When Can You Stop Practicing Birth Control?

Whether you're on the pill, have an IUD, or use some other form of contraception, practicing birth control can be a nuisance. Depending upon what method you choose, there can be side effects. It costs money. And if you use condoms, it certainly might dampen spontaneity in the bedroom.

If you're wondering how much longer before you and your birth control method can part ways, you need to carefully evaluate your situation.

Contraception is used to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but some contraceptives (condoms) can prevent transmission of a sexually transmitted infection as well. So when making the choice about whether to stop practicing birth control, you need to consider not just your age, but your sex life as well.

Generally, once you are in menopause (defined as the absence of a menstrual bleeding or a period, without being pregnant, for a year), you can stop using birth control without too much fear of getting pregnant, says Jill Rabin, MD, chief of ambulatory care, obstetrics and gynecology and head of urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY.

"You cannot just assume you are in menopause because you are having hot flashes," Rabin says. "One patient came to me thinking she was in menopause because she was having hot flashes and had not had her period in several months." It turned out that the woman was actually five months pregnant.

As for when you can stop using a barrier form of birth control as a way to prevent a sexually transmitted infection, it depends upon whether you are in a longterm monogamous relationship.

"If you are mutually monogamous and your panel of tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is negative, you don't need to be quite as concerned about using condoms to prevent infection," Rabin says. "But if your risk status changes, in that you find out your partner is having sex with someone else, you need to be retested. Remember, even condoms are not foolproof when it comes to sexually transmitted infections." 

And, she adds, vigilance with using a barrier/condom method to prevent STIs is also important in older individuals. "It holds true for those who are divorced and widowed, too," Rabin says. "Older patients can still get STIs . And when the vaginal skin gets thinner during menopause, it is easier to get an infection."

Unless you are in a mutually monogamous relationship, you should get a basic panel of tests regularly after discussion with your health care provider, she says. This should include testing for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and syphilis.

"Gonorrhea and chlamydia mainly infect those under the age of 25," she says. "If you are of reproductive age and still menstruating, you may screened for these yearly, too."