If you're considering using birth control (contraception), you have various options. To help pick the right method of birth control for you and your partner, consider the following questions.
What birth control options are available?
Birth control options may include:
- Barrier methods. Examples include male and female condoms, as well as the diaphragm, cervical cap and contraceptive sponge.
- Hormonal methods. Examples include birth control pills, as well as the vaginal ring (NuvaRing), contraceptive implant (Implanon), contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera) and contraceptive patch (Ortho Evra).
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs). Examples include the copper IUD (ParaGard) and the hormonal IUD (Mirena).
- Sterilization. Examples include tubal ligation, Essure or Adiana for women, and vasectomy for men.
- Natural family planning. Examples include the rhythm, basal body temperature and cervical mucus methods.
It's also important to be aware of emergency contraception — such as the morning-after pill (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice or Ella) — which can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.
How do the different birth control options work?
Various types of birth control work in different ways. Birth control methods may:
- Prevent sperm from reaching the egg
- Inactivate or damage sperm
- Prevent an egg from being released each month
- Alter the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg doesn't attach to it
- Thicken cervical mucus so sperm can't easily pass through it
What is the method's effectiveness?
To be effective, any method of contraception must be used consistently and correctly. Contraceptives that require little effort on your part, such as IUDs, contraceptive implants and sterilization, are associated with lower pregnancy rates. In contrast, methods that require monitoring fertility or periodic abstinence are associated with higher pregnancy rates. The bottom line is that the right method is the one that you are comfortable with and willing and able to use.
Is it reversible?
The method of contraception you choose depends on your reproductive goals. If you're planning pregnancy in the near future, you may want a method that's easily stopped or quickly reversible, such as an oral contraceptive or a barrier method. If you'd like to become pregnant — but not in the near future — you may want to consider an IUD. An IUD has a quick return to fertility, but it is expensive if you are going to use it only for a short time period. If you're certain that you don't ever want to have children, you may prefer a permanent method, such as sterilization. You may find that different contraceptive options work for you at different stages of your life.
Is it compatible with your religious beliefs or cultural practices?
Some forms of birth control are considered a violation of certain religious laws or cultural traditions. Weigh the risks and benefits of a birth control method against your personal convictions.
Is it convenient and affordable?
For some people, convenience suggests ease of use, no bothersome side effects or no disruption of the sexual experience. For others, convenience means no prescription is required. When choosing a method of contraception, consider how willing you are to plan ahead or, if necessary, adhere to a rigid schedule. It's important to choose a type of birth control that suits your lifestyle.
Some methods of contraception are inexpensive, while others are more costly. Ask your insurance provider about coverage, and then consider the expense as you make a decision.
What are the side effects?
Consider your tolerance for the possible side effects associated with a particular birth control method. Some methods, particularly those that contain estrogen or progesterone, pose more side effects — some potentially serious — than do others, such as barrier methods and natural family planning methods. Talk to your health care provider about your medical history and how it might affect your choice of birth control.
Does it protect against sexually transmitted infections?
Male and female condoms are the only methods of birth control that offer reliable protection from sexually transmitted infections. Unless you're in a mutually monogamous relationship and have been tested for sexually transmitted infections, use a new condom every time you have sex in addition to any other method of birth control you use.
Does it offer other benefits?
In addition to preventing pregnancy, some contraceptives provide benefits such as more predictable, lighter menstrual cycles, a decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections or a reduction in the risk of some cancers. If these benefits are important to you, they may influence your choice of birth control option.
Is it acceptable to your sexual partner?
Your partner may have birth control preferences that are similar to or different from your own. Discuss birth control options with your partner to help determine which method is acceptable to both of you.
What's the bottom line?
When you choose a birth control method, many factors come into play, including your age, health, emotional maturity, marital status and religious convictions. Knowing your options is part of the decision process — but an honest assessment of yourself, your partner and your relationship is just as important. Ideally, you and your partner will discuss the options and reach a mutually beneficial decision.