Birth control basics
If you're considering using birth control, you have many options — including natural family planning, over-the-counter products, prescription contraceptives and sterilization.
To choose the birth control method that's best for you, consider your lifestyle, personal preferences and health status. For instance, how do you feel about:
- Planning for sex?
- Inserting a birth control device into your body?
- Taking a pill at the same time every day?
- Tracking fertile days?
- Permanently ending your fertility?
It's also important to honestly assess 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'll find a solution that benefits both you and your partner.
Birth control pills or vaginal ring
Birth control pills — also called oral contraceptives — 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 — between using conventional packs, or extended or continuous dosing.
With conventional birth control pills, you'll have a period every month. With extended or continuous dosing birth control pills, you may have a period only a few times a year or you may eliminate your period entirely.
Similar to combination birth control pills, the vaginal ring prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones into your body. The hormones suppress ovulation — keeping your ovaries from releasing an egg.
Each type of birth control pill has its own risks and benefits. So does the vaginal ring. Understand the basics, then work with your doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care provider to determine whether a birth control pill or a vaginal ring might best meet your needs.
Long-acting reversible contraception
If you know you want to become pregnant someday — just not anytime soon — long-acting reversible contraception may be a good choice. Long-acting reversible contraception provides effective birth control with little day-to-day hassle.
Options for long-acting reversible contraception include:
- An intrauterine device (Mirena, ParaGard, Skyla, others)
- A contraceptive implant (Nexplanon)
- A contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera)
You need a prescription from your doctor for this type of birth control. Besides its effectiveness and ease of use, long-acting reversible contraception allows for a return to fertility once you stop using the contraception. With the intrauterine device and contraceptive implant, the return to fertility is prompt. With the contraceptive injection, return to fertility may take a little longer.
The intrauterine device or contraceptive implant requires a visit to your doctor for removal if you decide you no longer want to use this type of birth control.
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.
As you consider your birth control options, be open to all 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.
Natural family planning is a method of birth control that helps you predict when ovulation will happen — and when you need to avoid unprotected sex if you don't want to conceive a child. This birth control method may involve charting your temperature daily, tracking changes in cervical mucus and paying attention to other key fertility indicators.
Another type of natural family planning is withdrawal, in which the penis is removed from the vagina before ejaculation to try 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.
If you're sure that you don't want a future pregnancy, 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.
Women may choose a sterilization option such as tubal ligation, a surgical procedure that permanently blocks the fallopian tubes. Another option is complete removal of the fallopian tubes (salpingectomy), which may reduce ovarian cancer risk, too.
Sterilization is an effective method of birth control. But the decision to pursue sterilization must be taken seriously. Although reversal is sometimes possible after vasectomy or tubal ligation, sterilization of any type is considered permanent.
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 have unprotected sex, your method of birth control fails or you miss a birth control pill.
To be effective, emergency contraception must be used as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Options include emergency contraception pills and the copper intrauterine device (IUD).
Emergency contraception pills — such as Next Choice One Dose, Plan B One-Step and Ella — can be used up to five days after unprotected sex. But the pills are more effective the sooner you take them.
A copper IUD (ParaGard) can also be used as emergency contraception. To prevent pregnancy, the IUD must be inserted within five days after unprotected sex.
Jan. 12, 2021
- Frequently asked questions. Contraception FAQ114. Emergency contraception. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/emergency-contraception. Accessed Dec. 15, 2020.
- Hatcher RA, et al., eds. Contraceptive Technology. 21st ed. Ayer Company Publishers; 2018.