The patch is a hormonal form of birth control, much like the pill, the ring, and the shot. The main difference between the patch and these other forms of hormonal birth control is that the patch is worn applied to your skin. This is handy if you have trouble remembering to take pills daily. The downside? The patch will be visible if you get naked. The upside? There’s no shame in taking birth control, so who cares if anyone sees it?
But seriously, if you’re afraid of parents or others seeing your patch, either put it somewhere discreet or opt for a less visible form of birth control.
How does the patch work?
Like most other forms of hormonal birth control, the patch releases the hormones estrogen and progestin, which are absorbed into your body. These hormones prevent ovulation, meaning your ovaries don’t release any eggs. If there are no eggs chilling in your uterus, there’s nothing for sperm to fertilize. In addition, these hormones thicken your cervical mucous, making it more difficult for sperm to access your uterus in the first place. Lastly, the hormones alter the lining of your uterus, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant, even if that egg were able to be released and fertilized.
With a patch, these hormones are released on a three-week cycle. You wear the patches on your skin for three weeks and let it do it’s thing, and then you remove it and go patch-free for a week. During this patch-free week, your uterus will shed its lining and you’ll get your period. After a week, you slap on a new patch and repeat the pattern.
It’s a good idea to use a backup birth control method, like condoms, in the first week that you begin using the patch so that you give the hormones time to be absorbed into your bloodstream and to start doing their thing.
How do you wear the patch?
Even though you’re meant to wear a patch for three straight weeks, once a week you remove your old patch and apply a new patch. If you put your first patch on on a Monday, your monthly calendar would look like this:
1st Monday: apply new patch
2nd Monday: remove old patch, apply new patch
3rd Monday: remove old patch, apply new patch
4th Monday: remove old patch, do not apply a new patch
5th Monday: apply new patch
You can wear this patch anywhere on your skin, but since it needs to stay there for a week, most people prefer to wear it in a place where it’s less likely to be sweated or rubbed off. Popular places to wear the patch are on your belly, upper arm, back, or butt. Easy!
How much does the patch cost?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the patch costs between $30-$35 (USD). It’s about $30 in Canada, but it can be found for cheaper at certain sexual health clinics. The patch does require a prescription, so if you’re in the America or another country without free health care, you might have to pay for the visit to your doctor (this cost varies depending on your insurance coverage).
How effective is the patch?
Like all hormonal birth controls, the patch is very effective at preventing. Options for Sexual Health states that the patch is 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy when used perfectly, and 92% effective at preventing pregnancy when used typically.
- Very effective at preventing pregnancy.
- Can be worn for a week at a time, so you don’t have to remember to use it before each sexual encounter.
- Easily reversible.
- May lighten periods and some hormone-related symptoms like acne.
- Does not protect against STIs.
- Must be changed weekly—some people may struggle to remember to do this on time.
- Requires a prescription.
- Visible, depending where you where it.
- Like all hormonal birth controls, it may come with some side effects such as depression, mood swings, headaches, weight gain, bloating, etc. Talk to your doctor for a full list of potential side effects.
References: “Birth Control Patch,” AmericanPregnancy.org, American Pregnancy Association, 14 Mar. 2017, http://americanpregnancy.org/preventing-pregnancy/birth-control-patch/; “Birth Control Patch,” PlannedParenthood.org, Planned Parenthood, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-patch; “Hormonal Contraceptive Patch,” (Evra Patch),” PlannedParenthoodOttawa.ca, Planned Parenthood Ottawa, http://www.ppottawa.ca/contraception.aspx?id=7; “RELATIVE EFFECTIVENESS OF BIRTH CONTROL METHODS,” OPTIONSFORSEXUALHEALTH.ORG, OPTIONS FOR SEXUAL HEALTH, MAR. 2009, HTTPS://WWW.OPTIONSFORSEXUALHEALTH.ORG/BIRTH-CONTROL-PREGNANCY/BIRTH-CONTROL-OPTIONS/EFFECTIVENESS; “Using the Contraceptive Patch,” OptionsForSexualHealth.org, Options for Sexual Health, https://www.optionsforsexualhealth.org/birth-control-pregnancy/birth-control-options/hormonal-methods/combined-hormonal-contraceptives/using-patch.