There are as many types of birth control as there are reasons for using it. Whether you’re trying to regulate your menstrual cycle, fight acne, correct hormonal imbalances, or prevent pregnancy, there is a birth control option that will work for you. You should always talk to your gynecologist about what you want from your birth control and discuss any past experiences you’ve had before trying a new form of birth control. But to give you an idea of your options, we’ve pulled together a list of the different types of birth control and their pros and cons.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Birth Control Method
There are many types of birth control, and choosing the right one for your body will take some reflection—and possibly some experimentation. There is no one perfect birth control. What’s most important is that you choose one that is comfortable and that helps you achieve your health goals. Before you read through this list, it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions. The answers will help you choose a birth control method that works for your body and circumstances.
- Do you prefer hormonal or non-hormonal methods?
- Have you had bad experiences with hormonal birth control in the past?
- Do you have an increased risk of breast cancer?
- Do you take other hormonal medications?
- Is it important that your birth control reduces the risk of STIs or just pregnancy?
- What is your budget?
- Do you want children in the future?
- If so, how soon?
- Are you trying to relieve other symptoms like acne or irregular periods?
- How likely are you to be able to stick to a daily regimen?
Now that you’ve thought over your criteria and goals for your birth control method, let’s take a look at your options!
Types of Birth Control
Hormonal Birth Control Options
The first st of birth control options work by releasing small amounts of estrogen and progesterone into your bloodstream. This mimics the hormones that tell your body you’re already pregnant and stops the release of an egg. With no egg to fertilize, you cannot become pregnant. Hormonal birth control options, when used correctly, have a very high rate of success. However, they cannot protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These are usually the best options for women who are in long-term committed relationships or women who are treating hormonal symptoms like acne and irregular periods. If you are concerned about STIs, you can use non-hormonal methods of birth control in conjunction with hormonal methods.
The pill is perhaps the most well-known form of hormonal birth control. When used correctly, it has a 99% effectiveness rate of preventing pregnancy. However, studies on typical usage find it to be 91% effective.
Pros of the pill:
- Doesn’t have to be inserted or implanted
- You can stop taking it anytime you like
- Reduces the severity of PMS symptoms
- Can help treat hormonal acne
- Can regulate your irregular periods
- You can choose whether or not to skip your period each month
Cons of the pill:
- For full effectiveness, you must take it at the same time every day
- It may increase your risk of blood clots or stroke depending on your health and age
- May cause mood swings or increase symptoms of depression
There are many different types and brands of birth control pills. Every woman’s body chemistry and hormone levels are unique, so if one pill doesn’t work for you, don’t despair! Try different formulas and combinations until you find one that’s right for you. Your gynecologist will be able to recommend one based on your health circumstances and past experiences.
The shot is similar to the pill in that it is a combination of hormones meant to prevent ovulation. But instead of taking a pill every day, you will get an injection every 90 days. With perfect use, the shot is 99% effective. Typical use is about 94% effective.
Pros of the shot:
- Very effective when used on a regular schedule
- Reduces PMS symptoms—many women report light or no periods while using the shot
- Don’t have to remember to take a pill every day
Cons of the shot:
- You have to go to the doctor’s office every 12 weeks to get another shot
- It may be uncomfortable if you have a fear of needles (but it doesn’t hurt!)
- Many women experience side effects like nausea, headaches, and weight gain
- If you decide to become pregnant, you have to wait for the last dose to wear off – up to 12 weeks
The ring is a soft, flexible plastic ring inserted into your vagina and up near your cervix. The ring emits estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation. A ring lasts for three weeks, then you take it out and have your period before inserting a new one. With perfect use, the ring is 99% effective, but typically you’ll see a 91% effectiveness rate.
