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Birth control options: What’s right for you?

For centuries, women had few (if any) options for birth control. The phrase “birth control” wasn’t even widely used until the 1930s. Birth control pills became available to women in the 1960s when previously, only barrier options were available. For the first time in history, women could be in charge of their family planning.

The modern birth control movement has expanded far beyond the pill, diaphragms, and condoms. But choosing birth control is a deeply personal choice, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by options.

Ultimately, the decision on what type of birth control is right for you is between you and your doctor. Your ideal birth control depends on a number of factors, including whether or not hormonal birth control is a good choice, how comfortable you are with small medical procedures, whether or not you’re able to take oral medication regularly, and more.

In this guide, we’ll explore the most common types of birth control. We’ll answer questions about the types of birth control to help you make the most informed decision regarding your family planning.

What are the different types of birth control options?

These are the most common forms of birth control.

  • Hormonal birth control pills
  • Intrauterine devices (aka IUDs)
  • Birth control implants
  • Birth control shots
  • Birth control patches
  • Barrier options (e.g., male condoms, female condoms, sponges)

birth control options

How much does birth control cost?

The cost of birth control varies by method but on average, birth control can cost between $0 and $50 per month. Some birth control options such as an IUD, can cost $1,300 for a one-time fee but will last for several years.

What is the most effective form of birth control?

According to Planned Parenthood, the two most effective forms of birth control are birth control implants and IUDs, which are both over 99% effective.

Other forms of birth control such as the birth control pill, boast a similar effectiveness rate. However, the pill and other methods that are used on a schedule are less effective when the schedule isn’t strictly kept. For that reason, they’re not 99% effective with normal use.

What are non-hormonal birth control options?

There are several non or low-hormonal birth control options.

  • Copper IUDs (use no hormones)
  • Barrier methods (e.g., male condoms, female condoms)
  • Birth control implant (uses progestin only, not estrogen)
  • Hormonal IUDs (uses progestin only, not estrogen)
  • Birth control shot (uses progestin only, not estrogen)

If you have a history of migraine, are currently breastfeeding, or have a history of blood clots, your doctor might recommend you try a non-hormonal or low-hormone birth control method like those listed above.

The birth control pill

The birth control pill kicked off the modern birth control movement in the 1960s and remains a popular option for women today.

What is the birth control pill?

The birth control pill is a hormonal contraceptive that you take orally at the same time every day. Common brands include Alesse, Levlen, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Loestrin, Ortho-Novum, Estrostep, Lessina, Levlite, Aviane, Levora, Lo Ovral, Aranelle, Natazia, Enpresse, Mircette, Apri, Yasmin, Nordette, and Yaz.

How do birth control pills work?

The birth control works by stopping ovulation. By stopping ovulation, sperm cannot reach the egg because there’s no egg available for the sperm to fertilize. Birth control pills also thicken the cervical mucus, which makes it harder for the sperm to reach the egg.

How effective are birth control pills?

When used as directed, the birth control pill is 99% effective. However, if you don’t take the pill at the same time every day or skip days altogether, it becomes much less effective. Overall, with typical use, the birth control pill is about 91% effective.

How do you take birth control pills?

You take birth control pills orally (by mouth) once a day at approximately the same time. The time of day doesn’t matter, but it should be consistent.

How long does it take for birth control pills to start working?

On average, the birth control pill takes seven days to become fully effective. If you start the birth control pill on the first day of your period, however, it may kick in immediately. Birth control manufacturers recommend that you use a secondary method of contraception, such as condoms, for the first seven days.

Intrauterine devices (IUD)

Though intrauterine devices have been a method of birth control since 1909, it wasn’t a commonly used method until the invention of the copper IUD in the 1960s. Today, IUDs are the most commonly used form of long-acting reversible birth control (LARC).

What is an IUD?

An IUD (intrauterine device) is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus by an OB-GYN. There are two types of IUDs: progestin IUDs (Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta) and copper IUDs (ParaGard).

How does an IUD work?

Copper and progestin IUDs both work by preventing sperm cells from reaching the egg. Sperm cells don’t react well to copper, which impedes the ability of the sperm to reach the egg. Progestin IUDs thicken the mucus in the cervix and prevent ovulation (like the birth control pill).

How effective is an IUD?

An IUD is 99% effective. Since the device is inserted by a medical professional, there’s little risk of imperfect use as there is with the birth control pill or condoms. Copper and progestin IUDs are equally effective. However, copper IUDs have the distinction of being effective emergency contraception when inserted up to five days after unprotected sex.

How long does an IUD last?

A copper IUD is one of the longest lasting contraceptives and is effective up to 12 years. Progestin IUDs last between three and seven years after insertion depending on the IUD.

How much does an IUD cost?

An IUD can be free when fully covered by insurance or cost up to $1,300 without any health insurance coverage.

How long does it take an IUD to work?

A copper IUD is effective immediately after insertion as it does not rely on hormones working through your body. Hormone-based IUDs can take up to a week to become fully effective in preventing pregnancy.

What are the side effects of IUDs?

Side effects of IUDs are listed below.

  • Pain during and immediately following insertion (usually lessened when you’re on your period during insertion and if you take an ibuprofen 30 minutes before the procedure)
  • Cramping and backaches in the days following insertion
  • Spotting between periods
  • Increasingly irregular periods (or none at all)
  • In some cases, heavier periods and menstrual cramps (more common with copper IUDs)

Birth control implant

Birth control implants are an increasingly popular method of long-acting reversible birth control. It works similarly to a hormonal IUD, but it’s inserted into the arm rather than the uterus.

