There are many ways to prevent pregnancy. For those of us who need contraception, finding the method that works best is a top priority. While some of us may pop the pill daily without giving it a second thought, there may be some things you don’t know about the different methods of birth control available to you. Here are 10 methods to explore and discuss with your health practitioner.
- The Pill
What is it: One of the most commonly used methods of contraception today is the pill. While there are many different brands of pills, they all effectively do the same thing: prevent pregnancy through a daily dose of hormones to stop ovulation.
How to use it: Take the pill at the same time daily for three weeks with one week off. Other brands may suggest to take the placebo pill at the same time daily during your off week.
The good: If you prefer to have more hands-on control over your birth control method, the pill is a great option, but only if you remember to take it at the same time daily!
The bad: The pill is not as effective when daily use is not consistent. With all medicines and hormonal birth control methods, please refer to the potential side effects including but not limited to bloating, nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, mood changes, etc. Refer to our previous blog post on What They Don’t Tell You About Birth Control Pills to learn more.
What is it: The patch is a hormonal contraceptive placed on the skin. Xulane (formerly Ortho Evra) is the most popular version of the patch.
How to use it: To use it, simply place the thin patch on your skin. It can be placed on your stomach, outer arm, back or buttocks. Replace the patch weekly for three weeks, followed by a patch-free week. Like the pill, the patch releases hormones to prevent pregnancy.
The good: The patch is low maintenance and does not require daily use or a visit to the doctor’s office. The patch is highly effective when placed at the same time weekly!
The bad: The patch does not prevent sexually transmitted infections. As with many hormonal birth control methods, those who use the patch may face additional side effects. The skin may also face irritation from the patch.
What is it: A non-hormonal contraception, the sponge is a squishy porous object inserted into the vagina before intercourse. The sponge is made from plastic foam and contains spermicide. Around 2 inches in diameter the sponge features a nylon loop for easy removal. The only sponge available in the U.S. is the Today Sponge.
How to use it: The sponge prevents pregnancy by covering the cervix and keeping sperm from moving with spermicide. To use, wet the sponge before insertion. Squeeze the sponge to let the water soak in and activate the spermicide. Fold the sponge and insert it into the vagina with the loop facing downward. The sponge should be left in place for at least 6 hours after intercourse.
The good: The sponge can be inserted up to 24 hours before intercourse and doesn’t require any additional daily use. The sponge is also hormone free.
The bad: The sponge does not prevent against sexually transmitted illnesses. It can only be used once and then needs to be replaced. Users of the sponge have experienced extra moisture during intercourse.
- Vaginal Ring
What is it: A birth control vaginal ring, also well-known by the brand name NuvaRing, is a small flexible ring placed in a woman’s vagina monthly to avoid pregnancy.
How to use it: Like other hormonal methods, the ring is used for 3 weeks at a time followed by a week of non-use. The ring need only be replaced monthly. To insert, simply squeeze the sides of the ring together and insert into the vagina. When removing, hook your finger around the ring and pull out gently.
The good: The ring doesn’t require daily use and is simple and safe to use. You don’t need to do anything with it before being sexually active.
The bad: The ring doesn’t prevent against sexually transmitted infections. Because it is low maintenance, you may forget to replace it after 3 weeks. Like other hormonal methods, you may face undesirable side effects.
What is it: Like it sounds, the Depo-Provera shot is an injection given by a doctor or nurse to avoid pregnancy.
How to use it: The shot requires no personal use. The injection is given in a doctor’s office once every 3 months either in your arm or buttocks.
The good: The shot is a very private birth control method that requires no maintenance other than visiting your doctor every 3 months.
The bad: Depo-Provera does not prevent sexually transmitted illnesses. It may be difficult to make timely appointments to get your follow up shots and again as a hormonal medicine may give you undesirable side effects.
How to use it: Like the shot, the implant requires a visit to the doctor’s office where the implant is inserted into your upper arm. You can expect the insertion to take less than 5 minutes. The doctor will place numbing cream on your arm and insert the implant just beneath the skin.
