Birth Control Methods

Happy Couple

There are numerous types of birth control available for both men and women. It is important to understand your options when considering your birth control choices.

Birth Control for Women

Women have more options than ever for birth control methods. Which method to choose depends on what you're comfortable with, whether you're in a monogamous relationship, and how important it is that you not get pregnant.

Birth control methods for women include both hormonal and non-hormonal options.

Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods use hormones to prevent ovulation, which is the release of an egg from a woman's ovary. If no egg is released, you cannot become pregnant. Most forms of hormonal birth control involve taking hormones for three weeks at a time and then stopping for a week so that you will have a period; there are also some types of pills that allow you to skip periods altogether by taking them continually instead of skipping a week. Hormonal birth control must be prescribed by a doctor.

The standard birth control pill must be taken every day. Pills are provided in monthly packs. The first three weeks of pills contain the hormones. The fourth week's pills don't contain any medicine, but they're provided to help keep you on schedule. If used correctly, only around 1 out of 100 women who take the pill will get pregnant each year. For women who may not take the pill as directed, 9 out of 100 will get pregnant each year.

The birth control patch is a smooth, thin piece of plastic which sticks to the skin. You put on a new patch each week for three weeks, and then go one week without a patch. If used appropriately, the odds are that 8 out of 100 women will get pregnant during the first year.

The birth control ring is a flexible ring which is placed in the vagina. Hormones from the ring are absorbed into the body. The ring is worn for three weeks at a time. Most people say the ring does not interfere with sexual intercourse. If a woman uses the ring perfectly, less than 1 out 100 women will get pregnant each year; with less than perfect use, 9 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year.

The birth control shot is given every three months. Many women stop getting periods after using the shot for a while. The shot is considered a short-term option, because it can cause bone thinning which could lead to osteoporosis. This shot can be up to 99.7% effective if used consistently and 97% effective with typical use.

The birth control implant provides contraception that is over 99 percent effective and lasts up to three years.

Barrier Methods of Birth Control

Barrier methods prevent a man's sperm from reaching a woman's egg. If the sperm cannot fertilize the egg, the woman cannot become pregnant. These methods are non-hormonal, which means they do not use any hormones in preventing pregnancy.

A diaphragm is a rubber dome-shaped device that covers the entrance to your uterus. The diaphragm must be inserted before intercourse, along with a spermicidal gel, and left in place for several hours afterward. A diaphragm must be fitted by a doctor. With perfect use, there is a 9% chance of getting pregnant but with typical use, the change of getting pregnant is higher at around 20%.

The birth control sponge is a small, disposable sponge treated with spermicide. It must be inserted before intercourse. Sponges are available at the drugstore. For women who have never given birth, 9 out of 100 women will become pregnant each year with perfect use but for women who don't always use the sponge correctly, 12 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year. For women who have given birth, 20 out of 100 will get pregnant each year but with less than perfect use, that number is 24 out of 100 women each year.

The female condom is available in some areas. This is a thin pouch that is inserted inside the vagina to help prevent pregnancy and reduce transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. If used correctly during each time, 5 out of 100 women get pregnant each year but with less than perfect use, 21 out of 100 women get pregnant each year.

Other barrier methods which work similarly to the diaphragm may be available. A family doctor or gynecologist can help you learn about those.

Intrauterine Devices (IUD's)

An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small plastic device that is inserted into the uterus. In general, an IUD helps to prevent sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. Some IUDs contain hormones like Mirena; others like Paraguard do not.

An IUD must be placed by a doctor. It can be left in place for years at a time. Although not as popular in the U.S., IUD's are very popular in other countries because of their convenience. Less than 1 out of 100 women get pregnant while using the IUD each year.


Spermicides contain chemicals to kill sperm. Spermicides are available at the drugstore. They come in foams, creams, gels, films, and suppositories. Spermicide must be inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse. With perfect use of the spermicide alone, the risk of pregnancy is 8% but with typical use which is more common, the risk is 26%.

Spermicides increase the effectiveness of condoms, diaphragms, and other birth control methods. Doctors generally do not recommend using a spermicide as your only method of birth control, because it is not effective enough on its own.

Natural Family Planning

Natural family planning is best for couples who would be able to accept an unintended pregnancy. A woman's body can be unpredictable. Ovulation can occur at unexpected times, putting the woman at risk of becoming pregnant in spite of careful precautions. Methods of natural family planning include:

  • Keeping a calendar to determine fertile days
  • Watching for changes in body temperature which signal ovulation
  • Examining vaginal discharge for signs of ovulation
  • Using a urine test to predict ovulation

If natural family planning is used consistently, the risk of pregnancy is around 10%. With typical use which is more likely, the risk of pregnancy is closer to 25%.

Permanent Birth Control

Permanent birth control for women is often called "having your tubes tied." It involves cutting or blocking the fallopian tubes, which carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Although these procedures are considered permanent, there is still a very small risk of pregnancy -- around 5 out of 1000 women may become pregnant after one year of having this procedure.

Birth Control Methods for Men

Men have only two effective options if they choose to take responsibility for birth control.


Condoms are inexpensive and available at the drugstore. A condom is a thin sheath that is placed over the man's penis before intercourse. Latex and polyurethane condoms are the only forms of birth control which protect against sexually transmitted diseases. If a couple relies on condoms as the sole birth control method, 15 out of 100 will become pregnant within the first year with typical use.


For men, a vasectomy is the typical form of permanent birth control. A vasectomy is a simple operation to cut the tubes which carry a man's sperm. It does not affect a man's ability to have sex or to ejaculate. Vasectomy is considered a permanent method of birth control. With vasectomy, 15 out of 10,000 couples get pregnant in the first year after the procedure.

Ask Your Doctor

In order to better manage your reproductive choices, you should understand the birth control options available to both you and your partner. Ask your physican about which birth control method is best for you.

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Birth Control Methods