There are numerous types of birth control which can help women prevent unwanted pregnancy and regulate menstrual cycles. These can be classified into reversible and irreversible methods. Below is a list of all the various methods of birth control, along with useful information about what it is and how it works. It is important to remember that of the methods listed below, ONLY the male and the female condom provide protection against STIs.
Reversible Methods of Birth Control
Birth control pill
Also called “the pill,” it contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. It is prescribed by a doctor. A pill is taken at the same time each day. If you are older than 35 years and smoke, have a history of blood clots or breast cancer, your doctor may advise you not to take the pill. The pill is 92–99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Unlike the pill, the mini-pill only has one hormone, progestin, instead of both estrogen and progestin. It is prescribed by a doctor. It is taken at the same time each day. It is a good option for women who can’t take estrogen. They are 92–99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Birth control shot
This is an injectable progestin that inhibits ovulation and prevents sperm from reaching the egg. It is 99.7% effective when used as directed. The shot is administered every three months by your doctor. It is convenient and there is no daily task to remember.
A flexible ring which is about 2 inches in diameter and it is inserted into the vagina. The ring releases the hormones progestin and estrogen. You place the ring inside your vagina. You wear the ring for three weeks, take it out for the week you have your period, and then put in a new ring. It is 92–99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
This skin patch is worn on the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body (but not on the breasts). This method is prescribed by a doctor. It releases hormones progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. You put on a new patch once a week for three weeks. During the fourth week, you do not wear a patch, so you can have a menstrual period. The patch is 92–99% effective at preventing pregnancy, but it appears to be less effective in women who weigh more than 198 pounds.
The implant is a single, thin rod that is inserted under the skin of a women’s upper arm. The rod contains a progestin that is released into the body over 3 years. It is 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
T-shaped device, which is inserted into the vagina by a health care professional that stays in place. This device is 99.8% effective, and lasts up to 10 years. Some of the side effects are heavier, tougher periods, and side effects similar to the pill if the device contains hormones. The benefits are longevity, and there is no planning needed before sexual intercourse.
Worn by the man, a male condom keeps sperm from getting into a woman’s body. Latex condoms, the most common type, help prevent pregnancy and HIV and other STIs as do the newer synthetic condoms. “Natural” or “lambskin” condoms also help prevent pregnancy, but may not provide protection against STIs, including HIV. Male condoms are 85–98% effective at preventing pregnancy. Condoms can only be used once, and are most effective when used consistently and correctly. You can buy condoms, KY jelly, or water-based lubricants at a drug store. Do not use oil-based lubricants such as massage oils, baby oil, lotions, or petroleum jelly with latex condoms. They will weaken the condom, causing it to tear or break.
Worn by the woman, the female condom helps keeps sperm from getting into her body. It is packaged with a lubricant and is available at drug stores. It can be inserted up to eight hours before sexual intercourse. Female condoms are 79–95% effective at preventing pregnancy when used consistently and correctly, and may also help prevent STIs.
Diaphragm (with spermicide)
Round, flexible rubber with a rigid rim that covers the cervix. It is placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix to block sperm. The diaphragm is shaped like a shallow cup. You can insert it just prior to intercourse of up to six hours beforehand. You should use spermicides with this barrier method, as that will help kill the sperm, and prevent fertilization. The diaphragm is 84–94% effective at preventing pregnancy. Visit your doctor for a proper fitting because diaphragms come in different sizes.
This is similar to the diaphragm, but smaller in size. It is used in the same fashion as the diaphragm. It fits over the cervix and keeps sperm from entering. The cap should be used with spermicide for extra protection. It is inserted before intercourse and can be left in for up to 24 without spermicide. It should be washed, dried, and stored in its case after each use. Visit your doctor for a proper fitting because cervical caps comes in different sizes.
These products work by killing sperm and come in several forms—foam, gel, cream, film, suppository, or tablet. They are placed in the vagina no more than one hour before intercourse. You leave them in place at least six to eight hours after intercourse. You can use a spermicide in addition to a male condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap. Spermicides alone are about 71–82% effective at preventing pregnancy. They can be purchased in drug stores.
The sponge is made of plastic foam and contains spermicide. It is soft, round, and about two inches in diameter. It has a nylon loop attached to the bottom for removal. The sponge is inserted into the vagina to covers the cervix and blocks sperm entry. The sponge is more effective for women who have never given birth, and thus, there are varying levels of effectiveness.
Fertility awareness and abstinence
This method means not having vaginal intercourse at any time. It is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy.
Natural family planning or fertility awareness
Understanding your monthly fertility pattern can help you plan to get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant. Your fertility pattern is the number of days in the month when you are fertile (able to get pregnant), days when you are infertile, and days when fertility is unlikely, but possible. If you have a regular menstrual cycle, you have about nine or more fertile days each month. If you do not want to get pregnant, you do not have sex on the days you are fertile, or you use a form of birth control on those days. These methods are 75–99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Permanent Methods of Birth Control
These methods are meant for people who want a permanent method of birth control. In other words, they never want to have a child, or they do not want more children. The methods listed here are more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Female Sterilization — Tubal ligation or “tying tubes”
A woman can have her fallopian tubes tied (or closed) so that sperm and eggs cannot meet for fertilization. The procedure can be done in a hospital or in an outpatient surgical center. You can go home the same day of the surgery and resume your normal activities within a few days. This method is effective immediately.
A thin tube is used to thread a tiny device into each fallopian tube. It irritates the fallopian tubes and causes scar tissue to grow and permanently plug the tubes. It can take about three months for the scar tissue to grow, so use another form of birth control during this time. Return to your doctor for a test to see if scar tissue has fully blocked your fallopian tubes.
Male Sterilization – Vasectomy
This operation is done to keep a man’s sperm from going to his penis, so his ejaculate never has any sperm in it that can fertilize an egg. This operation is simpler than tying a woman’s tubes. The procedure is done at an outpatient surgical center. The man can go home the same day. Recovery time is less than one week. After the operation, a man visits his doctor for tests to count his sperm and to make sure the sperm count has dropped to zero; this takes about 12 weeks. Another form of birth control should be used until the man’s sperm count has dropped to zero.
Birth Control Effectiveness Chart
(Information taken from the Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov)