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A variety of birth control options

A Breakdown of Birth Control

A variety of birth control options

The myriad birth control options available today can feel overwhelming, and sometimes talking with your gynecologist won't get you closer to making an informed decision.

To avoid analysis paralysis, here's a breakdown of today's most common birth control methods, as well as some lesser-known types. All have a high efficacy rate, but it's important to point out that only two—abstinence and outercourse—are 100% foolproof.

Let's dive in!

Most common birth control methods

The following birth control methods top the list, according to experts.


An IUD, or intrauterine device, is regarded as one of the most effective birth control methods on the market. It's a flexible, T-shaped plastic device that's inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Both hormonal and copper IUD types are available, but both essentially divert sperm's path to an egg to make pregnancy impossible.

Biggest pro: Aside from the 99% effective pregnancy prevention rate, you can easily have an IUD removed by your practitioner whenever you're ready to get pregnant.

Biggest con: Similar to all methods covered here except for condoms, they don't protect against sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.


Whether they're latex, synthetic, or lambskin, condoms help prevent pregnancy by blocking semen from entering the uterus and fertilizing an egg. Latex and synthetic versions also help protect against HIV and other STIs.

Biggest pro: Using a condom doesn't affect hormones but instead uses spermicide to kill sperm, and many types help protect against STIs in addition to pregnancy.

Biggest con: They're only 87% effective and can wreck a sexy mood—although putting on a condom can be an effective part of the sexual experience!

Birth control implants

The birth control implant is a small rod inserted into your arm that releases progestin, which thickens cervical mucus to both stop sperm from reaching an egg and the ovaries from releasing an egg.

Biggest pro: Once you get the implant, you don't have to think about birth control because it's 99% effective for up to 5 years.

Biggest con: The progestin hormone introduced using the implant can do more than prevent pregnancy. Like other synthetic chemicals, it can disrupt other functions in the body and has its own list of negative side effects.

Shots, rings, and patches

These three methods are often grouped together because they work in similar ways. You'd get a shot every 3 months, insert a ring monthly, and replace the patch weekly. The efficacy rate ranges between 93% and 96%.

Biggest pro: These methods all work very well when used exactly as directed.

Biggest con: They all involve introducing progestin into the body, which can cause headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, increased risk of blood clots, menstrual cycle changes, and in some cases breast cancer.

The pill

While it's not the most commonly used method, it's something traditional practitioners continue to encourage when it comes to pregnancy prevention. The pill involves taking a hormonal pill daily around the same time to literally stop the menstrual cycle, thereby making pregnancy nearly impossible.

Biggest pro: It's affordable and covered by most insurance plans, and it's 93% effective when used correctly.

Biggest con: Prolonged birth control use has been tied to a host of health conditions, from mood swings and blood clots to heart conditions and infertility. Many women also experience amenorrhea after coming off the pill for several months and potential years.

Plan B

The morning-after pill, which is typically available at pharmacies, is taken up to 3 days after having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

Biggest pro: It's a one-time pill rather than a prescription, which can be beneficial from a hormonal standpoint.

Biggest con: You'll need to take it as soon as possible after sex because it loses effectiveness the longer you wait.

Less common birth control methods

These birth control methods aren't used as much as the ones described above, but many are just as effective—and they're safer and more natural in many cases.

Diaphragms and vaginal caps

A silicone diaphragm is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix and block sperm from making their way to an egg, A vaginal cap works similarly by covering the cervix. The only difference is that spermicide is typically used in tandem with the cap.

Biggest pro: Neither method introduces hormones into the body. Instead, they act as a barrier to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg,

Biggest con: Both methods require inserting and removing foreign objects in the vagina. They can be ineffective if not done perfectly.

Sponges and spermicide

A sponge is inserted similar to a tampon to prevent egg fertilization. It has spermicide on it to kill sperm on contact.

Biggest pro: These are hormone-free methods of contraception.

Biggest con: Both are between 78% and 86% effective when used correctly—not nearly as effective as other methods.

Fertility awareness ("The Rhythm Method")

While this method requires the most work on your part, it's a great way to better understand your cycle and its rhythms. It involves tracking your cycle using an app like Flo and tracking your ovulation using an app like Mira.

Biggest pro: When you track your cycle, you know exactly when you're most fertile and can plan accordingly. You also don't have to get on a prescription or pay for anything to practice safe, natural birth control.

Biggest con: This method isn't as effective if you don't experience regular periods. Still, it can make you more aware of what your cycle looks like so you can take steps to regulate it.


Vasectomies and tubal ligation are the most commonly used surgical methods for preventing pregnancy. A vasectomy is an outpatient procedure for men that involves cutting off tubes in the scrotum so sperm can't travel, while tubal ligation—commonly referred to as female sterilization—involves either closing or removing the fallopian tubes.

Biggest pro: Both are 99% effective and last for life.

Biggest con: Costs surrounding these procedures can be high if you're not adequately insured.

As with anything in life, do your research and weigh the pros and cons before choosing the birth control method that's right for you.


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