What is the best method of birth control (or contraception)?
There is no “best” method of birth control. Each method has its pros and cons.
Most times, we have control over when to become parents. Making choices about birth control, or contraception, isn’t easy. There are many things to think about. To get started, learn about birth control methods you or your partner can use to prevent pregnancy. You should also talk with your doctor about the choices.
Before choosing a birth control method, think about:
- Your overall health
- How often you have sex
- The number of sex partners you have
- If you want to have children someday
- How well each method works to prevent pregnancy
- Possible side effects
- Your comfort level with using the method
Keep in mind, even the most effective birth control methods can fail. But your chances of getting pregnant are very low if the method you choose is used correctly.
What are the different types of birth control?
We’ve gathered 12 of the most common birth control methods, and why you should or shouldn’t try them.
What it does: The female condom is made of soft plastic, and protects against STDs. It is inserted deep into the vagina, over the cervix, much like a diaphragm. Unlike the male condom, the female condom can be put into place up to eight hours before sex.
Who should avoid it: Male condoms offer more protection—both against STDs and pregnancy—than female condoms, so if you and your male partner aren’t in a long-term relationship, female condoms are not a perfect substitute.
What it does: Male condoms protect against pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. Worn properly, condoms prevent sperm from entering the uterus.
Who should avoid it: If your mate is allergic to latex or polyurethane, you’ll have to find another option. And if you tend to use a lubricant that contains oil, such as hand lotion or baby oil, you’ll need to switch to an oil-free option which, unlike oil-based lubricants, doesn’t degrade latex.
Also called NuvaRing
What it does: The ring is made of flexible plastic and delivers estrogen and progestin, just like the combination pill. You place the ring in your vagina for three weeks, and then remove it for one week so that you have a regular period.
Who should avoid it: Women who smoke, or have blood clots or certain cancers, should not use the NuvaRing.
Also called Milex Wide Seal, Ortho All-Flex, Semina, SILCS
What it does: Made of rubber and shaped like a dome, a diaphragm prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. It covers the cervix and must always be used with a spermicide. Women must be fitted for a diaphragm in their doctor’s office.
Who should avoid it: If your weight tends to fluctuate by more than 4.5kg at a time, the diaphragm may not work. If you gain or lose weight, you’ll need to be refitted. Prone to bladder infections? You might want to consider another option. If you’ve had toxic shock syndrome, you shouldn’t use a diaphragm.
Also called Mirena, ParaGard
What it does: ParaGard is a surgically implanted copper device that prevents sperm from reaching the egg. Mirena, also surgically implanted, works by releasing hormones. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are more than 99% effective and good for 10 years.
Who should avoid it: Some doctors recommend the device only for women who have given birth. When the device is implanted, your uterus is expanded, and this might cause pain in women who have not had children. If you’re planning on having children in a year or two, look at other options. The IUD can be removed, but the high cost might not be worth it for short-term use.
Also called Ortho Evra
What it does: You can place the hormone-releasing patch on your arm, buttock, or abdomen, and rest easy for one week.
Who should avoid it: If you’re particularly at risk for blood clots, you might want to find a different method. The patch delivers 60% more estrogen than a low-dose pill, so you’re at an increased risk for dangerous blood clots.
Also called Implanon, Norplant
What it does: About the size of a matchstick, the implant is placed under the skin on your upper arm. Implants last for three years. They are nearly 100% effective.
Who should avoid it: Implanon MAY not work as well for women who are overweight.
Also called Essure, tubal ligation, vasectomy
What it does: Women can undergo either tubal ligation, a surgical procedure that blocks the fallopian tubes from carrying eggs to the uterus, or tubal implants (Essure), a nonsurgical technique in which a small coil is inserted into the fallopian tubes. The sterilization process is less risky for men: A vasectomy is a minor surgery in which the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles are cut.
Who should avoid it: If you plan to have children, sterilization is not an option—it’s not designed to be reversible.
Also called Copper T IUD, Next Choice, Plan B, Plan B One-Step
What it does: Emergency contraception is a backup for regular birth control. Plan B contains a higher dose of the same synthetic hormones found in the combination pill. It works best if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but may work up to five days later. There’s also the copper T IUD, which a doctor can insert into your uterus five to seven days after unprotected sex.
Who should avoid it: Plan B, known as the morning-after pill, is available over-the-counter at most pharmacies, but only to women 18 years and older. Minors need a prescription. Copper T IUDs can be expensive. Plus, they last for up to 10 years, so if you hope to get pregnant in the future, this isn’t for you.
This means not having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) at any time. It is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
Calendar Rhythm method
This method is when you do not have sex or use a barrier method on the days you are most fertile (most likely to become pregnant). You can read about barrier methods in the following chart.
A woman who has a regular menstrual cycle has about 9 or more days each month when she is able to get pregnant. These fertile days are about 5 days before and 3 days after ovulation, as well as the day of ovulation.
To have success with this method, you need to learn about your menstrual cycle. Then you can learn to predict which days you are fertile or “unsafe.” To learn about your cycle, keep a written record of:
- When you get your period
- What it is like (heavy or light blood flow)
- How you feel (sore breasts, cramps)
This method also involves checking your cervical mucus and recording your body temperature each day. Cervical mucus is the discharge from your vagina. You are most fertile when it is clear and slippery like raw egg whites. Use a basal thermometer to take your temperature and record it in a chart. Your temperature will rise 0.4 to 0.8° F on the first day of ovulation. You can talk with your doctor or a natural family planning instructor to learn how to record and understand this information.
Oral contraceptives — combined pill (“The pill”)
The pill contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. It is taken daily to keep the ovaries from releasing an egg. The pill also causes changes in the lining of the uterus and the cervical mucus to keep the sperm from joining the egg.
Some women prefer the “extended cycle” pills. These have 12 weeks of pills that contain hormones (active) and 1 week of pills that don’t contain hormones (inactive). While taking extended cycle pills, women only have their period three to four times a year.
Many types of oral contraceptives are available. Talk with your doctor about which is best for you.
Your doctor may advise you not to take the pill if you:
- Are older than 35 and smoke
- Have a history of blood clots
- Have a history of breast, liver, or endometrial cancer
Antibiotics may reduce how well the pill works in some women. Talk to your doctor about a backup method of birth control if you need to take antibiotics.
Women should wait three weeks after giving birth to begin using birth control that contains both estrogen and progestin. These methods increase the risk of dangerous blood clots that could form after giving birth. Women who delivered by cesarean section or have other risk factors for blood clots, such as obesity, history of blood clots, smoking, or preeclampsia, should wait six weeks.
The birth control shot often is called by its brand name Depo-Provera. With this method you get injections, or shots, of the hormone progestin in the buttocks or arm every 3 months.
A new type is injected under the skin. The birth control shot stops the ovaries from releasing an egg in most women. It also causes changes in the cervix that keep the sperm from joining with the egg.
The shot should not be used more than 2 years in a row because it can cause a temporary loss of bone density. The loss increases the longer this method is used. The bone does start to grow after this method is stopped. But it may increase the risk of fracture and osteoporosis if used for a long time.
There are so many different types of contraception available that you should be able to find the right method. You may have to try several different things before you hit on the one you like most. Most importantly, talk to your doctor to know which method suits you best