What is Birth Control?
Birth control methods, also known as contraception, can help prevent an unwanted pregnancy until you are ready to have a baby.
There are many different types of birth control and no single method is right for everyone. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of each type of birth control and select the one most suited to your needs and lifestyle. Think carefully about how easy it is to use and if you are comfortable using it. You will also want to consider if and when you are planning to have children.
Questions To Consider About Birth Control Methods
- Does it contain hormones?
- Will it require a visit to a doctor or a prescription from a doctor?
- Does it require preparation right before sex?
- Is it quickly reversible?
- Is it easy to use and will I remember to take it?
- Does it decrease monthly bleeding and cramping ?
- Is it noticeable and do I want my partner to be aware that I am using it?
- Is it safe?
- Am I allergic to any of its components?
- Does it have side effects and how long will they last?
- Will it affect my sex drive/sensation during sex?
- How effective is it?
- How much does it cost?
- Am I willing to pay a lot more now if the method lasts for a long time?
- How often do I have to take it?
What Types of Birth Control Methods Are Available?
Some methods of birth control work better than others. The following list includes the various types of birth control available, sorted by how effective they are at preventing pregnancies. Condoms are the only birth control method available to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Extremely Effective (99-100%)
Abstinence: Abstinence is complete avoidance of sex.
Intrauterine Device (IUD) — This is a small, T-shaped device that is put inside a woman’s uterus by a doctor. There are hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs.
Paraguard IUD — This is a copper IUD which releases a small amount of copper to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. The Paraguard is effective for 10 years.
Mirena / Kyleena / Skyla IUD — There are several different levonorgestrel IUDs available, all of which release progesterone into the uterine cavity. The Mirena and Kyleena are effective for 5 years and the Skyla is effective for 3 years. Some of the methods by which the IUD inhibits conception include thickening of the cervical mucus to prevent sperm penetration, alteration of the uterine lining to make it inhospitable for a fertilized egg to implant, and in some cases, partially suppressing the release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation).
Nexplanon implant — The Nexplanon is a soft plastic rod that is placed just under the skin of your arm by a doctor. The rod releases a synthetic progestin hormone called etonorgestrel over three years. Its primary mechanism of action is to prevent eggs from being released from the ovaries.
Sterilization — This is a permanent method of birth control that involves cutting or blocking the tubes that carry sperm (in men) or the tubes that carry eggs to the uterus (in women). Sterilization involves surgery and can be performed laparoscopically or during the postpartum period.
Very Effective (>91%)
Depo-provera injection — This is an injection of medroxyprogesterone acetate which is slowly absorbed by your body and prevents any eggs from leaving your ovaries. Each injection works for approximately 12 weeks.
Patch — This is a small sticky patch worn on the skin that sends steady levels of hormones into your bloodstream. The patch is changed every week for 3 weeks and week 4 is patch-free.
Vaginal Ring — This is a soft, plastic ring that you put in your vagina every 3 weeks. The vaginal ring releases a continuous low dose of estrogen and progestin that helps prevent pregnancy.
Birth control pills — This package of hormonal pills contains estrogen and/or progestin. You take them daily at the same time. The pill works by stopping the release of eggs from your ovaries. There are many different types of birth control pills that vary in dosing and hormones.
Condoms — This is a thin, disposable wrap placed over the erect penis. If used correctly, sperm will be trapped inside the condom and will not be able to get inside the vagina
Cervical Barriers (diaphragm, cap, or shield) — A cervical barrier is a small rubber cup that you fill with spermicidal jelly and place in your vagina, over the cervix, before sex. This prevents sperm from entering your uterus.
Moderately Effective (>70%)
Spermicides — These are chemicals that come in the form of jellies, creams, or foams that kill sperm. Often, women use them together with a cervical barrier, such as a diaphragm.
Sponge — This is a small foam pad soaked in spermicide and placed in the vagina over the cervix.
Fertility Tracking — This method involves carefully tracking changes in your body to predict when you are most likely to be fertile. You are not likely to get pregnant if you have sexual intercourse on the days you are not fertile.
Emergency contraceptive pills help prevent pregnancy after you have already had unprotected sex (sex without using a birth control method). You might also hear these called the “morning after pill.” You may be able to use them a backup if your normal birth control method fails or you forget to take it. Emergency contraceptives can prevent pregnancy for up to 72 hours after sex. They will not work if you are already pregnant.
Ineffective Forms of Birth Control
- The pull-out method
- Urinating after intercourse
- Feminine hygiene products
- Homemade condoms
How Do I Choose the Birth Control Method That’s Right for Me?
Figuring out which Birth Control Methods to use can be a bit overwhelming. A method that’s perfect for one woman may not be right for another.
Take a moment to consider all of the important questions and all of the available options. Then weigh the pros and cons of each option as it applies to your own lifestyle and future plans. You may even decide to use a combination of birth control methods for extra protection against pregnancy and STDs.
You can always talk to your doctor to help you choose a method that is right for you. The more you know, the more in control you can be of your sexual health as well as when you may want to have children.