Sexual health 101: Everything you need to know about the contraceptive implant

Stressing out over the gazillion conflicting stories about the implant on the internet? No dramas, help is at hand.

Surgical implant

Ten years ago, the thought of surgically implanting a piece of plastic in your upper arm as a form of birth control had many women sceptical at best and running screaming at worst.

But it's rapidly growing in popularity. One of the major draw cards is the fact that, once inserted, the onus is completely off you — unlike the pill, where you have to remember to take it each day. It also doesn't produce estrogen — a hormone that can have a negative effect on some women.

But is it the right option for you? What was suggested by your doctor in a quick, seven minute once-over doesn't always determine whether or not it is right for you, but either way you should know your options.

Here, we explore the ever-controversial contraceptive implant.

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^ Not a good option, seriously.

What is the contraceptive implant?

It's a white plastic rod inserted under the skin of the inner, upper arm. It's prevents pregnancy by constantly releasing small amounts of progestogen into the body.

Wait, what’s progestogen?

It's a hormone, like estrogen, and it makes the mucus at the opening of the uterus thicker so sperm can't get through. It also changes the lining of the uterus so a fertilised egg can't take hold as well as affecting the ability of the sperm and egg to move through the uterus and fallopian tubes, which reduces the chance of an egg being fertilised - handy.

How do I get it inserted?

Check which doctors at your local GP are trained to perform the (minor) surgery and in a swift move, they'll insert the implant under the skin in your inner, upper arm after numbing it with local anaesthetic.

How long does the implant last?

It's effective as a contraceptive for three years, so if you like it, you should get it replaced at that time – they'll give you a handy card with the date you had it inserted at the doctor. Good luck not misplacing it over three years…

We chatted to Dr. Aifric Boylan, CEO of Qoctor, about the good and the bad of the contraceptive implant.

"The implant definitely has its positives. For one, once it's inserted, there's no onus on the women. By removing human error, it has one of the highest, if not the highest, efficacy rates of all birth control," she explained.

"It doesn't interfere with intercourse and with Medicare, it can be more cost effective than other birth control options.

"Depending on what you're after, the changes in bleeding frequency can be a pro or a con. Unlike the combined pill, women don't have cycle control when it comes to bleeding, and some women will have no vaginal bleeding at all or very light bleeding.

"However, some women experience prolonged and/or frequent light or heavy bleeding.

"In terms of fertility, after an implant is removed, most women will return to their previous menstrual cycle within a month and can conceive quite quickly," she added.

"Having said that, it's probably a better option for women who don't plan on falling pregnant for a number of years as opposed to the combined pill where you can start and stop without interference from others.

"In terms of cons, there is very minor surgery involved which could results in bruising or pain at the site of insertion for one to two weeks.

"Side effects may include headaches, mood changes, acne or breast tenderness. While typically a doctor wouldn't prescribe an implant for acne, every woman is different and in some instances, it may combat acne."

As we've said (ad nauseam), each woman has a different experience when it comes to contraception so we spoke to women who've had the implant firsthand.

Most importantly, it doesn't protect in any way against STIs so, you know, wear a condom.

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