There are many birth control options out there but what works for one woman may not be right for another. Many factors come into consideration—whether you plan to have children (or more children), your personal health history, your relationship status—so it’s worth taking the time to do research and talk over options with a medical professional.
It’s also important to note that, no matter what method you choose (unless it’s total abstinence), all birth control methods have a small percentage failure rate. If you are worried about getting pregnant, you may want to double up to improve your odds of preventing the unexpected.
The Pill and Other Hormone-Based Methods
When taken correctly, the birth control pill is more than 90 percent effective. According to WebMD, about 8 percent of users will experience an unplanned pregnancy. but this number includes women who miss a dose.
This method relies on hormones (estrogen, progestin, or a combination of the two) and requires a prescription. It does NOT prevent the spread of STDs, but one advantage is that many women use the pill to have less cramping and lighter bleeding during menstruation.
In addition to the pill, hormone-based birth control can come in the form of an implant (a thin rod about the size of a matchstick placed in the arm), a patch, vaginal ring, or shot. The level of effectiveness and associated side effects vary so it’s best to discuss these options with your ob-gyn.
The most commonly used barrier method is the male condom. While condoms are less effective in preventing pregnancy than the pill, they provide some protection against STDs. Other barrier methods include the female condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, sponges, film, and spermicidal foam. Each of these options have different degrees of effectiveness, but a consistent factor is that user error can seriously impact whether a barrier method is successful.
Barrier methods must be used when you are actually having sex (unlike a pill that you take daily, or an IUD that remains in the uterus once inserted) so you have to plan accordingly. Many people complain that barrier devices kill spontaneity and, in the heat of the moment, some people inevitably fail to use them.
An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a t-shaped piece of plastic that must be inserted into the uterus by a doctor. Once in place, it can remain between three and 10 years, depending on the manufacturer, or until a woman wants it removed.
IUD’s are very effective and extremely low-maintenance, and many women find them completely painless. At the same time, IUD’s can be expensive, slip out, or be uncomfortable; some women also find that they cause heavier periods. IUD’s do NOT provide protection from STDs.
The copper IUD can be inserted within five days of unprotected sex as a method of emergency contraception and is more than 99.9 percent effective at preventing pregnancy in those situations.
Sometimes referred to as the “rhythm method,” many women depend on fertility awareness as a means of birth control. By measuring cervical mucus and body temperature and monitoring the dates of her cycle, a woman can avoid sex during the days when she is most fertile.
Another natural method is withdrawal. This requires the male partner to pull out prior to ejaculation, which theoretically prevents semen from making contact with the vagina. This not only requires a lot of trust, but also the willpower to interrupt sex at the most climactic moment. It’s also important to note that sperm is present in pre-ejaculation, which means that even if this is performed perfectly, pregnancy can still happen.
These methods are less reliable than other types of birth control, but there are couples who use one or both successfully for family planning (but not STD prevention).
Tubal Ligation and Vasectomy
If you are sure that you do not want more (or any) biological children, you may want to consider a permanent form of birth control. While tubal litigation and vasectomy do not protect against STDs, these methods are the most effective way to prevent pregnancy.
A tubal ligation is commonly referred to as “having your tubes tied.” A surgeon performs the procedure by tying, clamping, cutting, banding, or sealing a woman’s fallopian tubes to prevent eggs from leaving the ovaries. The procedure must be performed in a hospital setting and is difficult to reverse.
A vasectomy is a quick procedure done with local anesthetic at a clinic, and recovery time is brief. It is important to note that sterility is not achieved immediately, so it’s important to continue to use other methods of prevention until a doctor determines that no sperm are present in the semen.
Intimacy and sexuality is essential for a happy life and fulfilling relationship, so it’s important to feel confident in the birth control method(s) you’ve chosen. Do your research and don’t be afraid to try something new if your initial choice doesn’t work. Talk to your medical professional and then make an informed decision based on what’s right for you and your partner.