Birth control basics

If you're considering using birth control, you have many options — from natural family planning and over-the-counter birth control products to prescription contraceptives or sterilization.

To help determine which birth control method would be best for you, consider your lifestyle, personal preferences and health status. How do you feel about planning for sex? Inserting birth control devices into your body? Taking a pill at the same time every day or tracking your fertile days? Permanently ending the ability to conceive or father a child?

It's also important to make an honest assessment of yourself, your partner and your relationship. You may have different birth control needs if you have sex often or you're not in a monogamous relationship. Ideally, you and your partner will discuss the options and reach a mutually beneficial decision.

Birth control pills

Birth control pills are a common type of contraception. If you're considering taking birth control pills, you may have more choices than you'd think.

You'll start by choosing either combination birth control pills or minipills. If you choose combination birth control pills, you'll have another choice — conventional packs or continuous dosing. With conventional birth control pills, you'll have a period every month. With continuous dosing birth control pills, you may have a period only four times a year or eliminate your period entirely.

Of course, each type of birth control pill has its own risks and benefits. Understand the basics, then work with your health care provider to determine the best birth control pill for you.

Other birth control options

When you think of birth control options, what comes to mind? Birth control pills are a popular choice, but don't stop there. Other birth control options abound — and the choice is up to you.

If you need birth control only occasionally, over-the-counter male or female condoms might be appropriate birth control options. Condoms also provide protection against sexually transmitted infections. The contraceptive sponge is another option that's available without a prescription. If you're most concerned about effectiveness, prescription contraceptives — such as contraceptive injections, a vaginal ring or an intrauterine device — might be better birth control options.

As you consider your birth control options, be open to all the possibilities. Get familiar with how different types of birth control work, as well as the risks and benefits of specific birth control options.

Natural family planning

Natural family planning may be an appealing birth control option if you can't or choose not to use other contraceptives.

Popular types of natural family planning include the rhythm method, the cervical mucus method and the basal body temperature method. You can use these types of natural family planning to predict when you'll ovulate — and when you need to avoid unprotected sex, if you don't want to conceive. Another type of natural family planning is withdrawal, in which the man withdraws his penis from the vagina before ejaculation to prevent pregnancy.

Natural family planning requires motivation, diligence and self-control. Natural family planning isn't as effective as other types of birth control, but it's inexpensive and doesn't have any side effects.

Sterilization

If you're sure that you don't want to be pregnant — or father a child — at any point in the future, you may consider sterilization.

For men, vasectomy is the only option for sterilization. During this straightforward surgery, the tubes that carry sperm into the semen are cut and sealed. After a successful vasectomy, a man isn't able to father a child.

Women may be able to choose from several sterilization options, including tubal ligation — a surgical procedure — and the Essure and Adiana systems, both of which permanently block the fallopian tubes.

Sterilization is an effective method of birth control. The decision to pursue sterilization must be taken seriously, however. Although reversal is sometimes possible after vasectomy or tubal ligation, sterilization of any type is considered permanent.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception isn't meant to be used in place of routine birth control — but it's an option if you've had unprotected sex, your method of birth control failed or you missed a birth control pill.

To be effective, emergency contraception must be used as soon as possible after unprotected sex. In the U.S., two types of emergency contraception are available: pills and intrauterine device (IUD).

Emergency contraception pills are also known as the morning-after pill. Three brands — Next Choice, Plan B One-Step and Ella — are available. Emergency contraception pills can be used up to five days after unprotected sex. However, the pills are more effective the sooner you take them.

Another option is a copper IUD. The brand name is ParaGard. To prevent pregnancy, the IUD must be inserted within five days after unprotected sex.

May 25, 2012