Birth Control Methods

The IUD (Non-hormonal)

bc04

The IUD is a little, t-shaped piece of plastic that gets put in your uterus to mess with the way sperm can move and prevent them from fertilizing an egg. There’s one IUD without hormones: ParaGard. It’s made of plastic and a small amount of natural, safe copper. If you decide you want to get pregnant, you are able to immediately after getting the IUD removed. ParaGard can work for up to 12 years. 99% effective. No STI protection.

The IUD (Hormonal)

bc05

The IUD is a little, t-shaped piece of plastic that gets put in your uterus. There are 3 types: Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta. Mirena works for 5 years and works whether you have or haven’t given birth before. Skyla and Liletta both work for 3 years and are smaller, so they’re better if you haven’t given birth. Hormonal IUDs release a small amount of the synthetic hormone progestin, which thickens your cervical mucus to keep sperm from reaching the uterus. Since hormones are localized, they generally don’t have broad effects like the pill’s hormones do. 99% effective. No STI protection.

The Implant

bc03

The implant is a tiny rod (about the size of a match) that’s inserted under the skin of your upper arm. It’s invisible to the world but not to you. It’s easy, incredibly effective, long lasting, and reversible. The implant releases progestin, a hormone that keeps your ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens your cervical mucus—which helps block sperm from getting to the egg. It prevents pregnancy for up to 3 years. The implant is among the most effective methods. 99% effective. No STI protection.

The Shot

bc02

The shot is just what it sounds like—a shot that keeps you from getting pregnant. Once you get it, your birth control is covered for three full months—there’s nothing else you have to do. You need to get the shot every 3 months. The shot is super effective—as long as you get each one on time. If you’re the kind of person who would have trouble remembering to take a pill every day, the shot might be a good option. You only need to remember to do something once every three months. It’s long-lasting, private, and a good hormonal option if you can’t take estrogen. 94-99% effective. No STI protection.

The Ring

bc09

The ring (brand name: NuvaRing) is a small, bendable ring that you insert into your vagina. The ring works by giving off hormones that prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs. The ring uses a lower dose of hormones than other methods, so there may be fewer negative side effects. The hormones also thicken your cervical mucus, which helps to block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. You leave it in place for three weeks at a time, then take it out for the fourth week. And then repeat. If you’re not okay with putting your fingers inside yourself, the ring probably isn’t for you. Easy to insert, works like the pill, keeps you protected for a month at a time. 91-99% effective. No STI protection.

The Patch

bc13

The patch is a thin, beige piece of plastic that looks like a square Band-Aid. It’s a little less than two inches across, and comes in one—and only one—color. (Beige.) You stick the patch on your skin and it gives off hormones that prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs. The hormones also thicken your cervical mucus, which helps to block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. Patch change required once a week. The patch is really effective when it’s changed on time each week. If you’re the kind of person who would have trouble remembering to take a pill every day, the patch might be a good option. You only need to remember to do something once a week. 91-99% effective. No STI protection.

The Pill

bc10

You take the pill once a day, at the same time every day. There are lots of different kinds of pills on the market, and new ones come out all the time. Most work by releasing hormones that keep your ovaries from releasing eggs. The hormones also thicken your cervical mucus, which helps to block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. There are two types: combination pills and progestin-only pills. Combination pills use an estrogen/progestin combo that works with your body to prevent ovulation. Progestin-only pills have no estrogen in them, often prescribed if you’re sensitive to combination pills and having side effects. The pill’s really effective when taken perfectly, but most don’t take it perfectly. 91-99% effective. No STI protection.

Condoms

bc06

Condoms slip over the penis to prevent pregnancy and lower the risk of STIs by keeping sperm inside the condom. Condoms take effort and commitment. You have to make sure to use condoms correctly, every time, no matter what, in order for them to be effective. Condoms are inexpensive (and sometimes even free from clinics and bars). No prescription necessary. If you can’t make it to the doctor (or don’t want to), you can always use a condom. 82-98% effective. STI protection, including HIV!

Internal Condom

bc07

An internal condom is a pouch you insert into your vagina. Internal condoms work the same way that regular condoms do, except that you wear one on the inside instead of sticking it on a penis. They keep sperm inside the condom and out of your vagina. Internal condoms don’t make much of an appearance at everyday pharmacies and drugstores, but you’ll find them online for sure, and for a consistent price—usually somewhere in the range of $1.75 – $3.50 per condom. You have to make sure to use condoms correctly, every time, no matter what, in order for them to be effective. 79-95% effective. STI protection, including HIV!

Diaphragm

bc08

A diaphragm is a shallow, dome-shaped cup made of silicone. It’s only a few inches in diameter. You insert the diaphragm into your vagina. Then it covers your cervix and keeps sperm out of your uterus. There are two kinds of diaphragm, Caya (a.k.a. SILCS) and Milex. You need to use a diaphragm with spermicide for it to be most effective. If you’re not okay with putting your fingers inside yourself, a diaphragm probably isn’t for you. You have to put it in place every time you have sex, but can leave it in for up to 24 hours. Do not use this if you’re allergic to silicone or spermicide. 82-98% effective. No STI protection.

Cervical Cap

bc01

The cervical cap is a soft rubbery cup shaped like a thimble and made from silicone. It fits snugly around the cervix (the opening to the uterus). You need to use a cervical cap with spermicide for it to be most effective. You’ve got to remember to insert your cervical cap each and every time you have sex, so it takes a bit of self-discipline and planning. If you’re not okay putting your fingers inside yourself, a cervical cap probably isn’t for you. It’s a bit like putting in a tampon: If you can do that, you can probably manage the cap. Don’t use this if you’re allergic to silicone/spermicide. 71-86% effective. No STI protection.

The Sponge

bc12

The sponge is a round piece of white plastic foam with a little dimple on one side and a nylon loop across the top that looks like shoelace material. It’s pretty small—just two inches across—and you insert it way up in your vagina before you have sex. The sponge works in two ways: It blocks your cervix to keep sperm from getting into your uterus, and it continuously releases spermicide. The sponge isn’t the most effective method. If you’re not okay with putting your fingers inside yourself, the sponge probably isn’t for you. No hormones, no prescription, and can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex. The “typical use” failure rate for the sponge can range from 12-24%, which is pretty high. 76-91% effective. No STI protection.

Spermicide

bc11

“Spermicide” describes a bunch of different creams, films, foams, gels, and suppositories that contain chemicals that stop sperm from moving. You insert it deep in your vagina, so it also keeps sperm from getting through your cervix and into your uterus. Spermicide works best when paired with another method, like the diaphragm or condoms. You can use spermicide to make a barrier method more effective, but it’s not very effective if used alone. Easy to find, no hormones, and no prescription needed. Spermicide’s not so great on its own. Much better with another barrier method. 72-82% effective. No STI protection.

For More Information:

Chart comparing all methods
Planned Parenthood: Detailed information on each method
Quiz: What birth control is best for me?
App: Birth control reminder
If birth control fails: What are my options?