The good: The Implanon and Nexplanon implants are highly effective, require very low maintenance and can last for up to 3 years
The bad: Insertion may seem invasive or be an unwanted procedure for some. This method can be a costly procedure for both insertion and removal. Like most other birth control methods, the implant releases hormones that may cause additional side-effects. It also does not prevent sexually transmitted illnesses.
- Fertility Monitors/Daysy
What is it: Daysy is a fertility monitor that uses the fertility awareness method (FAM) by learning & tracking your menstrual cycle. With daysy, you can plan or prevent pregnancy.
Daysy will show you if you are fertile or not with an accuracy of 99.3%.
How to use it: Every morning, take your temperature under your tongue. Confirm menstruation on the days you have it. Daysy evaluates your data and calculates your fertility status for the next 24 hours using three lights. Red= Fertile and best days to plan for a baby. Green= infertile. Yellow= learning phase/cycle fluctuation.
The good: Daysy is all natural, free of side effects and doesn’t require additional work. If using Daysy correctly, you will only get 6-7 red days while the rest of the month is green.
The bad: You have to remember to take your temperature every morning before getting out of bed. The more times you miss a temperature reading, the more red and yellow lights you will get. During those red and yellow days, you have to use a barrier method to prevent pregnancy.
What is it: The condom is a protective barrier between skin to skin contact either placed on a male’s penis or used in the vagina.
How to use it: Two types of condoms exist: one for males and one for females. For males, the condom is rolled onto the penis. For females, the condom is placed within the vagina and serves as a pouch. To insert a female condom, you must squeeze the sides of the end ring and insert into the vagina. Allow the outer ring to hang outside of the vagina.
The good: Condoms are easy to carry with you and require use only during intercourse. Condoms also help prevent against some sexually transmitted illnesses. Condoms can also be used as extra protection if you already use a different birth control method like the pill. They are low cost as well.
The bad: The condom is not the most effective contraceptive, often because it is used incorrectly. Please read more about proper use before relying on this method. During sex, it may cause irritation to both partners and require extra lubrication.
What is it: The IUD is a small t-shaped plastic device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. Many IUD options are available with varying lengths of use and hormones. The non-hormonal IUD option is called ParaGard. ParaGard is a copper IUD, and lasts up to 12 years. The hormonal IUD options include Mirena for up to 6 years, Skyla and Liletta for up to 3 years, and Kyleena for up to 5.
How to use it: The IUD is inserted during a visit to the doctor’s office. You may need a physical exam in order to be eligible for an IUD. The insertion process usually takes less than 5 minutes to complete. To put the IUD in, the doctor or nurse will insert a speculum and use a special inserter to place the IUD through the opening of your cervix and into your uterus.
The good: The IUD requires no maintenance and offers a variety of long-term birth control options that are highly effective.
The bad: Insertion may seem invasive and may be uncomfortable. It is recommended that patients take pain relievers before and after insertion. The cost of an IUD can be high depending on your type of health care coverage and choice of IUD. The hormonal IUDs may cause unnecessary side effects as well.
- Cervical Cap/Diaphragm
What is it: The cervical cap and diaphragm are silicone based cups inserted into your vagina and over your cervix before intercourse. Both the FemCap and diaphragm rest against the cervix, and form a barrier which blocks sperm from getting through. The diaphragm is larger than a cervical cap.
How to use it: To insert the cervical cap or diaphragm, locate your cervix with your middle and index finger. Then place the cup in by squeezing the sides and covering your cervix. The cervical cap and diaphragm should be paired with spermicide.
The good: The cervical cap and diaphragm are easy to carry around and are immediately effective. Users do not have to worry about it daily. They also have no effect on a woman’s hormones.
The bad: This method is one of the least used because of the difficulty in inserting the cap and keeping it in place. You must leave the cap in 6 hours after you’ve had intercourse as well.