What Are the Different Types of Birth Control?
Advancements in birth control have skyrocketed with recent technology and research and today, there are many options available for both men and women. With all of these choices, it may be hard to decide which is best for you. Some factors to consider when choosing a birth control method include:
- Your lifestyle (i.e. how often will you remember to take your birth control?)
- It’s level of effectiveness
- How long the birth control method takes to kick in
- What happens when you stop taking birth control
- Possible side effects of that form of birth control
This article will explain some of the different types of birth control methods and some pros and cons for each. We will separate birth control into three categories – hormonal birth control methods, barrier protection, and natural birth control methods.
Hormonal Birth Control Methods
Hormonal birth control methods are the ones we hear about most because they come in many forms and hormone levels. Let’s look at some of the most common types of hormonal birth control methods and the pros and cons for each.
Birth Control Patch
A birth control patch is a thin piece of plastic that adheres to skin, usually your upper arm, and release hormones that way. The hormones usually include both estrogen and progestin. The patch does require a prescription from a medical professional or gynecologist, and is covered under many insurances.
- Pros of the Birth Control Patch:
- One of the main benefits of the birth control patch is that it is easy to use and only needs to be changed once a week. Compared to taking a daily pill, the patch is a little easier to remember to apply. All you really have to do to have a high rate of effectiveness is change it at the right time every week and wear it as it’s intended.
- Another benefit of the birth control patch is that it doesn’t interfere with sex and protects you 24/7. This can be good for “in the moment” action because you don’t have to worry about your birth control method at the time.
- Cons of the Birth Control Patch:
- One consideration with the birth control patch is that you must reapply it at the right time every week, otherwise it is no longer effective. It is also a visible form of birth control, which some women may shy away from. Like other forms of hormonal birth control, the birth control patch may have unintended side effects, such as headaches, spotting, and nausea.
The birth control patch does require a prescription, but some medical providers may be able to give you a few month’s worth of the patch so you won’t have to go back as frequently.
Birth Control Vaginal Ring
The birth control ring is a small, soft ring that is inserted vaginally to help prevent pregnancy. The ring has a combination of hormones, including estrogen and progestin, that prevent ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus wall.
The timing of insertion of the birth control ring depends on the dates of a woman’s menstrual cycle and the ring can last for up to a month. A common brand name for the vaginal ring is NuvaRing.
- Pros of NuvaRing:
- The NuvaRing is a very convenient form of birth control because it only requires insertion once a month and you can set it and forget it for the rest of the time. This is great for women who don’t want to worry about taking a daily pill. Many women also prefer NuvaRing because it helps lighten and regulate periods and you can skip your period all together, if you wanted to. Just insert a new NuvaRing at the end of the month and you won’t have to worry too much about your time of the month.
- Cons of NuvaRing:
- Like the birth control patch, the NuvaRing relies on consistent application. It is very effective, but only if it is used correctly. This includes putting the ring in at the right time every month and putting it in properly. This can take some getting used to and the ring might not be a good choice for women who forget when to put in a new one.
Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills are the most discussed form of birth control and have been around for decades. These pills contain different levels of hormones and have various effects on the body, including regulating your period and preventing ovulation. Some common birth control pill brands include Yaz, Yasmin, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen.
- Pros of Birth Control Pills:
- While preventing pregnancy is the primary reason women take birth control, many people start taking birth control because of the other good side effects that can come with it. These often include reducing acne, bone thinning, ovarian cancers, PMS, anemia, and more. All of these side effects depend on the dosage of hormones and a woman’s body, but may be a good reason to start taking a birth control pill. Also, birth control pills are taken at the same time every day, so they won’t interfere with spontaneous sex and they protect you all the time.
- Cons of Birth Control Pills:
- The most obvious con about the birth control pill is that it must be taken at the same time every day. This regularity can be hard for women that have very busy schedules and might forget their pill. While birth control pills are very effective, they are only effective if taken properly. This is not a type of birth control that you can “set and forget”.
