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What are my options for birth control and how effective are they?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on May 8, 2023.

Official answer


Birth control refers to any behavioral, hormonal, spermicidal, or physical device that is used to prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately for most, human error ("Oops the condom broke", or "I forgot to take my pill") is the reason most forms of birth control (also called contraception) fail; and this has resulted in most manufacturers rating their product's effectiveness on a dual scale: perfect use (PU) and typical use (TU). A product with a perfect use score of 97% means that for every 100 people who use that method, it is likely 3 will fall pregnant (and 97 won't). The more common methods of birth control include:

  • Condoms: A latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene sheath is put over a man's erect penis, preventing bodily fluids from transferring from one person to another. PU:97%; TU:87%.
  • The Pill (contains estrogen and progesterone-like hormones): A pill is taken at roughly the same time each day that suppresses ovulation and thickens cervical mucus. PU:99.7%; TU:93%.
  • The Minipill (contains a progesterone-like hormone): A pill is taken at the same time each day that thickens cervical mucus and thins the lining of the endometrium. PU:99%; TU:92%.
  • Intrauterine devices: These contain either copper (eg, ParaGard) or the hormone levonorgestrel (eg, Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta) and are inserted into the uterus where they can remain in place for 3, 6, 8, or 10 years depending on the type. PU:>99%; TU>99%.
  • The Shot (Depo-Provera): A progestin injection is given every three months that suppresses ovulation, thickens cervical mucus, and thins the endometrial lining. PU:99.8%; TU:94%.
  • Nexplanon: A flexible rod about 1.5 inches long is inserted via a small cut into the upper arm and releases progestin. Lasts up to three years. PU:99.95%; TU:99.95%.
  • Today Sponge: Single-use polyurethane sponge that contains spermicide is inserted into the vagina and must stay in place for six hours after sex. PU:80-91%; TU:76-88%.
  • The Withdrawal Method: The penis is withdrawn from the vagina before ejaculation. PU:96%; TU:73%.

There are many other forms of birth control including Nuvaring, Ortho-Evra, diaphragms, cervical caps, female condoms, and abstinence. Talk to your doctor, Planned Parenthood, or use our Health Decision Guide to work out what option is right for you.

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