Contraception Guide

When it comes to contraception, there are a lot of options, including hormonal birth control pills, patches and implants, intrauterine devices or IUDs, as well as more permanent options.

For those thinking about contraception, a number of elements should be considered. Namely, what do you want out of your birth control?

Do you want something that’s easy to use, has the least amount of hormones or are you looking for something that helps lessen the symptoms of your menstrual cycle? Is effectiveness the most important aspect of a contraceptive or convenience?

Additional information to consider includes cost, accessibility and safety of the method.

No matter which you choose, be sure to consult with your doctor for more information about each, and how they might fit into your healthcare routines and insurance plans.

Want to learn more about your options? Here’s a list of some different forms of contraception.


Reversible Birth Control Methods

Intrauterine contraceptives, also known as IUDs, are some of the most effective forms of birth control and require the least amount of maintenance. There are different versions of this method, which is inserted into the uterus by a doctor. IUDs have less than a 1 percent failure rate and can remain in the uterus for years at a time, according to the CDC.


Hormonal options:

  • Implants – a single rod, about the size of a toothpick – is inserted into a woman’s upper arm. The rod contains progestin, which is released into the body over three years, with an effectiveness rate of 99 percent.
  • Injections – Women can get a shot of progestin in the arm or buttocks every three months. Injections have a 4 percent failure rate.
  • Combined oral contraceptives – more commonly known as “the pill,” contains hormones (estrogen and progestin) that are taken each day at the same time. There are increased risks when taking the pill, according to the CDC, which says that women older than 35 who smoke, or who have a history of blood clots or breast cancer may not be advised by their doctors to use such contraception. The typical failure rate of the pill is about 7 percent.
  • Progestin only pill – also known as the “mini pill,” only has one hormone (progestin) and is often a good option for women who can’t take estrogen. It’s about 93 percent effective.
  • Skin patches release estrogen and progestin into the bloodstream and can be worn a few places on a woman’s body. The patch is replaced each week for three weeks. On the fourth week no patch is worn. It also has an about 7 percent failure rate.
  • Hormonal vaginal ring is placed inside the vagina for three weeks, and is taken out the week you have your period. A new ring is inserted after that week.


Barrier Methods

There are also a number of ways to physically block sperm from entering the cervix including diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges – all of which are inserted into the vagina before intercourse. These methods are slightly less effective – with between 14 and 27 percent failure rates.

Male and female condoms, which are helpful in preventing pregnancy and STDs, are also an option. There are different types of condoms, which do not require a prescription and can be purchased at drug stores. Condoms can only be used once. Male condoms typically have an about 13 percent failure rate while female condoms have a 21 percent failure rate.

Spermicides – Foam, gel, cream, film suppository or tablets that are placed in the vagina no more than one hour before intercourse and are left in place for several hours afterwards. Spermicides, which can also be purchased at drug stores, can be used in addition to a male condom, diaphragm or cervical cap. Spermicides typically have a failure rate of about 21 percent.


Fertility Awareness-Based Method

Women can also prevent pregnancy (or plan for it) by understanding their monthly fertility pattern, or the number of days per month that they’re fertile, infertile and days when getting pregnant is unlikely but possible.

For women with a regular menstrual cycle, there are about nine fertile days each month. If you don’t want to get pregnant, you don’t have sex those days or you use a backup method. Failure rates of fertility awareness-based method vary from 2 percent to 23 percent.


Lactational Amenorrhea Method

Women who have recently had a baby and are breastfeeding can utilize the Lactational Amenorrhea Method or LAM as a birth control method, but only when three conditions are met:

  1. They’re not menstruating after delivering a baby
  2. They’re fully or nearly fully breastfeeding
  3. It’s been less than 6 months since delivering a baby.

LAM is a temporary method of birth control, and another birth control method must be used when any of the three conditions are not met.


Emergency Contraception

While not a regular method of birth control, emergency contraception can be used after sex if no birth control was used during sex, or if the birth control method in use fails (such as a broken condom).

  • Copper IUD—Women can have the copper inserted within five days of unprotected sex.
  • Emergency contraceptive pills—Women can take emergency contraceptive pills up to five days after unprotected sex. The sooner the pills are taken, the better they will work. Some contraceptive pills are available over the counter.


Permanent Methods of Birth Control

 Female Sterilization — “tying tubes” Women can have their fallopian tubes tied so that sperm and eggs cannot meet for fertilization. The procedure is relatively simple and can be done in a hospital or outpatient surgical center. Patients can go home the same day as the surgery, and the method is effective immediately, with less than one percent failure rate.

Male sterilization Vasectomy men can also have a procedure done to prevent women from getting pregnant. A vasectomy operation prevents a man’s sperm from getting to his penis and therefore his ejaculate cannot fertilize an egg. The procedure is usually done in an outpatient setting and men can go home in the same day. Recovery time is about a week. After that, sperm count is monitored until it drops to zero, which takes about 12 weeks. Failure rates are less than one percent.

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention