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What should I think about when choosing a birth control method?

Which birth control methods are the best at preventing pregnancy?

Which birth control methods also protect against STIs?

What is the birth control pill?

What is the skin patch?

What is the vaginal ring?

What is the birth control shot?

What is the implant?

What is the IUD?

How do IUDs work?

What is spermicide?

What are condoms?

What is the diaphragm?

What is the cervical cap?

What is the sponge?

What is emergency contraception?

What are the types of emergency contraception?

What are the types of emergency contraception pills?

Where can I get emergency contraception pills?

Where can I get more information on emergency contraception?

Glossary

What should I think about when choosing a birth control method?

To choose the right birth control method for you, consider:

  • how well it prevents pregnancy
  • how easy it is to use
  • whether you need a prescription to get it
  • whether it protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • whether you have any health problems

 

Which birth control methods are the best at preventing pregnancy?

The effectiveness chart below shows all of the birth control methods and how well they protect against pregnancy.

 

Which birth control methods also protect against STIs?

The male latex or polyurethane condom gives the best protection against STIs. The female condom provides some protection. With all other methods, you also should use a male or female condom to protect against STIs.

Effectiveness of birth control methods 

What is the birth control pill?

The birth control pill contains hormones that prevent pregnancy. You have to take the pill every day at the same time each day. There are many types of birth control pills. A health care professional can help you choose the right one for you.

If you miss a pill, you need to know what to do. Read the directions that came with your pack of pills. You also may want to contact your health care professional.

 

What is the skin patch?

The skin patch is a small (1.75 square inch) adhesive patch that is worn on the skin. It contains hormones that prevent pregnancy. The hormones are slowly released into your body through the skin. A new patch is worn for a week at a time for 3 weeks in a row. During the fourth week, a patch is not worn, and you will have your menstrual period.

 

What is the vaginal ring?

The vaginal ring is a flexible plastic ring that you insert into the upper vagina. It releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. The hormones are slowly released into your body. It is worn inside the vagina for 21 days and then removed for 7 days. During those 7 days, you will have your menstrual period. Then you insert a new ring.

 

What is the birth control shot?

This shot is given in the upper arm or buttock every 3 months. It contains hormones that prevent pregnancy.

 

What is the implant?

The implant is a small plastic rod about the size of a matchstick that a health care professional inserts under the skin of the upper arm. It releases a hormone that prevents pregnancy. The implant is approved for up to 3 years of use.

 

What is the IUD?

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped plastic device that is inserted into and left inside the uterus. The IUD must be inserted and removed by a health care professional.

Hormonal IUDs release a small amount of a homone called progestin into the uterus. Different brands are approved for up to 3 to 6 years of use. The copper IUD releases a small amount of copper into the uterus. It is approved for up to 10 years of use.

 

How do IUDs work?

IUDs work mainly by preventing fertilization of the egg by the sperm. The progestin in the hormonal IUD thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus and reach an egg, and keeps the lining of the uterus thin. The copper released by the copper IUD stops sperm from moving and reaching an egg.

 

What is spermicide?

Spermicides are chemicals that are put into the vagina to make sperm inactive. There are many types of spermicide: foam, gel, cream, film (thin sheets), or suppositories (solid inserts that melt after they are inserted into the vagina).

Frequent use of spermicide may increase the risk of getting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from an infected partner. Spermicide should only be used if you are at low risk of HIV infection.

 

What are condoms?

Condoms come in male and female versions. The male condom covers the penis and catches the sperm after a man ejaculates. The female condom is a thin plastic pouch that lines the vagina. It prevents sperm from reaching the uterus.

Condoms work better to prevent pregnancy when used with a spermicide. Spermicides should only be used if you are at low risk of HIV infection.

 

What is the diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a small dome-shaped device made of latex or silicone that fits inside the vagina and covers the cervix. You need a prescription for it. A health care professional needs to do a pelvic exam to find the right size of diaphragm for you. It always is used with a spermicide. Birth control methods that need spermicides to work should only be used if you are at low risk of HIV infection.

 

What is the cervical cap?

The cervical cap is a small, thin latex or plastic dome shaped like a thimble. It fits tightly over the cervix. You need a prescription for it. A health care professional needs to do a pelvic exam to find the right size for you. The cervical cap must be used with a spermicide. Birth control methods that need spermicides to work should only be used if you are at low risk of HIV infection.

 

What is the sponge?

The sponge is a doughnut-shaped device made of soft foam that is coated with spermicide. It is pushed up in the vagina to cover the cervix. The sponge can be bought without a prescription at pharmacies and other stores. Birth control methods that have spermicides should only be used if you are at low risk of HIV infection.

 

What is emergency contraception?

If you have sex without using any birth control, if the birth control method did not work (for example, the condom broke during sex), or if you are raped, you can use emergency contraception (EC) to prevent pregnancy. It should only be used in an emergency—not for regular birth control. EC can prevent some, but not all, pregnancies. It is most effective when taken as soon as possible after having unprotected sex.

 

What are the types of emergency contraception?

There are two main types of EC: 1) the copper IUD and 2) pills. The IUD must be inserted by a health care professional or the pills taken within 5 days of having unprotected sex.

 

What are the types of emergency contraception pills?

There are three types of EC pills: 1) ulipristal, 2) progestin-only pills, and 3) combined birth control pills taken in certain amounts.

 

Where can I get emergency contraception pills?

Ulipristal and combined birth control pills are available only by prescription. Progestin-only pills are available on pharmacy store shelves without a prescription to anyone of any age.

 

Where can I get more information on emergency contraception?

If you need more information about emergency birth control, or if you need to find a health care professional who can provide a prescription, visit www.not-2-late.com. You also can read Emergency Contraception to learn more about EC.

Glossary

Cervix: The lower, narrow end of the uterus at the top of the vagina.

Egg: The female reproductive cell made in and released from the ovaries. Also called the ovum.

Ejaculates: The release of semen from the penis at the time of orgasm.

Emergency Contraception (EC): Methods that are used to prevent pregnancy after a woman has had sex without birth control, after the method has failed, or after a rape.

Fertilization: A multistep process that joins the egg and the sperm.

Hormones: Substances made in the body that control the function of cells or organs.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): A virus that attacks certain cells of the body’s immune system. If left untreated, HIV can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Intrauterine Device (IUD): A small device that is inserted and left inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy.

Menstrual Period: The monthly shedding of blood and tissue from the uterus.

Pelvic Exam: A physical examination of a woman’s pelvic organs.

Penis: The male sex organ.

Progestin: A synthestic form of progesterone that is similar to the hormone made naturally by the body.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Infections that are spread by sexual contact.

Sperm: A cell made in the male testicles that can fertilize a female egg.

Spermicides: Chemicals (creams, gels, foams) that inactivate sperm.

Uterus: A muscular organ in the female pelvis. During pregnancy, this organ holds and nourishes the fetus.

Vagina: A tube-like structure surrounded by muscles. The vagina leads from the uterus to the outside of the body.


If you have further questions, contact your obstetrician–gynecologist.

FAQ112. Copyright May 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists


This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.