While it’s helpful to have a range of birth control options, this can make choosing one a bit of a challenge.

But it can help to first decide whether you’d prefer a hormonal or nonhormonal method.

Hormonal birth control lessens the chance of pregnancy by reducing or preventing ovulation. It also thickens cervical mucus to block sperm from reaching the egg and thins your uterine lining to prevent a fertilized egg from attaching.

Nonhormonal birth control physically prevents viable sperm from reaching an egg. For example, barrier methods like condoms block semen from entering your cervix.

Your choice is personal and may differ from that of a friend or family member. It might change depending on your circumstances.

It has a high success rate

When you use it correctly, hormonal birth control has a high efficacy rate.

The birth control pill is 99% effective when used according to instructions. If you sometimes forget to take a pill, it’s about 91% effective.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), several other hormonal methods (including the patch, the ring, and the shot) are also over 90% effective with typical use.

There’s a wide range of options

If you’re interested in hormonal birth control but don’t want to take a daily pill, alternative options include:

If you don’t mind taking a daily pill, there’s more than one kind to choose from:

It may help with other conditions

If you experience irregular periods, hormonal birth control may stabilize your menstrual cycle. You might also notice a reduction in other symptoms like headaches and cramping.

Hormonal birth control sometimes eases the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). A 2016 study found that combined hormonal contraception may be effective for treating these conditions.

Your period may lighten or stop

If you live with heavy periods (menorrhagia) each month, hormonal birth control might be a solution to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding, according to a 2016 review.

Some hormonal birth control gives you the option of stopping your periods entirely.

It can reduce the risk of certain cancers

Oral contraceptives, a type of hormonal birth control, may reduce your chance of developing some types of cancer:

There are potential side effects from hormones

Some people experience side effects from hormonal birth control. These may include:

  • nausea
  • headaches
  • spotting
  • breast tenderness
  • weight gain
  • ovarian cysts
  • irregular periods
  • pain, bruising, or infection at the implant site (from implant birth control)
  • pain, cramping, and back pain during or for a few days after insertion (from an IUD)
  • depression, or mood changes
  • skin reaction, where you apply the patch
  • increased vaginal wetness (from a birth control ring)

Usually, side effects pass once your body adjusts. If you’re experiencing persistent discomfort, your doctor may suggest a different contraception option.

It may increase certain health risks

There are some rare complications associated with hormonal birth control, including:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • liver tumors
  • blood clots
  • uterine puncture (from an IUD)
  • fever, chills, difficulty breathing

If you use tobacco and are over 35 years old, birth control containing estrogen may not be safe.

You should also avoid hormonal birth control if you’ve ever had:

  • breast cancer
  • a clotting disorder
  • heart attack or stroke
  • migraine auras
  • high blood pressure
  • vein inflammation
  • liver disease
  • uncontrolled diabetes

Your doctor can discuss these risks with you in more detail.

It may increase the risk of certain cancers

According to the National Cancer Institute, hormonal birth control may increase your chances of developing breast and cervical cancer.

It’s not immediately effective

Hormonal birth control may not be immediately effective. Depending on when you start and which method you use, you may need a barrier method as a backup for 7 days.

There are possible fertility delays

Some people can conceive soon after stopping hormonal birth control, but this isn’t always the case. You may experience a fertility delay as you wait for your menstrual cycle to resume its usual ovulation schedule.

It doesn’t offer STI protection

Hormonal birth control doesn’t offer protection against sexually transmitted infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends abstinence from vaginal, anal, and oral sex as the best way to avoid STIs.

It can be expensive

If your insurance doesn’t cover the cost of hormonal birth control, it can add up to $240–$1,000 each year depending on the method you use.

There are a variety of methods available

Depending on your circumstance and personal preference, there’s a range of options for nonhormonal birth control:

There are no side effects from hormones

Nonhormonal birth control works by blocking sperm via a barrier or disabling it using spermicide, so there are no hormone-related side effects.

You can use it as needed

You can use nonhormonal contraception as needed. You don’t have to remember a daily pill or have a doctor implant a device that stays in your body.

It’s effective right away

Since nonhormonal methods are barriers or contain spermicide, they’re effective immediately. There’s no waiting time for hormones to impact your reproductive cycle.

There’s no impact on fertility cycle

Nonhormonal birth control doesn’t impact your reproductive cycle. This means that if you decide you want to become pregnant, you can begin trying as soon as you stop using your birth control.

Some methods provide STI protection

Abstinence and condoms are two nonhormonal birth control methods that also provide protection from STIs.

The effectiveness varies

According to Planned Parenthood, there’s a wide range of efficacy among the nonhormonal birth control options, from 100% effective (outercourse and abstinence) to 71% to 86% effective (cervical cap).

It may require lifestyle or behavioral changes

For example, abstinence means not having sex. It’s an effective way to prevent pregnancy, but it does require sacrifice and a possible lifestyle change.

Using fertility awareness methods requires tracking your menstrual cycle and abstaining from sex (or using birth control) on certain days of your cycle.

It can be expensive

When nonhormonal birth control isn’t covered by insurance, the cost can range from $2 (condom) to around $6,000 (tubal ligation).

Barrier birth control like diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps are more effective with spermicide, but this also increases the cost.

There are still side effects

Nonhormonal birth control methods have some potential side effects to consider:

It requires consistent use

Unlike hormonal birth control methods such as implants and injections, nonhormonal options require some planning since they must be used each time you have sex.

Whenever you skip your chosen method, there’s a chance you might get pregnant.

No question is too small to ask your doctor, who’s a valuable resource in your decision-making process. Possible queries include:

  • Is hormonal birth control safe with my medical history?
  • How often will I need to refill my prescription?
  • Is there any type of medication that can make birth control less effective?
  • How can I manage side effects?
  • Can I change from one hormonal option to another?

If you write down your questions as you think of them, it’s easier to remember them during your appointment.

Both hormonal and nonhormonal types of birth control offer benefits and drawbacks. There’s a range of options to choose from.

Having a clear understanding of your priorities might make choosing easier. For example, if you don’t want a daily pill or a device that stays in your body, then the patch might be the only hormonal option to consider.

You can try a birth control method, then change your mind. You might try several before settling on your favorite.

Your doctor’s input is a valuable resource. It can help to bring a list of questions to your next appointment.