Backcountry Birth Control: Unconventional Options

Whether you’re a backcountry guide doing multi-week canoe trips, running a hunting outfit, or a proud weekend warrior, your circumstances do not change the fact you have or have had, a menstrual cycle.

And yet, during additional research for this article, all I found was one piece that was remotely useful to women in the outdoors, and it only focused on one type of contraceptive.

Why contraception options for the women who enjoy the backwoods isn’t a more popular topic, I’ll never understand it. After all, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary and there are more uses for birth control than the on-the-nose-name for it. It can also help: 

  • Regulate your cycle (which has many benefits of its own)
  • Even-out hormones and emotions
  • Clear acne prone skin
  • Reduce pain during your periods
  • It can even reduce your risk of uterine cancer or ovarian cysts
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Don’t let worrying about your period or pregnancy be the thing that determines your time spent outdoors.

To find the right contraceptive for you, think about what your time in the outdoors looks like: Do you spend extended periods of time outside? A few weeks or more without civilization? Regular weekend trips? Or moderate exposure to the outdoors with small trips when you’re not too busy?

The birth control options I’ll list below will work for all of the above, but some are easier than others and require a lot less work or preparation before you hit the woods.

Here are a few unconventional contraceptives, no I did not include the pill because everything about it spells backcountry nightmare. Aside from general information, I have to add that each of these contraceptives affects women differently across the board. Just because a high percentage may experience no periods on IUD’s or clearer skin on Nuvaring does not mean this will be the case for you.

As long as you’re aware the results differ, you can begin your journey to find the contraceptive that works for you, and it may take a while, and that’s okay! Taking steps now will help you enjoy the outdoors more as your bright future continues.

Nuvaring: 

We at BushWoman believe there’s no such thing as “too much information,” so in the spirit of TMI, this is my current form of birth control. I absolutely adore Nuvaring personally, it works for my schedule and my personality. In other words–– I cannot be trusted to take birth control pills daily, so the Nuvaring is my best pal. 

The Nuvaring delivers a small percentage of estrogen, I believe it’s still less than the pill, so I find my moods aren’t drastic, and things just become more, consistent. My skin gets a bit clearer on the Nuvaring, but my favourite feature is its flexibility. If I have an important event or extended trip coming up, I can skip a period by inserting a new ring as soon as the old one has “timed out.”

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My contraceptive plan helps me survive work seasons in fish camps with a whole lot of testosterone.
In backcountry sense, this is great birth control because you don’t have to worry about it for weeks on end and you have the option to bypass periods. If you’ll be gone for say 6-8 weeks or more, you can bring this lightweight ring with you no problem. Depending on who you’re tripping with, you can even keep it in cool storage with your food as every ring should be kept at room temperature and any that are not being used within the next four months should be stored in the fridge. Call me paranoid: Mine stay in the fridge all the time. 

Nuvaring without a health plan is expensive. Expensive enough I’ve had past partners cringe at the price and apologize that they couldn’t help with male contraceptives. (Yet)

Depending on your age and location, there may be outlets for you to take advantage of, Health Clinics, Planned Parenthood, Walk-in Clinics, and some pharmacies have benefits you may qualify for. It’s certainly worth looking into.

Aside from financially, Nuvaring doesn’t have a lot of cons for me personally, however, I’ve always been incredibly curious about the next contraceptive option, an IUD.

IUD (Intrauterine Device):

Alright, so studies on IUD’s are all over the place. One source I found said 1 in 5 women on IUD’s will not get a period at all, another said 50% of women with IUD’s stop getting their periods. Not getting a period is pretty well a dream scenario, however, don’t depend on that outcome. And these statistics change depending on what type of IUD you get as well.

There are hormonal IUD’s and copper IUD’s. I’ve interviewed multiple women with both IUD’s, and on average only 1 out of ten found a negative. For a relatively invasive form of birth control, I found that number to be minimal.

I didn’t intend on making this article a Planned Parenthood advertisement, but even I learnt something new about IUD’s in the above video. The copper IUD can be inserted as an emergency contraceptive to stop pregnancy 5 days after unprotected sex.

IUD’s can be inserted when you go in for your next pap, or you can do some research and book an appointment specifically to place one. Some obvious pros; chance of no periods, (can you say hallelujah outdoors-women?) little to no maintenance, nothing to pack on backcountry trips, and certainly nothing you have to remember, or in my case, forget.

