Top Forms of Birth Control

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jill Moore on June 19, 2021

Did you know that unintended pregnancies account for nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States? If the time isn't right for you to get pregnant, you can rest assured that there are many safe and effective options for sexually active women who aren't ready for or don't wish to have children.

There are several categories of birth control:

  • Barrier method
  • Hormonal method
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Sterilization
  • Family planning/abstinence

Choosing the right birth control option for you will depend on things like your age, health, sexual activity, and future family plans.

  • Male and Female Condoms, condom, safe sex
    Male and Female Condoms
    Male condoms are fitted over a man's penis when erect and are 85 to 98% effective when used correctly. A female condom is inserted into the vagina and held in place by an inner ring at the cervix and an outer ring at the vagina's opening. When correctly used, female condoms are 75 to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy.

    An added benefit of condoms is that those made of latex can help defend against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Another bonus? They're easy to find and readily available at the grocery store and pharmacy.
  • The Diaphragm
    The Diaphragm
    A diaphragm is another type of barrier method contraception, but for this type you need a doctor's prescription and you have to get fitted for size. It is inserted into the vagina, where it covers the cervix and blocks the opening of the uterus. When used properly, it is 84 to 94% effective. It can also protect against some STDs. Experts strongly recommend using spermicide cream or jelly with this device to prevent the sperm from moving.
  • Unseen Caucasian woman applying birth control patch to lower back
    Hormonal Birth Control
    Hormonal contraception methods release hormones similar to those a woman's body produces. These hormones interfere with fertility by preventing ovulation–the process during which a woman's ovaries release an egg for potential fertilization, which is the union of an egg and sperm. If no egg is released, a woman cannot get pregnant. Hormonal birth control also causes other changes, such as altering the uterus lining and thickening the cervical mucus.
  • Close-up of birth control pills in two plastic tablet dispenser cases
    The Pill, the Ring, and More
    Hormonal birth control methods include:

    • Birth control pills. These pills must be taken daily. They are 92 to 99% effective. Some side effects include nausea, irregular bleeding, weight gain, and tenderness of the breasts. They may offer some additional health benefits, such as protecting against ovarian and endometrial cancer.

    • Vaginal ring. The ring is inserted into the upper vagina and is worn for three weeks, then removed for one week. A new ring is then inserted. This method is 92 to 99% effective.

    • Injections. Injections of hormonal birth control prevent pregnancy for three months at a time, meaning a woman only needs four injections a year. The injection is 97 to 99% effective. Bone loss, bleeding, and weight gain are some possible side effects.

    • Implant. An implant is a small rod made of plastic that a doctor inserts into a woman's upper arm. It prevents pregnancy for three years and is a good option for women who struggle to remember daily birth control methods. It is also quite effective, preventing pregnancy 99% of the time.

    • Skin patch. The skin patch is a small hormonal patch that adheres to your skin, worn on a four-week, or 28-day cycle. Patches are worn for three weeks in a row, with a new patch each week. During the fourth week, a patch is not worn. It can be applied to the buttocks, chest (not the breasts), upper arm or back, or the abdomen. It is 92 to 99% effective, but may not work as well for women who weigh more than 198 pounds.

    All of these methods must be prescribed by a doctor. None offers protection from STDs.
  • The IUD
    The IUD
    The IUD is a highly effective–more than 99%–method of birth control that is easy to use and does not get in the way of sex or daily activities. An IUD is a small, T-shaped device made of plastic that a doctor inserts into the vagina. There are two types available in the United States: the hormonal IUD and the copper IUD.

    The hormonal IUD works much like other forms of hormonal birth control–releasing hormones into the body that alter the uterus and cervical mucus. The copper IUD releases a small amount of copper into the uterus, preventing a woman's egg from being fertilized or attaching to the uterus wall.

    The hormonal IUD will need to be replaced every five years, the copper IUD every 10 years. Possible side effects include cramps, bleeding, and menstrual changes.
  • Surgeons Standing Over Patient
    Male and Female Sterilization
    For couples who do not wish to have children now or in the future, sterilization may be the right choice. But this weighty decision should be made with careful consideration, as it can be permanent. There are three sterilization methods to consider:

    • Female sterilization. Tubal ligation, sometimes referred to as "tying the tubes," is a surgical procedure that ties off or blocks the fallopian tubes, preventing a woman's eggs from reaching her uterus. Although there's a very small chance of getting pregnant after this procedure, it should be considered permanent.

    • Transcervical sterilization. During this procedure, a small device is inserted into the fallopian tubes to irritate the tubes and form scar tissue, effectively blocking the tubes so that sperm cannot reach the egg.

    • Male sterilization. A vasectomy is a procedure that blocks off the sperm-carrying tubes from a man's testicles to his penis, preventing sperm from being released. It's important to note that a man can still ejaculate after this procedure. It's a simpler procedure than tying a woman's tubes.

    Sterilization methods are popular—almost a quarter of all women in the United States depend on sterilization (of either themselves or their partner) to prevent unintended pregnancy.
  • Caucasian Young Woman Using Laptop in Home Bedroom, Copy Space'
    Fertility and Family Planning
    Fertility awareness, or family planning, is a drug- and device-free form of birth control. It requires an understanding of a woman's fertility pattern—the number of days in a month when a woman is fertile, unfertile, or when fertility is unlikely. This method is 75 to 99% effective.
  • young couple eating fruit
    The Abstinence Guarantee
    The only 100% effective method of birth control is continual abstinence—meaning never having sex. Abstinence ensures there is no opportunity for semen to enter the vagina. Therefore fertilization cannot occur.
Popular Types of Birth Control

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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.