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Birth Control


Birth Control (Contraception)

Birth control, or contraception, can prevent or help you plan the timing of pregnancy. Because there are many birth control options, it might take some time to find the best one for you.

Before making your decision, consider researching each method, talk about it with your partner, and make a list of questions for your doctor. It's also important to consider the risks for each method – which may include weight gain, changes in mood, allergic reactions and irregular periods.

No matter which method you choose, it's important to follow all directions carefully to avoid pregnancy. And if you're concerned about protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), condoms are the only contraceptive that offers some protection against most STDs.

How to talk to your doctor

Your doctor can help choose the right method of birth control for you. Some things to consider during the discussion:

  • Your overall health
  • How often you have sex
  • How many sexual partners you have
  • If you want to have children in the future
  • If you will need a prescription or if you can buy the method over the counter
  • The details of the method, including how it works, its risks and its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy

Certain behaviors and health conditions may affect the reliability of some birth control methods. So tell your doctor if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have liver disease
  • Have blood clots or have family members who have had blood clots
  • Are taking any other medicines
  • Are taking any herbal products, like St. John's Wort

Traditional methods

These methods have been used for hundreds of years by women who wanted to avoid pregnancy without medical assistance. They are still effective and natural methods of birth control.

Traditional method What Prescription Effectiveness
Abstinence Avoiding all sexual contact and intercourse No 100%
Avoiding sexual intercourse during and up to 7 days prior to ovulation No 75-99%

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods of birth control work by blocking the sperm from reaching the egg. Many are used in combination with spermicide, which works to kill the sperm before it reaches the egg.

Barrier method What Prescription Effectiveness
Male Condom A thin latex or polyurethane film sheath is placed over the erect penis to stop sperm from reaching the egg. No 84-89%
Female Condom A lubricated, thin polyurethane pouch that is put into the vagina to stop sperm from reaching the egg. No 80%
Diaphragm with spermicide A dome-shaped flexible disk made from latex rubber or silicone that covers the cervix so that sperm cannot reach the egg. Inserted before sex with the aid of spermicidal jelly. Yes 85%
Sponge with spermicide A disk-shaped polyurethane device with spermicide inserted into the vagina to kill sperm. No 68-84%
Cervical Cap with spermicide A soft latex or silicone cup that fits snugly around the cervix so that sperm cannot reach the egg. Inserted into the vagina before sex with the aid of spermicidal jelly. Yes 77-83%
Spermicide alone A foam, cream, jelly, film or tablet that kills sperm. Inserted into the vagina before sex. No 70%

Hormonal Methods

Hormonal methods prevent pregnancy by interfering with ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg. Most methods also thicken the cervical mucus, which keeps the sperm from reaching the egg.

Hormonal method What Prescription Effectiveness
Pill A daily pill of the hormones estrogen and/or progestin. Yes 95%
Patch A skin patch you wear for three weeks at a time that releases hormones (estrogen and progestin). You can wear it on the lower abdomen, buttocks or upper body. Yes 95%
Vaginal Contraceptive Ring A two-inch flexible ring that you put into the vagina for three weeks at a time. Yes 95%
Shot/Injection A shot of the hormone progestin given every three months. Yes 99%
Emergency Contraceptives (The Morning After Pill) Pills with hormones (progestin and/or estrogen) that are taken within 72 hours after having unprotected sex or if a woman suspects her birth control method failed. No, unless you are younger than 18 85%

Implanted devices

These devices are inserted into your body and can be kept in place for a few years.

Implanted Device What Prescription Effectiveness
Intrauterine device (IUD)

A T-shaped device inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider that prevents fertilization.

  • The Mirena IUD releases hormones and can be left in place for 5 years
  • The ParaGuard IUD contains copper and can be left in place for 10 years
Yes 99%
Implantable rod A thin, matchstick-sized rod implanted under the skin of the upper arm that contains the hormone progestin. Can be left in place for up to 3 years. Yes 99%

Sterilization methods

These surgical methods of birth control are for women and their partners who never want to have children or do not want any more children. It's important to be completely sure about sterilization because it's intended to be permanent.

Sterilization requires surgery. Talk with your doctor about the details of the surgery, including risks and side effects, before making your final decision.

Sterilization method What Effectiveness
Tubal sterilization A woman's fallopian tube is surgically blocked so eggs cannot travel to the uterus and sperm cannot reach the eggs. 99%
Vasectomy A man's vas deferens (the tubes that carry sperm) are surgically blocked. 99%