Birth Control: Which Methods Are Right for You?

  • Medical Author: Omnia M Samra, MD
  • Medical Editor: Lee P Shulman, MD

Is Birth Control Right for You?

ALT Woman looking at a packet of birth control pills and instructions.
Woman looking at a packet of birth control pills and instructions.
  • If you are of childbearing age, you may consider using a form of birth control to prevent becoming pregnant.
  • The practice of preventing pregnancy is as old as human existence. For centuries, humans have attempted to avoid pregnancy at certain times of their lives to accommodate their careers, marital situations, and preferences.
  • The ability to control whether and when you become pregnant can affect your ability to achieve your own goals and can contribute to your sense of well-being.
  • Your choice of birth control method involves factors such as how easy it is to use, safety, risks, cost, and personal considerations. Each form of birth control has its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • If you are a woman and would have trouble remembering to take a pill each day, daily birth control pills may not be your best choice.
  • Understand your risks for pregnancy before you have sexual relations. Combine methods to further lower your risk.
  • Talk with your health care provider about the method that is right for you.

Are Permanent Birth Control Options Right for You?

  • Tubal sterilization is a surgical procedure for women.
  • Vasectomy is a form of permanent sterilization for men.
  • Both are intended to be permanent and are not easy, and sometimes not possible, to reverse.
  • The decision to have a permanent form of birth control must be taken seriously and should involve you and your spouse or partner.
  • Each birth control method has a failure rate. Even the permanent forms of sterilization, tubal ligation and vasectomy, are not 100% effective.

How Much Do Forms of Birth Control Cost?

Some insurance plans pay for birth control pills and other birth control methods that are available by prescription only. Some insurance plans do not pay for prescription birth control methods, though the Affordable Care Act has made coverage much more available.

Before you begin a hormonal birth control method, such as the birth control pill, check into the cost by asking at your pharmacy (doctors generally do not know the costs) and asking your insurance company if they cover it. If you don't think you will be able to afford a hormonal method, you may want to consider other forms of birth control that are available without a doctor's prescription (such as condoms) before you begin a program you cannot afford.

You may wish to contact your local Planned Parenthood organization as well, to see if discounted birth control is available to you through them.


Which of the following are methods for contraception? See Answer

Which Birth Control Methods Are Available Without a Prescription?

Condoms (also called rubbers) are available in most supermarkets, drug stores, and in vending machines in some public restrooms. They are available without a doctor's prescription.

Most condoms are made from latex rubber. A man puts the condom on his erect penis before having sex. A condom is used only once. Some men and women are allergic to the latex in condoms. If you aren't allergic, you should use condoms made from latex because they are best at preventing pregnancy and protect against transmitting sexual diseases such as AIDS and genital herpes. Do not use condoms with lubricants such as Vaseline or other brands of petroleum jelly or oils. They make the latex less effective and may damage the condom. You may use a lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly, which does not contain oil.

A form of female condom (brand name Reality) is also available at stores without a doctor's prescription. These are made of polyurethane. A woman inserts the condom into her vagina right before sex and uses it only once.

Do not use a male and female condom at the same time. The male condom is more effective at preventing pregnancy and protecting against sexually transmitted diseases.

Spermicides are available in drugstores without a prescription. They can be a foam, cream, film, or jelly. Spermicides contain a chemical that kills a man's sperm. The woman should carefully follow the instructions on the package. Most spermicides must be inserted into the vagina 10-15 minutes before sexual intercourse. One dose usually works for an hour. Use another dose if you have sexual intercourse again, even if it has been less than an hour. Do not use douches or rinse your vagina for at least 6-8 hours after having sex. Spermicide alone is not completely effective at preventing pregnancy.

Behavioral methods such as pulling out before ejaculation are not very effective. Douching (rinsing out the vagina) after sex is not effective and not recommended. Breastfeeding a newborn can be protective against pregnancy for up to 6 months, but most women don't breastfeed often enough to prevent ovulation.