Some generalized cons:

  • Some said it hurt a bit while being placed
  • It can cause cramping a couple days after it’s been inserted–– this was a complaint from pretty well 10 out of 10 women, so expect cramping as a high possibility
  • There are risks of expulsion or the IUD creeping into places it shouldn’t, for more on that I recommend chatting to a doctor. None of the ladies I spoke with experienced this, but that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
  • Higher risk of bacterial vaginosis which can make your lady bits smell a bit funky, and it can be treated with antibiotics. This is not a disease, but an infection.

Birth Control Shot (Depo Provera):

I have not spoken to anyone with the shot. Try as I may, I could not conduct any first-hand interviews with women who’ve used or use the shot. (That being said, if you have please reach out: info@bushwoman.ca)

Like with all birth controls it’s important to speak with your doctor and see if it’s an option for you. Some obvious pros of the shot: Every three months you receive the shot, so in other words, only four times a year do you have to think “oh, I’m due for birth control.”

 

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Conquering our stress is a major reason to be outdoors, minimize it even more with a birth control/period plan.

 

That’s a mighty big bonus in my mind. Because this is a hormonal method of birth control, there are risks of side effects, but the benefits are pretty good. Like an IUD, it can stop you from experiencing periods, and it has been known to make them lighter. It has a failure rate of less than 1%, which is better than IUD’s.

A common warning with Depo Provera is it can take up to ten months after your last injection to get pregnant from using the shot. Weight gain is also a side effect, like with most birth controls.

Additional Tips for Backcountry Periods:

Diva Cup: The idea of Diva Cups is great until you think about the mess you’re going to have to make in the camp kitchen to sterilize it every day. If you have access to a secondary location away from your dish-ware to rinse and clean yourself along with the cup, this may be a perfect alternative to pads and tampons. Tripping with all women? Even better.

Unscented Tampons: Always be bear savvy. Enough said.

ALWAYS pack out what you packed in. Knowing this will help you decide on a period and birth control contingency plan in the backcountry.

Tick Talk: A Dreaded Spring Burden

Spring, according to the calendar has officially arrived. {Insert eye roll}

Aside from not going outside and enjoying yourself at all in Ontario, there are few ways to prevent coming in contact with them. But when you know how to handle these inevitable unfortunate encounters, they become less and less nerve racking.

Ticks have this certain aura about them that make it hard to become desensitized. No matter what, they will invoke some involuntary skin crawling so you aren’t expected to enjoy these encounters. Here are some facts and tips on ticks.

While most think that because there is snow on the ground and we’re still experiencing cold nights, there is no cause for concern on ticks yet––this is false. There could be three feet of snow on the ground and you would still be at risk for picking up these unwanted stragglers.

On top of being downright gross, I also found out they are dang near indestructible. There is no such thing as squishing them, (and if you read on you’ll learn why you should never try) they are basically only susceptible to being cut in half, burned, or dried out.

Where You’ll Find them: Hint, Everywhere.

Like I mentioned above, if you enjoy or work in the outdoors, you will eventually come in contact with ticks. Ticks are not only found in long grass. They can be found in your garden, the woods/bogs, beaches and of course even your friendly neighbourhood nature park. Basically, everywhere there are living, breathing, blood pumping hosts for them to cling onto.

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What’s the Big Deal?

The major risk of tick bites of course, is contracting Lyme borreliosis. Lyme disease is transmitted to us humans with tick bites largely from the genus Ixodes (hard-bodied tick) family infected with a specific bacteria. Lyme is a pathogenic bacterium, in other words a bacteria that can transmit disease. Certainly not the good type of bacteria that helps you build your immune system or digest food better.

The ones in question are the black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. There is some heresy that other species of ticks may also carry the bacteria that causes Lyme.

This quote is from a tick dragging study done in northwestern Ontario in 2017. “Of the 102 black-legged ticks, 61 tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (59.8%). “

So, How Do You Avoid Bites?

Above is the very reason tick encounters have such a bad rep. That and the fact (opinion) they are the devil’s spawn.

There are multiple ways you can decrease your chances of tick bites, and when you use all precautions together, you’re that much better off.

