Unless you have the skin of, I don't know, an actual angel, your bathroom shelf probably looks nothing like it did when you were 12 years old, and still #blessed with poreless, baby skin. For each new developing blackhead, pimple, or winkle, another serum gets added to your skincare routine, and such is the way modern women deal with the trials and tribulations of skin that's endlessly changing. But did you know you should be doing basically the same thing with your birth control?
The changes on your face skin may be more evident, but the cocktail of hormones inside your body doesn't stay the same forever. And as that happens—whether on its own or through something like a pregnancy—the method of contraception that works best for you will change, too.
People try about three different types of birth control throughout their lives, and about a third of people will try five or more methods, says Robin Watkins, a women’s-health nurse practitioner and director of health care at Power to Decide. One of the best things about there being so many options available is that, in theory, you never, ever have to be stuck with one you hate.
As always, you should talk with your doctor before making up your mind about a switch (and a good doc will hear you out and be happy to counsel you!). Whether you're just a teensy bit annoyed with your current method or are dying for a change, here are five signs it might be time to switch it up.
1. You have an irritating side effect.
With hormonal birth control especially, Watkins says you should give your body a lil while to get used to the method. The rule of thumb is a few periods—so a few pill packs, a couple months with NuvaRing, a couple rounds of the shot, or a few cycles with your IUD. "But even within those first few cycles, if you're not happy with the method and want to stop using it, talk to your provider," Watkins explains.
That doesn't mean stop using your method and then see a doctor (a break in birth control puts you at risk for unintended pregnancy, no matter how many myths you've heard about how long the hormones stay in your bod). When you do go in for your appointment, be explicit about what side effects you're experiencing, when you feel them, and why they're a problem for you. The solution could be as simple as getting a new pill with a slightly different mix of hormones.
2. You got a new job.
Maybe taking a pill at the same time every evening was totally fine and manageable when you worked a reliable 9-to-5, but if you get a new job with wonky hours and keep missing your pill time, you may be better off switching to a new method, Watkins says. Your lifestyle is a major factor in which method works best for you! Be honest with your doctor (and yourself) if a method that requires maintenance isn't super doable for you—other options, like the IUD or implant, might just make your whole life easier.
3. Your relationship status changed.
If you're going from a sexually monogamous relationship to sleeping with other people, you'll definitely need to use a method that protects against STIs, like external or internal condoms. Or if you're boning just one other person (who's also only boning you), you may be ready to ditch the condoms (after you both have STI tests, obv) and get a reliable method you don't have to think about.
4. Your period is acting weird.
Maybe your pill causes annoying mid-cycle spotting, or your copper IUD has made your period wayyy too heavy? No matter what the complaint, your period is directly affected by your birth control method and if you wanna see a change in your bleeding, you can make a change in your contraception, Watkins says.
You could also just shut the whole thing down and stop having your period by switching to a method like the Mirena IUD, if that's what sounds good to you.
5. You moved to a new city.
An unfortunate reality is that it's just easier to access certain types of birth control in some places than it is in others. If you live in a big city, you likely have alllll the options are your disposal, you lucky duck. But if you live somewhere without easy access to a pharmacy (to pick up pills) or doctor's office (for regular injections of the shot), a "set it and forget it" method, like the IUD, may be a better option.
The bottom line:
Any time you go through a major life change (job change, relationship change, or a big move), you should rethink your birth control: is this the best method for you still? And, as Watkins says, "it's super common for people to switch methods not just during their lives, but even within a year." There's no rule about how often you can or can't switch, and if your gyno says otherwise, consider calling around to make an appointment elsewhere. Ultimately, your birth control should do exactly what you want it to do and nothing more. If your method isn't doing that for you, there's no harm in exploring your (many) options.