Birth control options: Things to consider

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Birth control options: Things to consider

If you're considering using contraception, you have various birth control options. To help pick the right method of birth control for you and your partner, consider the following questions.

What are the different types of birth control?

Birth control options may include:

  • Barrier methods. Examples include male and female condoms, as well as the diaphragm, cervical cap, contraceptive sponge and spermicide.
  • Hormonal methods. Example include various types of birth control pills, as well as a vaginal ring (NuvaRing ), contraceptive implant (Implanon), contraceptive injection ( Depo-Provera) and contraceptive patch (Ortho Evra).
  • Intrauterine devices. Examples include a copper IUD (ParaGard) and a hormonal IUD (Mirena).
  • Sterilization. Examples include tubal ligation, Essure or Adiana for women and vasectomy for men.
  • Natural family planning. Examples include the rhythm, basal body temperature and cervical mucus methods.

It's also important to be aware of emergency contraception — such as the morning-after pill (Plan B One-Step or Next Choice) — which can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.

How do different types of birth control work?

Various types of birth control work in different ways. Birth control may:

  • Prevent sperm from reaching the egg
  • Inactivate or damage sperm
  • Prevent an egg from being released each month
  • Alter the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg doesn't attach to it
  • Thicken cervical mucus so sperm can't easily pass through it

What is the method's effectiveness?

To be effective, any method of contraception must be used consistently and correctly. Still, failure rates vary. For example, methods of natural family planning are less likely to be effective than are hormonal methods of birth control. It's up to you to determine the level of effectiveness you need.

Is it reversible?

The method of contraception you choose depends on your reproductive goals. If you're planning pregnancy in the near future, you may want a method that's easily stopped or quickly reversible, such as an oral contraceptive or a barrier method. If you'd like to become pregnant — but not in the near future — you may want to consider an IUD. If you're certain that you don't ever want to conceive, you may prefer a permanent method, such as sterilization.

Is it convenient?

For some people, convenience suggests ease of use, no bothersome side effects or no disruption of the sexual experience. For others, convenience means no prescription is required. When choosing a method of contraception, consider how willing you are to plan ahead or, if necessary, adhere to a rigid schedule. It's important to choose a type of birth control that suits your lifestyle.

Can you afford it?

Some methods of contraception are inexpensive, while others are more costly. Consult your insurance provider about coverage, and then consider the expense as you make a decision.

What are the side effects?

Consider your tolerance for the possible side effects associated with a particular birth control method. Some methods, particularly those that contain estrogen, pose more side effects — some potentially serious — than do others, such as barrier methods and natural family planning methods. Talk to your health care provider about your medical history and how it might affect your choice of birth control.

Will the birth control method offer protection from sexually transmitted infections?

Male and female condoms are the only methods of birth control that offer reliable protection from sexually transmitted infections. Unless you're in a mutually monogamous relationship and have been tested for sexually transmitted infections, use a new condom every time you have sex in addition to any other method of birth control you use.

Is the method acceptable to your sexual partner?

Your partner may have birth control preferences that are similar to or different from your own. Discuss birth control options with your partner to help determine which method is acceptable to both of you.

Is the method compatible with your religious beliefs or cultural practices?

Some forms of birth control are considered a violation of certain religious laws or cultural traditions. Weigh the risks and benefits of a birth control method against your personal convictions.

Does the method offer any noncontraceptive benefits?

Besides preventing pregnancy, some contraceptives provide additional benefits — such as more predictable, lighter menstrual cycles, a decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections or a reduction in the risk of some cancers. If these benefits are important to you, they may influence your choice of birth control.

What's the bottom line?

When you choose a contraceptive method, many factors come into play, including your age, health, emotional maturity, marital status and religious convictions. Knowing your options is part of the decision process — but an honest assessment of yourself, your partner and your relationship is just as important. Most people have to make some trade-offs. You might, for instance, prefer to deal with the mild side effects of a hormonal contraceptive in exchange for effectiveness, or forgo the convenience of an IUD for the low cost of a barrier method. Ideally, you and your partner will discuss the options and reach a mutually beneficial decision.

Last Updated: 2010-01-27
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