Selecting a birth control method depends on several factors and preferences. Many people rely on barrier options, such as condoms, while others prefer natural, hormonal, or more permanent choices.

“Birth control” is a collective term for medications, methods, and devices that prevent pregnancy. Many types of birth control exist, and they all work by interrupting or controlling your reproductive processes.

Read on to learn more about the different types of birth control.

Language matters

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. We use “male” and “female” in this article to reflect sex assigned at birth. However, gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.

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Natural methods of birth control don’t rely on products or medical procedures to prevent pregnancy. They involve natural family planning options, fertility cycle tracking, and sexual behavior practices.

Natural methods typically don’t have many side effects, but they are not always the most effective birth control options.

Withdrawal method

Also known as the “pull-out method,” the withdrawal method involves removing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation. This limits the chances of sperm reaching an egg by reducing the amount of sperm in the vagina.

A 2014 study found that the withdrawal method was as effective as condoms at preventing pregnancy. When done perfectly, the pull-out method had a success rate as high as 96% (compared with 97% for condoms). Most women in this study reported using the withdrawal method in combination with or in rotation with other contraceptives, such as condoms.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 22 out of 100 women who use the withdrawal method will get pregnant within the first year.

This method can be difficult to time correctly and demands high levels of self-control.

Abstinence

Practicing abstinence as birth control means that you don’t take part in any sexual activity that can lead to pregnancy. Abstinence is the only form of birth control that’s 100% effective.

Rhythm method

Also known as calendar-based tracking, the rhythm method of birth control involves tracking your menstrual cycles over time to help determine your most and least fertile days.

It’s considered one of the least effective methods of birth control. This method also requires training along with the use of a barrier method or intervals of abstinence.

Basal body temperature method

Your basal body temperature (BBT) is your body temperature when you’re at rest. BBT often rises right before ovulation, clueing you in to peak times when you should avoid having sex without a condom or other barrier methods.

Research on BBT reliability is mixed, with some studies suggesting that it has a low accuracy rate of around 22%.

Cervical mucus method

The mucus around your cervix changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Right before ovulation, the mucus is thin, slippery, and more noticeable. Tracking mucus changes can help you estimate when your pregnancy risk is greatest.

Like other forms of natural family planning, the cervical mucus method is considered effective, with a success rate of about 86% for preventing pregnancies.

Lactational amenorrhea method

The lactational amenorrheal method is a postpregnancy birth control method. It relies on the natural suppression of ovulation caused by nursing, which typically lasts about 6 months after giving birth.

If this method is timed correctly, pregnancy risk while using it is low — often less than 2%.

Symptothermal method

The symptothermal method is a combination of any two tracking-based methods assisted by electronic fertility monitors. Its success rate depends on the types of birth control selected.

IUDs are T-shaped medical devices inserted through your vagina into your uterine cavity.

There are two types of IUDs:

  • Hormone-based IUDs work by releasing hormones that change the uterine environment, making it less suitable for a fertilized egg to implant.
  • Copper IUDs are not hormone-based — they work by triggering an inflammatory response that’s toxic to sperm.

Overall, IUDs are considered one of the most effective types of birth control, with a success rate of more than 99% for preventing pregnancies.

IUDs are associated with side effects such as:

  • period irregularity
  • ovarian cysts
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • IUD displacement
  • pain upon insertion

Barrier types of birth control physically block sperm from reaching an egg. They’re most commonly associated with side effects such as:

  • allergic reactions (itching, burning, redness)
  • vaginal infections
  • irritation
  • urinary tract infections
  • increased risk for toxic shock syndrome and HIV

Condoms

Male and female condoms use a thin, stretchy film made of latex or other materials to block and contain sperm after ejaculation. Male condoms are around 82% effective at preventing pregnancies, while female condoms are around 79% effective.

Spermicides

Spermicides — chemical-based substances that are toxic to sperm — come in many forms, including:

  • foams
  • gels
  • creams
  • vaginally inserted sponges

They kill or immobilize sperm on contact and are about 72% effective.

Diaphragm or cervical cap

Diaphragms and cervical caps are cup-shaped devices that you insert into your vagina to cover your cervix, preventing sperm from entering. Diaphragms are considered more effective (88%) than cervical caps (77%).

Hormonal methods of birth control use synthetic hormones that change your menstrual cycle and internal reproductive environment. They can prevent ovulation, change the thickness of your uterine lining, and thicken cervical mucus, among other effects.

Hormonal birth control can cause a variety of side effects depending on the type, including:

  • period irregularity
  • weight gain
  • breast soreness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • cardiovascular complications
  • mood changes
  • skin irritation (when using the patch or injections)

Oral contraceptives

Oral contraceptives are pills you take regularly that contain hormones such as estrogen and progestin. They’re taken on a specific schedule, depending on type, and are around 91% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Patches

Patches deliver hormones through your skin into your bloodstream. They have the same effectiveness as oral contraceptives — around 91% — but may be less effective in people with higher body weights.

Vaginal ring

Like other types of hormonal birth control, vaginal rings are about 91% effective. These flexible plastic rings are inserted into your vagina, where they stay for several weeks, releasing hormones.

Injections

Contraceptive injections deliver the hormone progestin into your body using a needle and syringe. An injection lasts for several months and has a success rate of 94%.

Implants

A hormonal implant is a small, flexible, rod-shaped device that your doctor can insert under the skin of your upper arm. It releases hormones to prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years. Implants have a high rate of success at 99.5%.

Emergency contraception isn’t intended to be a regular form of birth control. It’s available for times when other birth control methods have failed or when you’ve had intercourse without using a condom or other barrier method for other reasons.

The two primary types of emergency contraception are hormone-based oral pills and copper IUDs. Emergency contraception can be used within 3–5 days after sex without a condom or other barrier method, but if you’re already pregnant, it may not be effective.

According to the World Health Organization, emergency contraception can be up to 95% effective when taken within 5 days, and side effects are uncommon. If side effects occur, they typically include:

  • irregular vaginal bleeding
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue

Permanent pregnancy prevention is done through surgical procedures that result in sterilization (the inability to reproduce).

Male sterilization involves a procedure called a vasectomy, during which the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles are cut and sealed off. This procedure prevents sperm from being released in ejaculation fluid.

Female sterilization involves a procedure called tubal ligation, during which the fallopian tubes are sealed or blocked to prevent eggs from traveling to the uterus and contacting sperm.

Both sterilization procedures are considered more than 99% effective. Possible side effects include:

  • surgical recovery pain
  • bleeding or other surgical complications
  • tubal pregnancy (in female sterilization only)

You have options when choosing birth control. A certain type of contraceptive might be more appealing for you or your partner or might be the most practical option for your current stage of life.

If you’re not sure which type of birth control might be right for you, your doctor can help you make a decision based on your individual needs and preferences.