Choosing birth control

With so many types of birth control available, how do you choose the best one for you? The potential benefits and risks of birth control vary from one type to another. Before you try a new method, it’s important to consider how it might affect you.

Here are six factors to take into account when weighing your options.

How well does it work?

The most effective way to prevent pregnancy is to avoid sexual intercourse, specifically “penis-in-vagina” sex. If you choose to have sexual intercourse, you can use methods of birth control to lower your chances of getting pregnant. The most effective methods include:

  • copper or hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)
  • birth control implant
  • surgical sterilization

Each of these methods is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. Other highly effective methods include the:

  • birth control shot (94 percent effective)
  • birth control skin patch (91 percent effective)
  • birth control vaginal ring (91 percent effective)
  • birth control pills (91 percent effective)

In comparison, conventional condoms are only 85 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. But condoms are the only type of birth control that also protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can use condoms with other types of birth control.

How easy is it to use?

Some types of birth control are easier to use than others. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) tend to be very easy to use. LARCs include IUDs and birth control implants. After your doctor inserts an IUD into your uterus or an implant into your arm, it provides 24-hour protection against pregnancy for up to three years or more. Some types of birth control are less convenient. For example, if you use birth control pills, you have to remember to take them every day and refill your prescription. If you forget to take a pill, vomit or have diarrhea, or take certain medications, it can make the pill less effective.

Is it reversible?

Most types of birth control are reversible. They won’t permanently affect your fertility. If you stop using them, you can get pregnant. But surgical sterilization offers a permanent form of birth control. It involves tubal ligation for female patients or vasectomy for male patients. In some cases, it’s possible to reverse surgical sterilization. But in general, you should only consider these options if you’re confident that you never want to get pregnant in the future.

Does it release hormones?

Many types of birth control release synthetic forms of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone (progestin), or both. Hormonal birth control can potentially affect your mood, menstrual periods, or other aspects of your health. For many people, the side effects are manageable. But for some, they’re intolerable. If you develop side effects after using hormonal birth control, your doctor might encourage you to try a different combination of hormones or non-hormonal methods. They might also advise you to avoid certain types of hormonal birth control if you have a history of some health conditions, such as blood clotting disorders or high blood pressure.

What are the side effects?

Like most medical procedures and medications, many methods of birth control have some risk of side effects. Those side effects are often minor and temporary. But they can sometimes be serious. For example, if you use hormonal birth control, you might experience changes in your weight, mood, menstrual periods, or other aspects of your health. If you use a copper IUD, you might experience more painful and heavier menstrual periods. To learn more about the potential risks of different birth control methods, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. In some cases, your medical history might increase your risk of certain side effects.

What does it cost?

The cost of birth control varies, depending on:

  • what type and brand you use
  • whether you have insurance coverage
  • where you get it from

To learn about the cost of different birth control options, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. In some communities, birth control manufacturers, public health agencies, or non-profit organizations offer discounted or subsidized birth control to people with low incomes. If you have health insurance, contact your provider to learn which types of birth control it covers.

The takeaway

Depending on your medical history, lifestyle, and preferences, one method of birth control might be more appealing than another. Before you try a new type of birth control, take some time to learn about its potential benefits and risks. Your doctor can help you understand and weigh your options.