Birth control options: Things to consider

Your birth control options may include oral contraceptives, barrier methods or natural family planning. Find out how to choose the method of contraception that's right for you. By Mayo Clinic Staff

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.

Jan. 27, 2012 See more In-depth