What is a birth control implant?

The birth control implant (Nexplanon) is a small plastic implant that is inserted into your arm by a nurse or doctor during a short office visit.

How does a birth control implant work?

The birth control implant works by preventing ovulation and by thickening the cervical mucus that keeps sperm from swimming to an egg.

How effective is a birth control implant?

The birth control implant (like the IUD) is 99% effective. Unlike condoms or the birth control pill, there’s almost no room for user error, which makes the birth control implant equally effective in theory and practice.

How long does a birth control implant last?

According to the Nexplanon website, the birth control implant works for three years. However, it can be removed if you decide to get pregnant within three years of having the implant inserted.

How much does a birth control implant cost?

The birth control implant can cost as little as $0 when fully covered by insurance. It can cost up to $1,300 when not covered. Removal of the birth control implant can cost from $0 to upward of $300 depending on insurance coverage.

How long does it take a birth control implant to work?

The birth control implant takes about seven days to become fully effective. However, if the implant is inserted in the first five days of your period, it might be effective at preventing pregnancy immediately.

What are the side effects of the birth control implant?

The birth control implant has several side effects to consider.

  • Lighter or heavier periods
  • No bleeding at all during your period
  • Spotting between periods
  • Unpredictable time between periods
  • Mood swings
  • Mild weight gain
  • Acne
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Temporary pain at insertion site

Birth control shot

The birth control shot was first introduced in the late 1950s and was available as birth control in the United States until 1992. As a drug, it has many other uses including easing the symptoms of menopause.

What is the birth control shot?

The birth control shot (aka Depo-Provera) is an injection given every three months to prevent pregnancy. The shot can be given by a medical professional or, in some cases, can be administered at home. Depo-SubQ is administered under the skin (subcutaneously) rather than in the muscle (intramuscularly).

How does the birth control shot work?

Like other hormonal forms of birth control, the birth control shot works by both preventing ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot swim to eggs. The shot can be given every 10 to 15 weeks depending on your schedule. However, manufacturers recommend getting the shot every 12 weeks because the shot is less effective when you wait more than 15 weeks between shots.

How effective is the birth control shot?

When administered on a perfect schedule, the birth control shot is 99% effective. However, because shots aren’t always administered on time, the average effectiveness is 94%.

How long does the birth control shot last?

The birth control shot lasts three months. However, it can take 10 months without shots to get pregnant. It takes time for the hormones to leave your body.

How much does the birth control shot cost?

The birth control shot can cost anywhere from $0 when fully covered by insurance to $150 per shot.

How long does it take the birth control shot to work?

After your first birth control shot, it could take up to seven days before the shot works. However, if you schedule your shot within the first five days of your period, it could be effective immediately. The birth control shot lasts for months after you get the shot. In fact, it could take 10 months after your last shot before you could get pregnant as the hormones take time to exit your system.

Birth control patch

The contraceptive patch is one of the newer forms of birth control. It came to market in 2002 and is popular among women who don’t want to take a daily pill and aren’t interested in long-acting reversible birth control.

What is the birth control patch?

The birth control patch is a sticker you wear on your body much like a nicotine patch. It is often worn on the arm, lower back, or belly. The patch needs to be changed once a week. The most common brand is Xulane.

How does the birth control patch work?

The patch, like other forms of hormonal birth control, prevents pregnancy by stopping your body from ovulating and by thickening cervical mucus that keeps sperm from meeting an egg.

How effective is the birth patch?

When the patch is used per instructions, it is 99% effective. In common use, which has some room for error, it’s approximately 91% effective. The most common error made when using the patch is not changing it regularly.

How long does the birth control patch last?

The patch lasts for seven days and needs to be changed once a week, ideally around the same time.

How much does the birth control patch cost?

If it’s completely covered by your insurance, the patch can be free. However, it costs about $150 per prescription refill without insurance.

How long does it take the birth control patch to work?

If you start using the patch within the first five days of your period, it starts working immediately. If you start using it at any other point in your cycle, the patch could take up to seven days to start working. During these seven days, the manufacturer recommends that you use a secondary method of birth control, such as condoms.

Barrier options

Barrier options are one of the oldest forms of birth control. Male condoms are the most popular type of barrier birth control, but women can take their contraception into their own hands with female condoms and diaphragms. Though diaphragms are also a barrier birth control method, they do not protect against STDs. The male and female condom are the only methods of birth control in this list that also protect against STDs.

How do male condoms work?

Male condoms work by providing a barrier between the man’s sperm and the woman’s egg. They’re worn externally on the penis and are thin, stretchy pouches that prevent semen from getting through.

How effective are male condoms?

When used perfectly, a male condom is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. In normal use, condoms are about 85% effective. Condoms are more effective when used exactly as instructions dictate and fitted with the proper size for the penis.

How does a female condom work?

A female condom works by acting as a barrier between the sperm and the egg during sex. Unlike a male condom, which is worn on the penis, the female condom goes inside the vagina.

How effective are female condoms?

According to Planned Parenthood, female (aka internal) condoms are 95% effective when used perfectly, but are about 79% effective with normal use.

Find the method that works best for you

There are many options of birth control for a reason: There isn’t one method that’s perfect for everyone. Many women try several different types of contraception before they find a method that works best for them and their bodies.

Now that you know the differences between the most popular types of birth control, speak with your doctor about what’s best for you.