What Are Your Birth Control Options?

By | July 2, 2018

Which Type Is Best for You?

Start with a few questions: How will you protect against STDs? How important are convenience and cost? What about how well it works? Only abstinence is 100% effective, but there are methods that come close if you use them right


This is a foam, jelly, cream, or film that goes into the vagina before sex that contains a chemical that kills sperm. Some types must be put in place 30 minutes ahead of time. If you use it often, it can irritate the vagina, making infections and STDs more likely. People usually also use other types of birth control with it.

Pros: Easy to use, inexpensive.

Cons: May make STDs more likely, and 29% get pregnant during first year of use.

Male Condom

The latex condom blocks sperm from entering the woman’s body, which protects against pregnancy and STDs. Of couples who rely on male condoms only, 15% get pregnant in a year.

Pros: Widely available, protects against STDs, inexpensive.

Cons: Effective only if used correctly every time. Can’t be reused.

female condom contraception in hand and inserted

Female Condom

This is a thin plastic pouch that lines the vagina. A woman can put it in place up to 8 hours before sex. To do that, she would grasp a flexible plastic ring at the closed end and guide it into position. It doesn’t work as well as the male condom.

Pros: Widely available, offers some protection against STDs.

Cons: Can be noisy, 21% of users get pregnant, and not reusable. Should not be used with a male condom, to avoid breakage


This is a rubber dome that a woman places over her cervix before sex. You should also use a spermicide. Of 100 women who use it, 16 get pregnant in a typical year.

Pros: Inexpensive (a $15-$75 device lasts 2 years).

Cons: Must be fitted by a doctor. No STD protection. Can’t be used during your period due to a risk of toxic shock syndrome

Cervical Cap

This device, also called the FemCap, is similar to a diaphragm, but smaller. It slips into place over the cervix. You use it with spermicide. About 15% of women who never had children get pregnant when using the cervical cap. About 30% of women who have had children get pregnant.

Pros: Can stay in place for 48 hours, inexpensive.

Cons: Must be fitted by a doctor. No protection against STDs. You can’t use it during your period

Birth Control Sponge

It’s made of foam and contains spermicide. A woman can place it against her cervix up to 24 hours before sex. It works to prevent pregnancy about as well as the cervical cap. But unlike that product or the diaphragm, you don’t need to get fitted by a doctor.

Pros: No prescription, effective immediately.

Cons: Can be hard to put in. No STD protection. You can’t use it during your period.

Birth Control Pill

The most common type uses estrogen and progestin to prevent ovulation. It’s very effective if taken right. About 8% of typical users get pregnant. You’ll need a prescription for it.

Pros: More regular, lighter periods, or no periods, depending on the type. Less cramping.

Cons: Cost ($15-$50 per month). No STD protection. May cause breast tenderness, spotting, blood clots, and raised blood pressure. Some women shouldn’t use it due to health risks.

Hormonal Birth Control Patch

Women who forget daily pills may want the patch. You wear it on your skin and change it once a week for 3 weeks, then go a week without it. It releases the types of hormones in birth control pills and works just as well.

Pros: More regular, lighter periods with less cramping. No need to remember a daily pill.

Cons: Cost ($15-$50 per month). May cause skin irritation or other side effects similar to birth control pills. No STD protection.

Vaginal Ring

The NuvaRing is a soft plastic ring that goes inside the vagina. It releases the same hormones as the pill and patch, and it works just as well to prevent pregnancy. You replace it only once a month.

Pros: Lighter, more regular periods. Less-frequent replacement.

Cons: Cost ($30-$50 per month). May cause vaginal irritation or other side effects similar to pills and the patch. Doesn’t protect against STDs.

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