Birth control, or contraception, is any of the many methods used to stop pregnancy from occurring. Contraception methods come in many shapes and sizes—literally! These options range from patches to intrauterine devices to pills to condoms to surgeries.
The fact that there are many types to choose from often makes it hard to know which method is best for you. Should you try hormonal or non hormonal contraception? Which of the birth control side effects are “too bad” for you? How effective is birth control? Is there one method more effective than others?
Below, we look at all of the popular types of birth control to find out the details, pros, and cons of each. By the time you reach the end of this page, you’ll know everything there is to know about the various contraceptives available to you…
Abstinence is exactly what it sounds like: abstaining from full intercourse (vaginal sex), usually until you’re ready to get married or pregnant.
Benefits of Abstinence:
- You not only reduce your risk of pregnancy, but you decrease the chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
- Abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.
- Anyone can do it. All it takes is NOT having sex. No medications, pills, or money involved!
Drawbacks of Abstinence:
- It’s difficult! Not everyone has the self-discipline to abstain from sex.
- It requires a lot of patience to abstain completely from sex, especially in a committed, long-term relationship.
- The minute you stop practicing abstinence, your risk of pregnancy goes through the roof.
Condoms are the cheapest, most commonly used method of birth control for men. They’re effective about 98% of the time, provided they are used correctly.
Benefits of Condoms
- They’re incredibly easy to use. Anyone can learn to put on a condom in less than a minute.
- They’re cheap and available literally EVERYWHERE—from supermarkets to convenience stores! No prescription needed!
- They reduce the risk of STDs as well as preventing pregnancy.
- They come in all shapes and sizes. There are even non latex condoms for those with latex sensitivities, or unlubricated condoms free of spermicide for those with sensitivity to lubricant/spermicide.
Drawbacks of Condoms
- A surprising number of people don’t know how to apply them correctly. If not applied correctly, they can slip off, break, or leak, increasing the risk of pregnancy.
- You have to remember to put them on before having sex.
- Condoms can decrease sensitivity and pleasure for the man.
- Condoms past their expiration date can weaken and break.
Cervical Cap and Diaphragm
The cervical cap and diaphragm are basically condoms for women. Both are intended to be inserted into the vagina in order to block the uterine opening. The “girl condoms” essentially stop semen from entering the uterus to impregnate the egg.
Note: The primary difference between the cervical cap and diaphragm are in their shape.
Benefits of Cervical Cap/Diaphragm
- Both can be inserted hours before having sex, so there is no need to pause in the heat of the moment.
- They’re available in every pharmacy (and most department stores) in the country.
- They’re incredibly easy to insert and remove.
- If it’s in, you can have sex as many times as you want.
- There is no hormonal effects, and neither you nor your partner will notice the contraceptive.
- It can be reused, so you only need to buy one and wash it to use over and over.
Drawbacks of Cervical Cap/Diaphragm
- You HAVE to remember to insert the diaphragm ahead of time.
- You must use it with spermicide in order for it to be effective.
- You have to leave it in for at least 6 hours after the last time you have sex, but you can’t leave it in for more than 48 hours.
- May cause irritation, especially among those with sensitivity to silicone, latex, lubricant, and spermicide. It may also lead to a higher risk of vaginal infections.
- Certain sex positions and acts can push it out of place.
Birth Control Implant
Nexplanon is the name of a contraceptive implant available to women around the country. The Nexanon implant is inserted under the skin of the upper arm. The implant birth control releases the hormone progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus (blocking sperm) and preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs. It’s believed to be effective for up to 4 years.
Benefits of Birth Control Implant
- It’s effective. The release of hormones prevents the body from producing hormones and stops the sperm from reaching the egg. It’s up to 99% effective.
- One and done. Once it’s installed, you can enjoy your life without worrying about forgetting to use a condom or diaphragm.
- No one but you needs to know that you have it.
- It can reduce the severity of your periods and has been known to improve symptoms of PMS, endometriosis, and depression.
- It’s safe for anyone to use, even women unable to take estrogen.
Drawbacks of Birth Control Implant
- It’s expensive. The implant will cost anywhere from $450 to $800. However, average that out over the full 4 years, and it’s a pretty low monthly cost.
- The Nexplanon side effects are no joke: irregular bleeding for up to 12 months after implantation, acne, appetite changes, depression, ovarian cysts, dizziness, discoloration around the implant, nervousness, nausea, and headaches.
Intra-Uterine Device (IUD)
An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a T-shaped bit of plastic inserted into the uterus. It stops the sperm from fertilizing the eggs, preventing pregnancy VERY effectively—up to 99.9% if used correctly.
There are two types of IUDs:
- Non-Hormonal T, which do not release hormones in the body but instead use safe amounts of copper to prevent pregnancy.
