Birth control methods have come a long way since women of Ancient Greece were advised to drink copper salt to prevent pregnancy (Spoiler alert: copper salt = totally toxic).
There have been pull-out methods, herb-stuffing methods, and an array of barrier methods that involved everything from honey to lemons to lint(?).
And now, we sit in the 21st century with a wide and lengthy roster of different types of birth control.
But, as fancy as our catalog is, all birth control methods have their ups and downs—so finding what works best for you is the goal here.
Let’s take a look at what’s available.
In this article: 📝
- What is the most effective birth control?
- What are the most common birth control options?
- What is the best natural birth control?
- Is there an emergency contraceptive pill?
What is the most effective birth control?
What your period’s like, what other meds you’re on, and your cardiovascular health—all these may affect which birth control method is recommended for you.
Whether you’re breastfeeding can also play a role.
So, first question—what are your priorities?
- Pregnancy prevention (for now)
- Pregnancy prevention (forever)
- Lessen your risk of getting STIs
- Help with painful periods
- Ease of use
- Minimal hormone interference
Before we go any further: regardless of your choice, birth control side effects are real—and no method is totally free of them.
Many hormonal methods cause spotting, breast tenderness, headaches, nausea, change in discharge, and bloating.
In some cases, blood clots result.
Barrier methods can increase your chances of toxic shock syndrome, while spermicides can up your risk for UTIs.
And anxiety and frustration come with the territory for all of it.
Ultimately, you and your healthcare practitioner will work through your options and find out what works best for you.
What are the most common birth control options?
Right. Next step. What birth control methods are on offer?
What if we told you there was a cool 17?
Don’t panic, we’ve got our expert onboard to help us break down your options, from hormonal to non-hormonal birth control (and no copper salt insight):
1. Birth control pill
The oral contraceptive pill is the most popular kind of birth control method, second in line only to sterilization.
As a hormonal contraception, the pill is about 99% effective at preventing pregnancy—if you use it exactly as prescribed.
The thing is, life tends to get in the way (hey, we’ve all been there).
So, it’s probably more accurate to say that with typical usage (as in the average usage for those on the pill), it’s actually about 91% effective.
There are two main types:
These essentially stop you from ovulating and thicken up the mucus in your cervix so that it’s harder for sperm to get to your uterus.
They contain lab-made forms of estrogen (the hormone that develops and regulates your reproductive system) and progestin (the synthetic version of the sex hormone progesterone).
Minipill (which only contains progestin)
If there’s any reason you can’t take estrogen, the minipill might be an option for you.
The mini-pill works by also preventing ovulation.
With both these options, you typically take one pill at the same time every day.
They may be on a cycle of 21, 24, or 28 days and usually include some placebos in the mix.
Something that feels like your period (but isn’t because you didn’t ovulate) will happen when you’re on the placebo days—what’s called a withdrawal bleed.
Then there’s the extended cycle pill:
Extended cycle pill
Rather than a three- to four-week cycle, these typically work on a 13-week cycle.
This basically looks like hormone pills for 12 weeks and then one week of placebos(for when you have your withdrawal bleed).
If your period gives you a lot of grief, these pills can be a game-changer for you.
2. Vaginal ring
So, this one’s not too different from the pill in terms of its end goal (to prevent you from ovulating), but it’s got a very different method for achieving it.
It really is a ring that you put into your vagina every month.
It stays in there for three weeks at a time, and then you take it out for a week to have your withdrawal bleed before replacing it with a new one.
Pretty low maintenance—and the same sort of efficacy as the pill if used correctly.
3. Birth control patch
Rather than putting it in you, you put it on you—on your arm, on your back, on your butt. The patch stops you from ovulating by releasing progestin and estrogen into your body—so sort of the same deal as the pill, except it’s coming through your skin. While you don’t have to take it every day, you do have to pay some attention. If you’re diligent about changing it every week (and leaving it off for one week so that you can have your fake period), it can be up to 99% effective.