Pros of the ring:
- After insertion, you can forget about it for three weeks
- Many women report lighter periods and reduced acne
- It’s a prescription so you can insert it yourself and you don’t have to go to the doctor’s office
- If you want to get pregnant you can just take the ring out to stop the release of hormones
Cons of the ring:
- The most common side effects are breast tenderness and headaches
- You must put in your new ring every three weeks—if you forget you can get pregnant
- Although the risk is slightly lowered, you can also get pregnant during your week off the ring, whether or not you have your period
- Higher risk of a UTI
If you’ve ever seen a nicotine patch, a birth control patch works in much the same way. You stick it on your skin and it releases a controlled dose of hormones into your bloodstream. You have to apply the patch every week for it to be effective. When used correctly, it has an effectiveness rate of 99%. Typical use lowers that to about 91%
Pros of the patch:
- You only have to replace it once a week
- Very low reporting of side effects
- You can remove it if you decide to become pregnant
Cons of the patch:
- When side effects are reported they include nausea, headaches, skin irritation, and breast tenderness
- You have to remember to replace it every week at the same time which increases the chance of human error
The Hormonal IUD
Hormonal IUDs are inserted into the uterus by your gynecologist and release a small amount of progesterone into your system. Hormonal IUDs are great for long-term pregnancy prevention and can last three to seven years depending on the brand. Their effectiveness rate is more than 99% because there is little room for human error.
Pros of IUDs:
- The highest effectiveness rate of the hormonal birth control options
- If you don’t want children for a while, this will protect you for up to seven years
- Gives you much lighter or no periods at all
- Lower doses of hormones and they are only released in the genital area which reduces symptoms like mood swings and depression
Cons of IUDs:
- Can stop periods altogether, which disturbs some people (but it’s perfectly safe!)
- You must have a gynecologist or doctor insert and remove it
- Without insurance, it can be an expensive procedure
Non-Hormonal Birth Control Methods
Non-hormonal birth control methods are often used by women who don’t want to interfere with their body’s natural hormones, or who have experienced negative side effects with hormonal birth control. They are also the best option for preventing STIs as well as pregnancy.
The “barrier method” is also more commonly known as condoms—both internal (female condoms) and external (male condoms). Both types of condom work by creating an impenetrable barrier between the cervix and the sperm. They have an effectiveness rate of 95-97% when used correctly, but they can break, go bad, or come off with incorrect use, so it’s best to back them up with hormonal birth control options if you can.
Pros of barrier method:
- Protects against STIs as well as pregnancy
- You can buy them in latex or non-latex options
- You don’t have to remember to take birth control every day, just have these on hand for when you do want to have sex
- The internal (female) condoms can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex so you don’t have to pause coitus for insertion
- Makes post-coital clean up much easier
Cons of the barrier method:
- You have to remember to use one to prevent pregnancy and STIs
- They are not full proof and can tear, expire, or come off/out
- Some people say they reduce sensation or make it difficult to climax
The sponge is a squishy, plastic disc coated in spermicide that you insert into your vagina before sex. It blocks access to the cervix and kills any sperm that attempt to enter. It’s 91% effective with perfect use and generally speaking about 80% effective when you take human error into account.
Pros of the sponge:
- You can insert up to 24 hours before intercourse
- You can have sex multiple times in that 24-hour window before removing it
Cons of the sponge:
- Those with sensitive skin may experience a burning sensation from the spermicide
- If you have experienced pain or rashy breakouts with Summer’s Eve, Vagisil products, or wet wipes, you likely have sensitive skin and should avoid the sponge
- You have to leave the sponge in for 6 hours after intercourse
- It’s inserted manually, so if you hate tampons, this is not the birth control method for you
The diaphragm is a flexible, silicone disc that you saturate with spermicide and insert into your vagina. It nestles against the cervix and acts as a barrier against sperm entering. When used perfectly it has a 96% effectiveness rate, although generally speaking it’s about 88% effective with human error.
Pros of the diaphragm:
- Hormone and latex-free so it’s hypo-allergenic
- Can be left in up to 24 hours–no need to remove it for each act of intercourse.
- Reusable, which saves money
Cons of the diaphragm:
- Can be easily knocked out of place with more vigorous intercourse
- Have to replace the spermicide every 6 hours
- Not a good choice for those prone to UTIs
The Copper IUD
The copper IUD is an intrauterine device much like the hormonal IUD. But instead of releasing hormones to prevent pregnancy, the copper in the device deters sperm, killing them or causing them to swim away from the egg. They are over 99.9% effective.
Pros of copper IUD:
- They last up to 12 years, so if you know you don’t want children for a long time, these are the perfect choice
- You’ll still get your period every month which some people like
- Irregular spotting for the first few months
- Possible heavier periods and worse cramps
If you already have very heavy menstrual flows or terrible cramps, this may not be the best choice for you.
If you have questions about the different types of birth control, make an appointment with your gynecologist or contact The Woman’s Center. We’re happy to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced and compassionate OBGYNs.