Birth control methods vary far and wide. There’s a method for nearly every body and lifestyle. In fact, there are about 12 methods in total and counting. And those methods range from non-hormonal and hormonal to single use and long-lasting use.
Whether you’re thinking of trying a new birth control method or simply wanting to learn more about what’s out there, you’ve found the right place. We know the task of choosing the right birth control method can be daunting, so we’ve done some of the homework for you. Here’s what you need to know about several of the birth control methods out there to make the best decision for your body and lifestyle:
1. The Pill
The condom and the pill consistently rank at the top as the most commonly used types of contraception.
The contraceptive pill was invented in 1960. Fifty years on, many new inventions have been added to the list of available contraception methods, but the pill remains the most popular form of female contraception.
The contraceptive pill will prevent you from getting pregnant in 95% of cases and it comes close to providing 99% protection if you take one pill every day as prescribed.
The pill can come in two forms: the combined contraceptive pill (containing the hormones estrogen and progestin) or the mini-pill (only progestin). In the case of the mini-pill, it’s important that you take your pill every day at the same time (you should not be late by more than three hours).
Keep in mind that the pill does not provide any protection against STIs and that a doctor’s prescription is required to buy it.
2. IUD (Non-hormonal/Hormonal)
A small t-shaped device that is placed inside of the uterus by a health care provider to prevent pregnancy 99% of the time. Less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they use an IUD. Available in non-hormonal (copper) and hormonal (plastic) options, the IUD is one of the most effective forms of birth control and can last anywhere between 3 to 10 years depending on which type you choose. Non-hormonal and hormonal IUDs work to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg.
3. The Male Condom
Among the different types of contraceptives, the male condom is a strong contender to the title of most common contraception method. It is easy to use, affordable and offers the best protection against STIs (e.g. gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV).
Condoms are usually made of latex, but if you are allergic to latex, some brands also specialize in condoms made of polyurethane or lambskin. These two are also compatible with lube (latex condoms are not, unless with water-based lubricant); however lambskin condoms do not provide protection against STIs.
For safety reasons, make sure you use a new condom each time you have sex.
4. The Female Condom
Just like the male condom, the female condom is one of the few types of contraception that you can buy over-the-counter at pharmacies and grocery stores without a prescription.
It was first introduced twenty years ago and offers 95% effective protection for pregnancy, as well as some protection against STIs. Female condoms are generally more expensive than the male ones but they are less likely to burst. They can be inserted up to eight hours before sex.
5. The Vaginal Ring (Hormonal)
A flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina each month for three weeks at a time that prevents pregnancy 99% of the time. Less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always use the ring as directed. The vaginal ring releases hormones that stop the ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens cervical mucus, so it is difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
A sterilization is an option available to both men and women.
As far as male contraception is concerned, the technique is called vasectomy and consists in tying off and cutting the tubes that carry sperm – without the need for a scalpel intervention or stitches. The man can then go home in the same day.
This provides no protection against STIs and the effects are for life. In very rare cases (less than 1%), the tubes can grow back, making pregnancy a risk.
As for female sterilization, this is also a very simple operation after which you can go back home the very same day. You have the choice between surgical and non-surgical types of sterilization.
Surgical sterilisation (known as tubal litigation) requires very small cuts in the belly to access the Fallopian tubes, cut them and tie them so that they cannot link the ovaries with the uterus any more. The effects are permanent so you must be sure of your choice concerning sterilization.
Non-surgical sterilisation consists of placing a coil in each Fallopian tube – through the vagina and uterus – so that scars appear and eventually block each tube completely. The scars may take up to 3 months to completely block the tubes, so you need to use another method of contraception in the meantime.
Both options also offer more than 99% of protection against pregnancy (and none against STIs) because of rare cases where blocked tubes happen to grow back and reconnect (1 in 200 women).
ALSO READ: Worst Birth Control Mistakes
7. The Contraceptive Patch
The contraceptive patch is exactly the same thing as the contraceptive pill but in the form of a patch. It provides the same effective protection against pregnancy and has the side effects (positive and negative). It does not protect from STIs.
You wear the patch for three weeks, take it off for one week – allowing your menstrual cycle – then you start with a new patch. The patch is an interesting option in as much as you don’t need to think about taking the pill every day.
There is however a risk of skin irritation, and a (rare) chance that the patch accidentally comes off.
8. The Shot (Hormonal)
An injection given by a medical professional of the hormone progestin in the arm or hip that lasts three months and prevents pregnancy 99% of the time. Less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always use the shot as directed. The shot, also known as Depo-Provera, stops the ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens the cervical mucus, so it is difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
9. Withdrawal/Pull-out Method (Non-hormonal)
Withdrawal prevents pregnancy 73% of the time by pulling the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation. 27 out of 100 women whose partners use withdrawal will become pregnant each year, even if used correctly. Remember, there is always a chance of pregnancy if sperm is introduced to the vagina.
10. The Diaphragm
Continuing with the list of barrier contraception methods, there is the contraceptive diaphragm which is placed inside the vagina so that it prevents the sperm from getting into the uterus. Despite being a barrier method, it doesn’t protect against STIs.
The diaphragm must be coated with spermicide each time before sex and a doctor needs to show you how to use it (you need a prescription to get one). It is inserted at least six hours before sex and it needs to be removed after 24 hours for cleaning. Depending on the material and type of the diaphragm, it can be reused many times.
11. The Cervical Cap – Femcap
The cervical cap (sold as Femcap) is a thimble-shaped latex cup, basically like a diaphragm but smaller. It also needs to be used with a spermicide. The cervical cap must remain in the vagina at least 6 hours after sex, but it also has to be taken out within 48 hours after sex.
Because some women get cystitis (bladder infection) from using a diaphragm, the cervical cap is a useful replacement because it has less contact with the vagina (it only covers the cervix).
The problem with types of contraceptives such as the Femcap or the diaphragm is that their effectiveness – 92 to 95% protection in ideal use – is lower than other types (98-99%) and that they offer only partial protection against STIs (e.g. no HIV protection).
12. Permanent Birth Control
A surgical procedure that makes a person who can produce sperm unable to cause a pregnancy or a person who can ovulate unable to become pregnant. Permanent birth control is not reversible and prevents pregnancy 99% of the time. While women can choose from bilateral tubal ligation in the hospital (aka “having your tubes tied”) or a tubal block done in a health center, men may choose a vasectomy. Learn more about the pros, cons and side effects of a tubal ligation, tubal block or vasectomy.