some months stress and lack of sleep can play a factor in a menstrual cycle.”

With new technology, researchers now have spurred a new wave for birth control. Ortho Evra and others help women not worry so much about taking a pill everyday.

“The pill was originally designed to use all over the world,” Terenzi said. “(The pill) was to have women keep track and remember to take their pill every day.”

Contact Stefanie Greenat