Birth Control Guide
Medically reviewed on Nov 11, 2016 by L. Anderson, PharmD.
What is Birth Control?
Birth control is any contraceptive method that is used by either a woman or a man to prevent pregnancy. Methods range from natural family planning, to nonprescription options, to prescription-only and hormonal birth control, to permanent sterilization. Each method has its own pros and cons, differences in ease of use and availability, and costs. This birth control guide helps to define the basics, describe important precautions, and answer frequently asked questions about birth control options.
If you require information about emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”) because you have had unprotected sex and you do not use birth control or your birth control failed, review the section on emergency contraception. You may still be able to have effective birth control if you do not delay, and take action within a certain time frame.
Emergency contraception is available without a prescription and over-the-counter in pharmacies and other retailers. Emergency contraception is not to be used as a regular method of birth control. Contact your healthcare provider to discuss which contraceptive method might be best for you.
Birth Control Planning
Birth control planning should be done in conjunction with your partner and healthcare provider. You will need to think about your lifestyle, personal values, level of health, and medication preferences. For example:
- Do you want to have remember to take a pill every day?
- Do you have concerns about side effects with hormonal birth control?
- How important is it that your birth control is highly effective?
- Do you need continual birth control, or do you have sex infrequently and therefore may not need continuous protection?
- Are you willing to use a barrier method, such as a diaphragm or cervical cap, that must be inserted into your body?
- Is birth control cost an issue for you?
- Do you mind having injections?
- What if you have decided that you do not want any more children, or maybe you and your partner decide you do not want to have biological children, or children at all?
- Do you have multiple sex partners, or are you in a single relationship?
- What health issues do you have that might limit your choices in birth control?
- Are there health benefits to certain types of birth control that might be of value?
All of these questions, and more, should be considered before making a final determination on birth control choice. It is important to remember that for many types of birth control, the effectiveness is dependent upon how well you use it.
Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The only birth control method that will prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia, genital herpes, HPV or HIV is the condom. If you need to protect against STDs, you must use a condom every time you have sex, in addition to any other form of birth control you use. If you do not know your STD status, you should consider being tested.
What are the differences between the various birth control methods?
Many options are available for birth control. The sections found below under "See Also" contain tables of available birth control options. Rates of effectiveness, birth control side effects, and cost considerations can also be found.
- Birth Control Pills (oral contraceptives)
- Other types of hormonal birth control (birth control shot, vaginal ring, contraceptive patch, IUD, implant)
- Nonhormonal birth control options (condom, sponge, spermicide, cervical cap, diaphragm, copper IUD, natural family planning)
- Permanent birth control options (tubal ligation, tubal implants, vasectomy)
- Emergency birth control options (Plan B One Step [OTC], Next Choice, Ella, copper IUD)