Contraception: Which Method is Right for You?

Contraception Methods

Adapted from Bedsider.org

There are so many birth control methods. If you aren't happy with what you're currently using, check out info on other methods and find one that works for you!

Learn more about each method below: IUD, Implant, the Shot, the Patch, the Pill, the Ring, Emergency Contraception, External Condom, Internal Condom, Diaphragm, Sponge, Spermicide, Cervical Cap, Fertility Awareness, Withdrawal, "Not Right Now," Sterilization

IUD

The IUD is a little, t-shaped piece of plastic that is placed in your uterus to mess with the way sperm can move and prevent them from fertilizing an egg. Sounds odd, but it works like a charm. IUDs offer years of protection—between three and twelve, depending on the type you get. And if you want to get pregnant, you can have the IUD removed at any time. In the U.S. there are five IUDs: Mirena, ParaGard, Skyla, Liletta, and Kyleena.

Here's the Breakdown: Invisible and easy. You can choose hormonal (Mirena, Skyla, Liletta, and Kyleena) or non-hormonal (ParaGard).

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: It's one of the most effective methods!

Side Effects: With ParaGard you might have increased blood flow and cramping.

Effort: It's inserted once and lasts for years.

Ease to Get: You need to see a provider for insertion.

Cost: Could range from $0-$932 Read more about the cost of an IUD.

 

Implant

The implant (Nexplanon is the brand name; previously Implanon) is a teeny-tiny rod that's inserted under the skin of your upper arm. It's so small, in fact, most people can't see it once it's inserted—which means it can be your little secret, if you're so inclined. 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 in the first place. It prevents pregnancy for up to four years. Not too shabby.

Here's the Breakdown: Invisible to the world but not to you. It's easy, incredibly effective, long lasting, and reversible.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The implant is among the most effective methods.

Side Effects: Irregular bleeding is the most common side effect of the implant.

Effort: Quick insertion and you're set for 4 years.

Ease to Get: You need to see a provider to get it inserted.

Cost: Anywhere from $0-$848 Read more about the cost of an implant.

 

The Shot

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. Some people call the shot “Depo,” short for Depo-Provera. (Pronounced like Johnny Depp-oh.) The shot contains progestin, a hormone that prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs. It also thickens your cervical mucus, which helps block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. Worth considering even if you're afraid of needles... Because what's a little prick compared to a pregnancy?

Here's the breakdown: Long-lasting, private, and good hormonal option for those who can't take estrogen.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The shot is super effective—as long as you get each shot on time.

Side Effects: Most common are irregular bleeding and increased appetite, leading to weight gain.

Effort: You have to go for a shot every 3 months.

Ease to Get: You need to head to the doctor or clinic for each shot.

Cost: From $0-$120, but it all depends. Read more about the cost of the shot.

 

The Patch

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. The brand name Ortho Evra isn't being produced anymore so if you use the patch, ask for the generic, Xulane.

Here's the breakdown: Easy to use and works like the pill, but you only have to worry about it once a week.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The patch is pretty effective the way most people use it.

Side Effects: Nausea, irregular bleeding, sore boobs are most common, but usually temporary.

Effort: Patch change required once a week.

Ease to Get: You need to get a prescription from your doctor or clinic.

Cost: Could be as low as $0 a month or as high as $44. Read more about the cost of the patch.

 

The Pill

"The Pill" is a pill. (How's that for stating the obvious?) Some people call it "oral contraception." You take it 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.

Here's the breakdown: Been around for 50 years, easy to swallow, can have positive side effects.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The pill's really effective when taken perfectly, but most don't take it perfectly.

Side Effects: Most common are sore breasts, nausea, spotting, and decreased sex drive.

Effort: Every. Single. Day.

Ease to Get: You have to get a prescription.

Cost: As low as $0 or as high as $113 a month. Read more about the cost of the pill.

 

The Ring

The ring (brand name: NuvaRing) is a small, bendable ring that you insert into your vagina. (It kind of looks like one of those jelly bracelets from the 80s, but it feels a tiny bit stiffer.) You leave it in place for three weeks at a time, then take it out for the fourth week. The ring works by giving 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.