Which Birth Control Methods Are Available From a Doctor?

Discuss your birth control needs and preferences with your health care provider. Many methods are available from your doctor and can be arranged for during an office visit. Some options, such as a diaphragm (used with spermicide) or a cervical cap (also used with spermicide), require fitting, which can also be done during an office visit. An intrauterine device (IUD) must be placed by a health care professional.

  • Your health care provider can fit you with a diaphragm. You insert this into your vagina before sex so it covers your cervix. Before you insert it, you put spermicide into the dome of the diaphragm. Diaphragms come in several sizes, so you must be fitted for it at a clinic.
  • The cervical cap is a soft rubber cap that fits over the woman's cervix. It is smaller than a diaphragm and sometimes more difficult to insert. It also works with spermicide.
  • An IUD is placed into your uterus by a doctor. Currently in the United States, 2 types of IUDs are available: copper and hormonal. Depending on the type, IUDs can be left in place for 5-10 years. Only your health care provider can insert and remove an IUD.

You need a doctor's prescription for most types of birth control pills. These contain hormones that keep your ovaries from releasing an egg. You must take a pill every day. Various types are available, each with different combinations of hormones. Your doctor can advise you on the best one for you. Birth control hormones can now be delivered through a patch you place on your skin, or through a plastic ring placed in the vagina. The hormones are absorbed through your skin. Hormone shots can be given to you every 3 months to prevent pregnancy. You must receive these at your doctor's office. See Birth Control Hormonal Methods for more information on these options.

How Can You Prevent From Getting or Spreading STDs?

  • Sexually transmitted diseases are easily spread and can have serious consequences for your health and the health of a child if you become pregnant.
  • The male condom is the best way to protect yourself against getting or spreading a sexually transmitted disease such as genital herpes or chlamydia or more serious HIV (which leads to AIDS).
  • Talk with your health care provider and your sexual partner about your concerns.
  • Risks exist, even with condom use.
  • Condoms can break during sexual intercourse.
  • Using condoms correctly can minimize these risks.

What If You Become Pregnant?

Both the male and female partner should consider this question before having sexual intercourse. Unintended pregnancy is not something to think about later.

Emergency contraception, in the form of prescription medication hormones such as birth control pills taken the “morning after,” can be used especially for rape victims and in the event other forms of birth control fail (such as a condom breaking). This method is used prior to a confirmed pregnancy. Emergency contraception is not a method to be used routinely or casually.

Other options for an unintended pregnancy include abortion and adoption.

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Birth Control Methods

What Are the Types and Option of Birth Control?

Discuss your birth control needs and preferences with your health care provider. Many methods are available from your doctor and can be arranged for during an office visit. Some options, such as a diaphragm (used with spermicide) or a cervical cap (also used with spermicide), require fitting, which can also be done during an office visit. An intrauterine device (IUD) must be placed by a health care professional.

Examples of types and options of birth control include:

Continuous Abstinence

Natural Family Planning/Rhythm Method

  • Barrier Methods
  • Contraceptive Sponge
  • Diaphragm, Cervical Cap, and Cervical Shield
  • Female Condom
  • Male Condom

Hormonal Methods

  • Oral Contraceptives - Combined pill ("The pill")
  • Oral Contraceptives - Progestin-only pill ("Mini-pill")
  • The Patch
  • Shot/Injection
  • Vaginal Ring

Implantable Devices

  • Implantable Rods
  • Intrauterine Devices

Permanent Birth Control Methods

  • Sterilization Implant
  • Surgical Sterilization

Emergency Contraception

SOURCE: Birth Control Methods.

Contraceptive counseling and selection. UpToDate. Updated: Apr 8, 2019.

Patient Comments & Reviews

  • Birth Control Methods - Permanent Birth Control

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  • Birth Control Methods - Over-the-Counter Methods

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