Choosing a birth control method is a personal choice. You need to consider how it will fit into your lifestyle — and how convenient, safe, and effective it will be. You will also want to consider that some birth control methods can be combined to increase effectiveness and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

The table below summarizes information about several methods. You may have a lot of questions after reviewing this information. Please discuss these options with your healthcare provider to help you decide what will work best for you.

Birth Control Methods

Birth Control Method Advantages Disadvantages Effectiveness

Birth control pill (oral contraceptives, “the pill”)

Taking birth control pills regularly (usually daily) delivers a combination of hormones that prevent ovulation. Birth control pills are available by prescription only.

  • Provides continuous contraceptive protection when taken correctly
  • Offers some noncontraceptive health benefits
  • Provides more regular periods
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted disease
  • Usually must be taken daily
  • Increases risk for heart attack, blood clot, and stroke, particularly for smokers over age 35
  • May bring side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and weight gain

95 to 99% effective when taken correctly

Condom (rubbers, prophylactics)

Condoms are a barrier method. Before intercourse, your partner's penis is covered with a thin sheath (latex, plastic, or animal tissue) that prevents sperm from entering your body. Condoms can be lubricated with a spermicide to increase protection against pregnancy. Condoms are available without a prescription.

  • Is easily obtained
  • Provides some protection against sexually transmitted disease (including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS)
  • Requires cooperation of male partner
  • May possibly break
  • Is not “spontaneous,” as it must be put on immediately before intercourse
  • May reduce sensation

86 to 98% effective when combined with a spermicide

Nearly 100% effective when combined with withdrawal method

Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a small rubber dome or cup. It's worn inside your vagina and works by holding spermicide against your cervix, blocking sperm from reaching the egg. A doctor must fit you with a diaphragm initially. Once you have the proper size diaphragm, you'll need to insert it into your vagina before intercourse.

  • Can be inserted up to 6 hours before intercourse
  • Doesn't affect your hormone levels
  • Can be used while breastfeeding
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted disease
  • Can be difficult and/or uncomfortable to place
  • Can only be left in place up to 24 hours
  • Increases risk of urinary tract, bladder, and vaginal infections
  • Increases risk of developing allergies to spermicide or latex
  • For repeated intercourse, requires reapplication of spermicide
  • Must be replaced once each year or if you gain or lose more than 10 pounds

80 to 94% effective when used properly

IUD (Intrauterine Device)

The IUD is a small plastic device that the doctor inserts into your uterus. An IUD contains copper or hormones that keep sperm from joining the egg and prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus.

  • Eliminates need to remember birth control daily
  • Doesn't affect hormone levels
  • Copper IUDs provide continuous contraceptive protection for up to 10 years
  • IUDs with hormones may reduce menstrual cramps and may be left in place for five years
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted disease
  • May be expelled from the uterus
  • May perforate the uterus
  • May increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) for some women
  • May cause menstrual bleeding irregularities (cramps, spotting between periods, heavier and longer periods)

97 to 99% or greater

Periodic abstinence (natural family planning, the “rhythm method”)

This method requires you and your partner to avoid sexual intercourse during the fertile period of your menstrual cycle.

  • Requires no medical intervention
  • Has no side effects
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted diseases
  • Requires significant knowledge of the reproductive cycle
  • Requires careful planning and significant motivation
  • Can be difficult to determine fertile periods
  • Prohibits intercourse for up to half of the menstrual cycle
  • Is not recommended for women with irregular cycles

Highly variable

Surgical sterilization (tubal ligation or “tube tying” for women, vasectomy for men)

Surgical methods prevent pregnancy by permanently blocking the passage of the egg in the woman's body (tubal ligation) or sperm in the man's body (vasectomy).

  • Provides continuous contraceptive protection
  • Eliminates need to remember daily
  • No lasting side effects
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted diseases
  • Depending on type, brings varying risk of surgical complication
  • Is permanent - if you change your mind, you cannot count on successfully reversing a ligation or vasectomy

99% or greater

Time-release hormones (subdermal implants, injectable hormones, or contraceptive patches)

Time-release hormones are prescribed and provided by your healthcare provider. For a period of weeks to years (depending on the type), they prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs, thereby preventing pregnancy.

  • Most can be used while breastfeeding once milk supply is well established
  • Are convenient - provide long-lasting contraception and require no daily reminders
  • Can be used by women who cannot take estrogen
  • Some may lead to decreased milk supply for breastfeeding
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted disease
  • Depending on type, may cause various side effects such as menstrual irregularities, headache, nervousness, or depression
  • Depending on type, may bring delayed return to fertility

99% or greater

Withdrawal

This method requires your male partner to remove his penis from your vagina (withdraw) before he ejaculates.

  • Can be used when no other method is available
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitted disease
  • Requires excellent self-control and experience on the man's part
  • Requires trust on the woman's part

Unreliable - leakage often occurs, and sperm is present in seminal fluid, which is produced prior to ejaculation.

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