Here's the breakdown: Easy to insert, works like the pill, keeps you protected for a month at a time.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The ring's pretty effective the way most people use it.

Side Effects: Most common—yet temporary—effects are irregular bleeding, sore boobs, nausea.

Effort: Ring in. Wait 3 weeks. Ring out. Wait 1 week. Repeat.

Ease to Get: Need to visit a health care provider for a prescription.

Cost: Anywhere from $0-$75 a month. Read more about the cost of the ring.

 

Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) There are four types of EC to choose from and they all work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant. Read more: 5 myths about the emergency contraceptive pill, busted.

Here's the breakdown: EC provides the possibility of prevention after the fact.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: EC pills are somewhat effective (not as good as lots of methods you can use before or during sex).

Side Effects: EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting.

Effort: The number and dose of pills depends on the brand.

Ease to Get: ella and Yuzpe require a prescription; ParaGard must be inserted by provider; Plan B One-Step is available without a prescription; generic levonorgestrel-based pills are available without prescription. Search for EC.

Cost: Anywhere from $0-$932. Read more about the cost of emergency contraception.

 

External Condom

Rubber. Jimmy-hat. Love sock. Wrapper. However you say it, condoms are one of the most popular forms of birth control out there. They slip over the penis to prevent pregnancy and lower the risk of STIs by keeping sperm inside the condom and out of the vagina. (There are also internal condoms that go inside the vagina.) Condoms come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, with lube and without.

Here's the breakdown: They protect against STIs, don't require a prescription, and are inexpensive.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The condom is so-so the way people typically use them—better when used perfectly.

Side Effects: Usually none. Unless you have a latex allergy.

Effort: You have to use one EVERY time.

Ease to Get: Drug stores, clinics, supermarkets, and even some bars and clubs.

Cost: About $1 per condom or free at lots of clinics and bars. Read more about the cost of an external condom.

 

Internal Condom

An internal (a.k.a. female) condom is a pouch you insert into your vagina. It's not the prettiest thing in the world (it looks a bit like a floppy, clear elephant trunk) but it is a method that gives you lots of control. Internal condoms work the same way that 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.

Here's the breakdown: Give women more control and are good for those with latex allergies.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: So-so the way people typically use them—better when used perfectly; more effective with spermicide.

Side Effects: Usually none, but could cause a little irritation to your or your partner's parts.

Effort: You have to use one EVERY time.

Ease to Get: Can find them at clinics and online, and in some drugstores and supermarkets.

Cost: Depending on where you get them, $0-$5 a piece. Read more about the cost of an internal condom.

 

Diaphragm

A diaphragm is a shallow, dome-shaped cup made of silicone. (Honestly, it looks like Meg Griffin's hat on The Family Guy. Except 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. One super important thing to remember: for a diaphragm to work effectively, you need to use it with spermicide.

Here's the breakdown: Effective immediately, can be put in hours before sex, doesn't affect your hormones.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The diaphragm's fairly effective—better with spermicide.

Side Effects: No problems for most, but irritation or urinary tract infections are possible.

Effort: Have to put it in place every time you have sex, but can leave it in for up to 24 hours.

Ease to Get: See a health care provider to get a prescription. For the Milex diaphragm you'll need a fitting; the Caya diaphragm is one-size-fits-all.

Cost: Anywhere from $0-$90. Read more about the cost of a diaphragm.

 

Sponge

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. Think of it like a bouncer at the nightclub door to your uterus.

Here's the breakdown: No hormones, no prescription, and can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The sponge isn't the most effective method—especially if you've already had a kid.

Side Effects: Usually no side effects, but you could experience some irritation.

Effort: Have to put it in every time you have sex (but could be done hours ahead of time).

Ease to Get: Available online and in stores.

Cost: From $0—$15 for 3 sponges. Read more about the cost of a sponge.

 

Spermicide

“Spermicides" describe 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.

Here's the breakdown: Easy to find, no hormones, and no prescription needed.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: Spermicide's not so great on its own. Much better with another barrier method.

Side Effects: Most don't have any problems, but you or your man could have some irritation.

Effort: Have to apply it every time you have sex.