- Hormonal T, which releases progestin into your body to affect hormonal balance and prevent pregnancy.
Benefits of IUDs
- You have options. For those who want to avoid the copper IUD, the Skyla, Liletta, Kyleena, and Mirena IUD all provide hormonal options for reducing pregnancy.
- One and done. Once the IUD insertion is completed, the birth control method can last for years—up to 6 years for a hormonal T, and up to 12 years for a copper IUD. No need to use condoms, spermicide, or anything else. The IUD handles everything for you.
- It requires minimal effort on your part, and provides (mostly) safe protection from pregnancy.
- Some women experience reduced menstrual cramps and lighter bleeding with the hormonal IUDs.
Drawbacks of IUDs
- The IUD side effects vary according to the type of IUD used. Copper IUD users will often experience heavier bleeding, while those who use hormonal IUDs will experience hormonal shifts, increased spotting between periods, cramps, backaches.
- In some VERY extreme cases, the IUD can push through the uterine wall. IUDs also increase the risk of infection.
- If the IUD slips, it’s not easy to put it back into place or re-insert.
- It’s a pricey birth control method. You’ll spend up to $900 for the IUD.
Morning After Pill
The “morning after pill” is a form of emergency contraception designed to be taken AFTER full, unprotected intercourse. It has to be taken anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after intercourse (time depends on the brand). The closer to the sexual encounter, the more effective the pill.
Note: The morning after pill is not the same as an “abortion pill”. It simply prevents a pregnancy from occurring, not eliminates an existing pregnancy.
Benefits of Morning After Pill
- It can help you to prevent a pregnancy if you forgot to use contraceptives BEFORE intercourse.
- It’s a mostly effective option for days after intercourse. (95% within 24 hours, 89% effective within 72 hours)
- It won’t interrupt your sex, but will give you a way to have peace of mind that you won’t get pregnant.
Drawbacks of Morning After Pill
- The morning after pill side effects can be pretty bad, including vomiting, upset stomach, breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, headaches, and dizziness.
- If you don’t take it the day after intercourse, it can increase your risk of pregnancy. It won’t affect an existing pregnancy—only prevent one from occurring.
- It’s pricey! You can pay as much as $60 for emergency contraceptives.
Birth Control Pill
Birth control pills—also known as “the pill”—are a form of oral contraceptives that is taken daily. The contraceptive pill releases hormones into your bodies, and those hormones stop the release of eggs in your ovaries. They also thicken your cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the eggs.
Note: Some birth control pills use only progestin, while some use estrogen as well.
The effectiveness of the pill is 99% for those who use it correctly (take it at the same time each day). However, typical effectiveness usually hovers around 91%.
Benefits of Birth Control Pill
- It’s easy to do. Just like you’d take a vitamin supplement or painkiller, just pop it into your mouth and swallow.
- Gives you control over your periods, and gives you lighter periods and often less noticeable PMS symptoms.
- Can offer other benefits: clearing up acne, reduced depression, less menstrual cramps, etc. Some pills can even help to protect you against ovarian and endometrial cancer, anemia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and ovarian cysts.
- Not too pricey. You’ll spend no more than $50 per month for your oral contraceptives.
Drawbacks of Birth Control Pill
- The effectiveness of the pill is reduced if you don’t take it at the same time every day. Even being off by an hour can reduce the effectiveness.
- Some birth control pills are accompanied by side effects like sore breasts, vomiting, nausea, a reduction or alteration in your sex drive, or even spotting or bleeding between periods.
A birth control shot, or contraceptive injection, is a very simple method. It involves a shot of Depo Provera, which triggers the release of progestin to thicken cervical mucus and prevent the release of eggs in the ovaries. The Depo shot is believed to be 99.95% effective.
Benefits of Contraceptive Injection
- Easy and quick. The Depo injection is administered once every three months. All you have to do is schedule a quarterly visit to your doctor to get the shot.
- Not too pricey. You’ll pay up to $120 for the shot. Average that out over 3 months, and that’s less than $40 per month for no-worries sex.
- It’s effective for anyone. It doesn’t matter how forgetful you are—the shot will protect you! It can also be used by women who can’t receive estrogen, smokers, and even breastfeeding mothers.
- Some women experience lighter periods thanks to the injection.
Drawbacks of Contraceptive Injection
- There are side effects. Some side effects of the Depo shot include: irregular bleeding for up to the first 12 months of use, appetite changes, weight gain, sex drive changes, hair loss or abnormal hair growth, depression, headaches, dizziness, nervousness, and sore breasts.
- There is nothing you can do about the side effects that will occur every few months.