Birth Control Shot
A birth control shot, often known as the depo shot, is an injection you get from a nurse or doctor once every 3 months as a birth control method. Like other forms of birth control, the birth control shot contains levels of hormones to help prevent ovulation or the fertilization of an egg.
- Pros of the Birth Control Shot:
- One of the main benefits of the birth control shot is that it only has to be administered every 3 months, which makes it a very low-maintenance choice for birth control. For women who has a lot going on, it can be hard to remember to take a daily birth control pill or use barrier protection before sex every single time. The shot makes it easy to have 24/7 coverage without having to worry.
- Cons of the Birth Control Shot:
- Because the effectiveness of the birth control shot relies on when it is administered, it’s important to go back to your medical provider on time every time to get a new shot. These regular doctor visits could be hard for women who don’t live close to their medical provider or who won’t remember to go back on time.
Birth Control Implant
A birth control implant is a small rod that gets placed right underneath the skin of a woman’s arm to help prevent pregnancy. The birth control implant boasts a 99% effectiveness rate, according to Planned Parenthood. Common names for this type of birth control include Nexplanon and Implanon.
- Pros of the Birth Control Implant:
- Many women choose to have a birth control implant inserted because of it’s worry-free birth control coverage; the birth control implant can be left in for up to 4 years with zero maintenance. This is truly a “set it and forget it” type of birth control because it doesn’t need to be taken daily, doesn’t need regular check ups from a doctor, and it has one of the highest rates of effectiveness.
- Cons of the Birth Control Implant:
- As with other birth control methods, the implant may cause unwanted side effects, such as spotting between periods. Once a woman’s body adjusts to the implant they may have no period at all, but it creates more unpredictable periods compared to some other methods.
IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are a type of birth control method that are inserted into your uterus and can be left in for years at a time. There are two main types of IUDs – copper IUDs, like ParaGard, and hormonal IUDs. Copper IUDs work by changing the direction of sperm using a copper guard. Hormonal IUDs work similarly to the birth control implants mentioned above, by releasing hormones to prevent ovulation and to thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from fertilizing.
- Pros of Hormonal IUDs:
- Like birth control implants, hormonal IUDs are good because they can be left in for a long time with little to no maintenance. They protect against pregnancy all the time and they don’t interrupt the heat of the moment like some other methods.
- Cons of Hormonal IUDs:
- Hormonal IUDs may cause the side effects we mentioned before, including spotting, headaches, nausea, and weight gain. Although unlikely, IUDs can also become dislodged if messed with, causing them to not work any more. If this happens, you must return to your doctor to have it re-inserted.
Barrier Birth Control
In addition to hormonal birth control methods, there are also a variety of barrier birth control methods that don’t contain hormones. The most common are condoms, diaphragms, and birth control sponges.
Condoms are a type of physical birth control that are worn by men during sexual intercourse. They are made of latex or other rubbery materials and are put on before sex. Condoms don’t contain any hormones and are the only type of birth control that helps protect against sexually transmitted diseases. They are effective on their own, but when used in conjunction with another form of birth control, condoms are even better at preventing pregnancy.
- Pros of Condoms:
- Condoms are a go-to for sex because they are readily available, work right away, and are easy to use. You can get condoms over the counter without a prescription, and even for free at some health clinics. It is also a major benefit that they help protect you and your partner from STDs – something that hormonal birth control methods don’t do.
- Cons of Condoms:
- Condoms only work when they are used correctly, and in the heat of the moment, some men might not want to wear a condom. Also, you want to make sure the condom is applied correctly, otherwise it won’t be as effective.
Diaphragm Birth Control
Diaphragms are dome-shaped inserts that are used to cover your cervix during intercourse. Like cervical caps, diaphragms have no hormones because they are a physical type of birth control. For maximum effectiveness, diaphragms should also be used with spermicide to both block off your cervix and also kill sperm before they enter. Diaphragms boast a relatively high effectiveness percentage when used correctly (up to 92%).