Ease to Get: Get it at a store or online.

Cost: Totally depends, but will likely cost from $0 to $1.50 per time you have sex. Read more about the cost of spermicide.

 

Cervical Cap

A cervical cap is a silicone cup you insert in your vagina to cover your cervix and keep sperm out of your uterus. The "cap" part of the name is pretty dead on—the thing looks like a little rubber sailor's hat, maybe an inch and a half wide and one inch high. There's only one brand of cervical cap available in the U.S. today, and it's jauntily named the FemCap. One super important thing to remember: You need to use a cervical cap with spermicide for it to be most effective.

Here's the breakdown: Immediately effective, no hormones, can be inserted up to 6 hours before sex.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: The cervical cap's fairly effective—better with spermicide.

Side Effects: Usually no side effects. Some women might experience irritation or discomfort.

Effort: Has to be in place every time you have sex.

Ease to Get: Get fitted for right size by doc or clinic and then pick it up with a prescription.

Cost: Pay once for fitting ($0-$200) and cap ($0-$89); ongoing cost for spermicide. Read more about the cost of a cervical cap.

 

Fertility Awareness

Fertility awareness-based methods—or natural family planning—are all about tracking your menstrual cycle to determine the days that you can get pregnant. The tricky part is actually knowing when those days are. To do that, you'll need to pay very close attention to your body and its patterns. Here we list all the different ways you can monitor your day-to-day fertility.

Here's the breakdown: Fertility awareness-based methods are inexpensive and hormone-free.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: Fertility awareness methods aren't among the most effective—better when practiced perfectly.

Side Effects: None.

Effort: Daily tracking is required to REALLY use fertility awareness-based methods correctly.

Ease to Get: Supplies online or from clinics. Take classes from some clinics or churches.

Cost: Thermometers for less than $10. CycleBeads for $10—$25. Free or low-cost classes. Read more about costs and how to count.

 

Withdrawal

The withdrawal method is the oldest form of birth control on the planet. There's not much to explain, really. The guy pulls out before he ejaculates. End of story. Some people call withdrawal the “pull out method.” Or you may hear people call it “coitus interruptus.” The key thing to remember is this: You've got to do it right—every single time—for withdrawal to be effective. And how many guys do you know with that kind of total control?

Here's the breakdown: Withdrawal doesn't cost a dime or require a visit to the doctor.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: Somewhat effective, but depends on your guy always pulling out in time. Always.

Side Effects: No hormones, no devices, no side effects.

Effort: Has to happen every single time you have sex.

Ease to Get: Nothing to get—except your guy's cooperation.

Cost: Withdrawal is a method that is totally free, but risky. While you won’t have to spend anything to use it, you have to do it correctly every single time for it to work.

 

"Not Right Now"

Saying "Not right now” is our way of saying “no vaginal sex.” It’s a great method as far as effectiveness is concerned—if you use it 100% of the time, you’re guaranteed to not get pregnant. And if you’re avoiding sexual activity altogether, you’ll be safe from STIs too. But it does involve a whole lot of self-control.

Here's the breakdown: If you don't have sex, you won't get pregnant. But you'll need willpower.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: "Not right now" is 100% effective if you really don't have sex.

Side Effects: None.

Effort: You have to have a lot of control.

Ease to Get: There's nothing to get—other than the conviction to stick to it.

Cost: Free! Unless you count the cost of batteries :)

 

Sterilization

Sterilization is a procedure that closes or blocks your fallopian tubes so you can't get pregnant. (Your tubes are where eggs and sperm meet. If they can't meet, they can't hook up.) Guys also have a sterilization option—a vasectomy blocks the tubes that carry a man’s sperm. It's even safer and more effective than female sterilization. Talk to a health care provider to learn more and be sure to ask about state and federal requirements, like age restrictions and waiting periods.

Here's the breakdown: A permanent solution for those who are sure they don't want a future pregnancy.

Quick Facts:

Effectiveness: Very effective.

Side Effects: Possible pain or discomfort right after procedure.

Effort: Once and you're done.

Ease to Get: You need to see a doctor.

Cost: Could range from $0-$5000 for the procedure. Read more about the cost of the steralization procedure.