Birth control comes in a wide variety of forms, each with its benefits, drawbacks, and rate of effectiveness for preventing pregnancy. The five major categories of contraception include:
Hormonal methods: This type of birth control prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation), so they can’t be fertilized. The pill, shot, contraceptive patch, and vaginal ring are the main types of hormonal contraception.
Long-acting reversible contraception: LARC methods include IUDs, a T-shaped device that’s placed in the uterus to block sperm from reaching an egg, and implants, a small, flexible rod that’s inserted in your upper arm, where it releases progestin.
Barrier methods: This type of contraception is designed to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. Options include male condoms, female condoms, contraceptive sponges, spermicides, diaphragms, and cervical caps.
Emergency contraception: A copper IUD and emergency contraceptive pills are the two methods used to help prevent pregnancy following unprotected sex or the breaking of a condom.
Sterilization: This form of birth control is considered permanent. A sterilization implant is a nonsurgical way to permanently block the fallopian tubes; while tubal ligation is a surgical procedure that accomplishes the same goal by cutting, tying, or sealing the fallopian tubes.
Your gynecologist can help you choose the right birth control based on your age, overall health, medical history, future family planning desires, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, and possible side effects.
If you don’t want to start a family anytime soon, an IUD may be your best option. IUDs are effective for 3-10 years, depending on the device, and can be easily removed by your doctor.
If your menstrual cycle is irregular or unusually heavy, a hormone-based contraceptive may help you have regular, lighter periods.
If you have more than one sexual partner, you may want to choose male or female condoms, the only two forms of birth control that can also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Keep in mind that even the most effective form of birth control — including permanent sterilization methods — have been known to fail. When used properly, however, birth control can reduce your chances of becoming pregnant:
Many women opt to use more than one method for increased protection against pregnancy; using a spermicide along with a diaphragm is common, as is using a condom while on the pill.
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