There are around three million unplanned pregnancies every year in the U.S., and though it’s an issue often associated with teenagers, a proportion of women this happens to are older, and some are married.
“Anyone who is sexually active potentially can become pregnant,” Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a Columbia University Medical Center professor of clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, reminds us. She gives us a refresher course on our options for making sure a baby doesn’t catch us by surprise.
Birth control pills: You can still take it well past your teen years, Dr. Hutcherson says. “It’s a safe option for women of all ages. Initially, when it was first passed, it was recommended for women until age 30, then it was age 35, but now most women can safely use it right into their forties until they reach menopause.”
The morning-after-pill: “This should only be used in emergencies and not relied on as a form of contraception,” Dr. Hutcherson says. “It should be used as soon after intercourse as possible.”
Condoms: “Condoms work great if people use them consistently and right from the beginning of intercourse. The female condom is wonderful: I thought it was going to be popular, but it’s large and makes slurping noises during sex. The newer ones are less noisy, but it’s not caught on.
IUDs: They’re convenient and have undergone major improvements, Dr. Hutcherson says. “Women stopped using IUDs because of infections, which caused infertility. But modern ones are smaller and improved. Even young women who haven’t had children can use them. They work well and you just leave them in place until you want to have children.”
Age ain’t nothin but a number
If you’ve hit menopause — no periods for 12 consecutive months — you can stop using contraception, Dr. Hutcherson says. But not a moment before! “Some women become relaxed because they think they’re too old to become pregnant. The chances are small, it’s less for women over 35, and even less for women over 40, but it isn’t zero.”