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Secret birth control: Know your privacy settings

Sometimes, you just want (or need) to keep your birth control on the down low.

by Robin Wallace, MD

Modern birth control methods have done wonders to give women control of their lives. You might be like me—one of contraception's biggest fans, shouting its praises from the rooftops.

But sometimes, you just want to keep your birth control on the down low. You could be worried about your little brother finding your pills and flushing them one-by-one down the toilet. Or maybe your younger sister thinks your NuvaRing is a jelly bracelet. Sometimes privacy around use of birth control is no laughing matter. Controlling parents or partners who find out about your birth control may get angry. If you need to keep your birth control method private for any reason, check out these options.

Totally invisible

Depo-Provera. This injection of a hormone in your upper arm is one of the most private and effective methods available. Since it isn't something you have to wear on or in your body, no one, not even your partner, will ever know about it unless you decide to tell them. If you get the shot on time every 12 weeks, it’s over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It may be tricky to get to the clinic four times a year without someone close to you knowing, but it could be easier than hiding a pill you have to take every day. Many women who use the shot have changes in their periods, or no period at all, so talk this over with your doctor before starting this method.

Only you know it's there

Implanon. This is a rod about the size of a matchstick placed just under the skin of your upper arm. The rod slowly releases a small amount of hormone every day. It's also over 99% effective, and can last for up to three years. After the doctor inserts it, you'll have a bandage the size of a cell phone for a day or two, and you may have some bruising around the insertion site. While the bandage is definitely visible, once it's healed no one can see that the rod is there. Someone would have to know exactly where to look for it, and feel your arm in just the right place. Many women who use the implant also have changes in their periods, or no period at all.

Your partner may know, but no one else will

IUDs. An IUD is a quarter-sized device that a doctor places in your uterus. All the IUDs on the market are over 99% effective and can last for years. The IUD is a great option for women who want to keep their birth control a secret from everyone except their partner. Partners can sometimes feel the threads that help a health care provider remove the device when you're ready. The threads are at your cervix (the opening of the uterus) inside your vagina. (I.e. they don't hang out of your vagina like a tampon!)

NuvaRing. This bracelet-sized ring rests in your vagina for three weeks at a time and releases a small amount of hormone. For most women, the ring is 92% effective, but if you can use it perfectly, it will be 99% effective. If you're worried about a partner knowing about it or you don't like it there during sex, you can take it out and keep it in a safe, clean place, for up to three hours a day. Just don't forget to put it back in after sex!

If you're hiding birth control from your partner

Whether or not you use birth control is a private decision; it's totally cool to use it on the down low. However, feeling like you won't be safe unless you hide your birth control from your partner means that your partner is not cool. If you're in this situation, you're not alone. A 2011 study found that one in four young women reported that their partner had sabotaged their birth control or tried to get them pregnant when they didn't want to be. A partner should love and respect you, including your decision to use birth control. Check out these resources to learn more about how to be in the violence-free relationship that you deserve.

Robin Wallace, MD, is a Family Physician for the San Francisco Department of Public Health and is currently a clinical fellow in Family Planning at the University of California, San Francisco. As the middle of three daughters in her family, she has always been a passionate advocate for girl power and women's health, and appeared as Captain Contraception for a super heroes party in medical school.

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