Birth Control Patch
A birth control patch is a thin beige patch designed to sit on your skin and release progestin into your body. The hormone stops your ovaries from producing and releasing eggs and thickens cervical mucus. It’s an option for those under 198 pounds, and who want to control their periods.
If used correctly, it can be up to 99.7% effective. However, for the average person, it ends up being closer to 92% effective.
Benefits of Birth Control Patch
- It’s beautifully easy to use. Just stick the patch on your arm, and it will stay there until the end of its lifespan.
- Can offer benefits like lighter periods, less acne, reduced PMS symptoms, and can reduce reproductive health risks.
- Not too pricey. The patch will cost less than $85, though you can find some for as low as $30 or $40 per month.
- One and done. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting to use contraception again.
Drawbacks of Birth Control Patch
- It’s common to experience some form of skin irritation wherever you place the patch.
- Some of the patch side effects may include nausea, breast tenderness, vomiting, bleeding between periods, and changes in libido.
- It’s not suitable for anyone over 198 pounds, and may be dangerous to women over 35 who are smokers.
Birth Control Sponge
Sponges are one of the more archaic forms of contraception, but they’re still used by many women. The dimpled plastic foam sponge is inserted into the vagina, and it serves to block your uterus to prevent sperm from entering. It also releases spermicide into the vagina to kill off sperm before they can reach the egg.
The sponge is one of the least effective birth control methods. Women who haven’t had children may get up to 91% effectiveness if used correctly, though the average is closer to 84%. Women who have had children will find the effectiveness drops to anywhere from 68 to 80%.
Benefits of Birth Control Sponge
- It’s as easy to use as the diaphragm or cervical cap. You can insert it into the vagina up to 24 hours before intercourse, and leave it in for up to 24 hours after.
- You can have sex as much as you want while it’s in.
- It’s reusable, so it’s a cheaper alternative.
- No hormonal effects, and no prescription are needed. It’s easy to get your hands on.
Drawbacks of Birth Control Sponge
- One of the least effective methods. Even if used correctly, it still has one of the highest failure rates of any method of birth control.
- It has been known to cause irritation, vaginal dryness, and an increased risk of infections.
- It may cause allergic reactions among women sensitive to spermicide or polyurethane.
Birth Control Ring
NuvaRing is the name of the small, flexible ring that is used as birth control. The ring is inserted into the vagina, where it releases hormones to block egg production in the ovaries. After three weeks, the ring is removed for one week to allow for natural menstruation.
If used correctly, the ring is up to 99.7% effective. However, given real-world use, the real failure rate is closer to 8%.
Benefits of Birth Control Ring
- Very easy to use. Simply insert it and leave it alone for three weeks.
- It’s great for those who want to have regular active sex without worrying about condoms or pills.
- It can have beneficial effects, including reduced acne, less prominent PMS symptoms, and lighter bleeding. It may also offer protection against reproductive health disorders.
Drawbacks of Birth Control Ring
- It’s a bit pricey. Expect to spend up to $75 per ring—a fairly high monthly cost!
- The release of hormones from the ring can bring NuvaRing side effects, including bleeding between periods, nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, and a change in libido.
- Some women experience an increase in vaginal discharge. It’s also known to increase both irritation and a risk of infection.
There are two surgical options to consider:
- Vasectomy. This is a form of male sterilization involving the blockage of the tubes that mix sperm into the semen. After the vasectomy, a man can produce semen with no problem, but there is no sperm to fertilize the egg.
- Tubal ligation. This is a method of female sterilization where the fallopian tubes are closed or blocked off. Without fallopian tubes, there is no way for the sperm to reach and fertilize the egg.
Both vasectomies and tubal ligation are HIGHLY effective—between a 99.5 and 99.9% effectiveness.
Benefits of Surgical Options
- Quick and easy. Both surgical options come with invasive and non-invasive options. The surgeries are simple procedures that require very little recovery time.
- It’s the only TRULY effective contraception method. Blocking off the fallopian or vasa deferentia is the most effective way to prevent pregnancies.
- There are no hormones used, and you will never have to worry about birth control again.
Drawbacks of Surgical Options
- Very low chance of pregnancy. It is possible to perform a vasectomy reversal or tubal ligation reversal, but it’s not always safe or recommended. Once you have been sterilized, the chance of your getting pregnant are VERY low.
- It’s a surgery. There are complications of the surgeries. For example, the laparoscopic tubal ligation requires general anesthetic. There are possible side effects like bleeding, a negative reaction to the anesthesia, and infection. During the non-invasive tubal ligation, there’s a risk of the uterus being damaged. The non-invasive method isn’t always truly effective, as the coils may slip out of place.
- It’s pricey. A vasectomy or tubal ligation procedure can cost anywhere from $500 to $5000.