- Pros of Diaphragms:
- Diaphragms are a great choice for women who either can’t take hormonal birth control methods or don’t want to. This is because diaphragms contain no hormones. They start working right away and can be inserted up to 2 hours before intercourse, therefore not interrupting the moment. They are also reusable, unlike condoms, and can be used for up to 2 years with proper care.
- Cons of Diaphragms:
- Diaphragms must be inserted every time you have sex, so you must remember to put it in on time. Also, diaphragms must be put in properly, which may take some time to get used to. Also, diaphragms can get shaken out of place during sex and may cause vaginal irritation in some women.
Birth Control Sponges
Birth control sponges are like diaphragms in that they block your cervix and use spermicide, but they are made of a different material and are disposable. You must use a new sponge every time before sex to ensure its effectiveness.
- Pros of Birth Control Sponges:
- Birth control sponges can be obtained without a prescription over the counter and are relatively inexpensive. They also start working right away and can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex. You can have sex as many times as you like in a 24-hour period without having to insert a new sponge. Also, birth control sponges don’t have hormones and are safe to use while breastfeeding.
- Cons of Birth Control Sponges:
- Birth control sponges must be inserted every time you have sex, which can be hard to remember for some women. Some users also complain about the sponge causing vaginal dryness or being too wet and messy.
Natural Birth Control
In addition to barrier protection and hormonal birth control, some women might also choose natural birth control methods, including breastfeeding as birth control, natural family planning, and abstinence.
Breastfeeding as Birth Control
When you breastfeed at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night, and feed your baby only breast milk, your body naturally stops ovulating. If you aren’t ovulating (releasing an egg), you can’t get pregnant.
- Pros of Breastfeeding as Birth Control:
- Breastfeeding as birth control can be very effective (equally as effective as the hormonal methods mentioned above). It is also convenient for women who are already breastfeeding their baby anyway and don’t want to get on another form of birth control.
- Cons of Breastfeeding as Birth Control:
- Breastfeeding as birth control only works for up to 6 months after your baby is born, therefore it’s not a very long-term solution. You must also exclusively breastfeed around the clock for it to work, which might not be possible for many women.
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning is a method of tracking ovulation and fertility through a woman’s cycle. The days near ovulation are a woman’s fertile days when she’s most likely to get pregnant. So people use natural family planning to prevent pregnancy by avoiding sex or using another birth control method (like condoms) on those fertile days. Fertility can be tracked by basal temperature or by using a calendar.
- Pros of Natural Family Planning:
- When done correctly, natural family planning is effective and safe because it doesn’t involve any hormones. It is also free, which is good for couples who don’t want to spend money on birth control methods or who don’t have insurance. Some religions don’t support the use of birth control, but do support natural family planning.
- Cons of Natural Family Planning:
- Natural family planning is hard to get just right, so it isn’t as effective as other forms of birth control. You must really monitor your cycle to get the fertile and infertile days right, otherwise you risk getting pregnant. Natural family planning also doesn’t protect against STDs.
Lastly, abstinence is a form of birth control and the only form that is 100% effective. Abstinence entails not having sexual intercourse at all.
- Pros of Abstinence:
- By being abstinent, you are 100% not going to get pregnant. Abstinence is also the only way to completely protect yourself against STDs.
- Cons of Abstinence:
- For many people, complete abstinence is unrealistic. The desire to have sex is a natural need for humans and by relying solely on abstinence, you may find yourself in a situation where you have sex with no backup form of contraception. Even if you practice abstinence, it’s a good idea to carry a secondary form of birth control, like condoms, just in case.
Learn More About Birth Control at the Waterloo OPTIONS Clinic
The Waterloo OPTIONS Clinic offers no judgement sexual health teaching and pregnancy options.