  • Permethrin Soak/Spray: This solution kills insects (not just ticks) that come in contact with your clothing. This is an excellent method to consider if you’re an avid hiker and/or spend extended periods outside. It’s also good for weekend warriors who just don’t want to have to worry about ticks. There are no studies yet on whether or not soaking is more effective than spraying, but if you take into consideration that soaking would cover not just the outside, but also the inside of your clothing, it’s easy to see how it’s more beneficial. TIP: If you choose to spray your clothing, I recommend first turning it inside out and spraying the inside, then spraying the outside following instruction from your chose method: diluted permethrin which is safe for immediate spraying or higher concentrated permethrin which you have to manually dilute.

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  • Tuck in EVERYTHING. Tuck your pant legs into your socks, rock the G-Ma look because it could make all the difference. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and put your hair up. You’ll still need to check your arms, neck, back, and hair afterwards.
  • Wear light coloured clothing. This will also help you against black flies, mosquitos and deer/horse flies. It’s a win-win.
  • Wear regular bug repellent on top of permethrin so you can cover your exposed skin. Female ticks will wait until they have a more secure place to chomp down, males will bite pretty well as soon as they land on you. It’s all about making them work really hard to get to your skin and then making your skin unappealing to them.

After You’re Outside

  • Have someone you feel comfortable with check you for ticks. This isn’t a Brad Paisley song, it’s just real life in Ontario.
  • If you can, do these checks BEFORE you get into your vehicle or back in your boat.
  • If you didn’t go through the trouble of tucking everything in (and even if you did) have a peek at your nether regions, arm pits, back, and again––your nether regions.
  • Check any children or dogs that may have been with you.
  • During the spring and early summer months, I keep a full length mirror by my front door and in my bedroom so I can triple check myself.

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What To Do When You Find One Latched:

Keeping a critter with blood lust to survive that’s also half the size of your pinky nail off of your inviting comparably huge canvas of skin isn’t easy. Even if you don’t spend long lengths of time in the outdoors, you’re still liable to come across a latched tick, on yourself or others.

Here’s how to remove them safely: 

We know ticks carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme. That’s hardly a secret. You’ve probably been told there’s a way you need to remove them, but you’ve never been told why they have to be removed this way.

You see, the bacteria within ticks that can cause Lyme is carried in their stomachs. This is why when you’re bitten by one, the chances of Lyme are lower if it’s been less than 24-hours from bite to discovery. It hasn’t had a chance to get from the ticks system, into yours.

When you remove a tick, the caution you take not to squeeze it, in Laymen’s terms, is so it doesn’t fast track the bacteria from the stomach of the tick, into your system. In other words, so the tick doesn’t vomit or drool into you. Gnarly right? Again, Devil’s spawn.

Removing a tick: 

With a pair of tweezers, you’ll want to get as close to the skin as possible. DO NOT yank on the tick, squeeze, burn, or otherwise distress the tick. The goal here is to safely remove the tick without it expelling any saliva (or more) from it’s insides into you.

As soon as you are as close to the skin as you can be with your tweezers, apply pressure on the tick and lift in a slow but steady motion. Again, do not yank or otherwise tear at the tick. The tick should come off fully intact.

Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the area with a soap and water or alcohol if you have it. Monitor the bite area. It’s important to keep an eye on it not just for the “Lyme Bullseye” but also for other health and safety reasons such as infections.

I found a video from the University of Manitoba that shows an excellent example of how to remove a tick. It has my approval, and I suggest you watch it, even if it makes you queasy.

Heebie Geebies:

Throw wolf spiders, snakes, or centipedes my way all you want, but there is something about ticks that make my skin crawl even just writing about them.

No one expects you to be “okay” with ticks being in your space, because let’s face it, no one is immune to them. Perhaps it’s their daunting inconspicuous size, or the threat they carry with them, but ticks are infamous among outdoors enthusiasts.

There are many topics when ignorance can be considered bliss, but not with ticks. Being tick savvy will help you prevent them altering your experiences in the outdoors.

First BushWoman Workshop a Success!

In a blink of an eye, the first BushWoman Workshop has came and gone.

What can only be described as a magical weekend with even more beautiful people. Erin, Tracey, Angela, Breann, Christina and Katie, I have taken so much from our short time together. I may have been the coordinator, but I feel I’ve gained far more than I ever expected from this experience. Continue reading “First BushWoman Workshop a Success!”