There is a wide range of contraceptive options available today, from birth control pills to sterilization (see this infographic from Planned Parenthood for information on costs). The type that works best for you will depend on various aspects, including age, lifestyle, health, and side effects. Before deciding which type is best for you, begin by discussing your choices with your healthcare provider.
Birth Control Options
Some contraceptive options can be used to prevent pregnancy, while others also protect you from sexually transmitted infections. You might find yourself juggling between the many choices and wondering which best suits you. The possible side-effects, cost, effectiveness, and convenience of use are just some of the many factors that should be weighed up. The most popular methods are as follows:
1. Barrier Methods
One of the most common forms of birth control around the world is the barrier method. This method physically blocks the sperm from reaching the egg to prevent pregnancy. Some of the types of this method include:
- Cervical caps
- Contraceptive sponge
These methods work best when combined with a spermicide. A spermicide is the element responsible for killing sperm. These come in different forms, including jelly, foam, suppository, cream, film, and gel. Spermicides can also be used alone as a birth control method. Note; if you have had a vaginal birth, a sponge or a cervical cap may not work for you.
- Barrier methods are best for breastfeeding mothers
- Condoms prevent pregnancy and STIs
- They do not use hormones, meaning they are the best for women with heart conditions and those who smoke
- Barrier Methods do not interfere with the menstrual cycle
- They are cost-effective
- They are not the best for controlling pregnancy
- You will need a prescription before using a cervical cap or a diaphragm
- The cervical cap and the diaphragm do not work well for women who have had a vaginal birth
- People allergic to latex and those who have had toxic shock syndrome cannot use the diaphragm or the cervical cap
2. Short-Acting Hormonal Methods
Short-acting birth control methods protect against unplanned pregnancies. For them to be effective, these have to be used in short-time intervals such as daily intake, including the birth control pills and skin patch, or a three-monthly application, such as the injectable contraceptives (Depo-Provera). These are reversible, which means that their effectiveness wears out almost immediately after you stop using them.
- Fewer or no periods
- Shots reduce period bleeding, lowering the risk of anemia
- Reduced pain during ovulation
- Can be used by women over the age of 35 years who are smokers
- May protect against ovarian and endometrial cancer
- Does not offer protection against STIs
- Triggers irregular periods
- Women who have had gestational diabetes may be exposed to the risk of diabetes
- Pills must be taken at the same time each day
- Shots can trigger weight gain
- Shots may delay the normal cycle by 6-8 months
3. Long-Acting Reversible Contraception
Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) is a highly effective birth control method that prevents pregnancy over an extended period. This is the most dependable method because it does need to be used often. The available techniques for long term use include intrauterine methods and hormonal implants. They can protect you from getting pregnant for 3-10 years, depending on the method used. LARCs are reversible, which means that their effectiveness wears off immediately after you stop using them.
- They are highly effective. Only about one percent of the women who use them get pregnant
- Few side effects
- Few contraindications
- Rapidly reversible
- IUDs containing progesterone can reduce menstrual pain and bleeding
- LARCs offer no protection against STIs
- May interfere with the period pattern
- May trigger abdominal pain and weight gain
- Only a health expert can remove the IUD
This is a permanent birth control method available for both men and women and is only suitable for people certain they do not want more children. Sterilization is extremely hard to reverse, so be sure to talk with your partner, doctor, and a counselor before opting for it. This method prevents the sperm from traveling to the egg and the eggs from moving to the fallopian tube, meaning fertilization is prevented.
- 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy
- Does not affect the sex drive or the hormone levels
- Excellent for women who have experienced adverse effects when using hormonal contraception
- Blocked tubes may re-join almost immediately or years after the procedure
- Sterilization may fail and lead to tubal pregnancy
- Does not protect against STIs
- Can lead to vaginal bleeding
5. Fertility Awareness Methods
Fertility awareness methods (FAMs) are the oldest forms of birth control, involving tracking ovulation to prevent pregnancy. Also known as natural family planning or the rhythm method, these can help you track your menstrual cycle to know when your ovaries are releasing an egg. This is the period during which you are at a greater risk of getting pregnant. There are different FAM methods that can help you to keep track of your fertility, including:
- The cervical mucus method: This involves checking your cervical mucus daily. Also known as the Billings Ovulation Method, this is based on a careful observation of the mucus patterns in the course of your menstrual cycle.
- The temperature method: For many women, the typical body temperature is 96-98 degrees Fahrenheit before ovulation. After ovulation, it rises to 97-99 degrees. Take your temperature every day to monitor the changes.
- The calendar method: This involves tracking the menstrual history for a prediction of the next ovulation.
These methods are about 88 percent accurate, meaning that about 24 out of 100 couples using FAM will get pregnant within a year. FAMs are about using them the right way, including tracking the signs daily and using birth control or avoiding sex in the days considered unsafe. However, fertility awareness methods are least effective because they are difficult to follow and sometimes even predict.
- Totally natural
- Allow you to get more in tune with your body
- Are about 98 percent effective in controlling pregnancy only when used perfectly
- Must be used consistently for high efficacy
- Takes effort to track biomarkers such as mucus, cycles, and temperature
- Does not protect against STIs
- Only work for people with regular periods
With the many issues to consider, including cost, side effects, and future pregnancy plans, choosing the right birth control method can be challenging. With these details and the help of a health professional, it should be easy to find the best method for you. Remember, the effectiveness of each method is the most crucial aspect.