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4. Depo shot
Full name: Depo-Provera Contraception Injection (AKA The Injection).
Basically, the Depo shot involves getting a birth control injection every three months.
If the thought of taking a pill at the same time every single day is too stressful, the injection can be a good alternative for you.
But (big caveat) you still have to stay on schedule—even if that schedule is far more spaced out.
It may not work if you don’t get your shot on time.
Other things to consider? It’s not a great option if you’re planning to have a baby in the near future.
The effects of the shot can take as long as 10 months to a year to wear off—meaning it could be up to year before you get pregnant.
5. Birth control implant
Yes, this may feel a little invasive at first, but it can be a good option for you.
Basically, it involves implanting a small, flexible, toothpick-sized rod inside your arm.
The rod has one job: to release progestin hormones to prevent ovulation.
It also works to thicken the mucus in the cervix and thin the lining of the uterus, both of which tell your body that pregnancy isn’t a good idea right now.
It can be expensive (as in up to $1,300 to have it inserted kind of expensive), but health insurance, if you have such a thing, will likely cover it.
Now to the barrier birth control methods.
IUD stands for intrauterine device.
Basically, it’s a small t-shaped piece of flexi plastic that goes into your uterus via your vagina.
Yes, the procedure can be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t last long.
A plus point of the IUD is that it can last for many years without you having to do much to it.
And, if you want to get pregnant, it can be removed.
There are two types:
1. Hormonal IUDs
These work by releasing small bits of progestin over a long period of time.
This thickens up the cervical mucus and stops ovulation—both of which prevent pregnancy.
2. Non-hormonal IUDs
These use copper to stop pregnancy from happening.
Yes. Sperm are very anti-copper—it’s their kryptonite.
So the non-hormonal IUD stops sperm from getting to your eggs.
If they can’t make the trip, no pregnancy.
The diaphragm is made of silicone and shaped like a dome.
Its job is to cover your cervix (the connection between the uterus and the vagina), so sperm don’t get in.
You can use it with spermicide to up the efficacy.
If you do this (and use it every time you have sex), it can be up to 94% effective.
Some things to know:
- You have to put it in yourself before having sex. Up to two hours before is a good benchmark. If you do it too far in advance, the spermicide may not be as effective.
- They come in different sizes, so your doctor will give you one that fits.
8. Cervical cap
Same principle as the diaphragm, a cervical cap creates a barrier to entry and is used with spermicide.
And, like diaphragms, they can be a bit tricky to figure out initially.
As for perks of the cap? It’s a little smaller than the diaphragm, and you can leave it in for up to two days.
9. Birth control sponge
The sponge is another spermicidal method with a little barrier method thrown in.
It’s small. It’s round. And it’s going deep into your vagina before sex.
Don’t worry—it has a little fabric hook so that you can get it out again.
It, too, packs the barrier-spermicide punch.
If you use them exactly as designed, condoms are up to 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.
But yes, it’s not always easy to use them exactly as designed, so, in reality, that effectiveness comes right down to 85%.
They’re also disposable, so a steady supply is necessary.
One real plus point? STI protection.
While not nearly as widely known or used as the external condom, the female internal condom is gaining ground as a method of birth control and STI prevention.
It can be inserted hours before, doesn’t require a prescription, and puts power (literally) in the hands of women.
While this will stop you from getting pregnant, it doesn’t prevent STIs.
It’s definitely the right option for many people, and definitely not for others.
You make the right choice for you.
What is the best natural birth control?
Natural birth control methods essentially come down to awareness of your menstrual cycle or some adjustments to how you share and receive pleasure.
Here are the five most common methods:
No penis-vagina penetration, essentially.
In hetero sex, there’s still technically a risk, as some sperm may find their way in.
13. Fertility awareness
The idea is to check when you’re ovulating and don’t have sex around your ovulation window.
But bodies are complicated, and this is by no means full-proof (think somewhere in the region of 76—88% effective).
If getting pregnant is sorta kinda not the worst thing, but you’re trying not to, this could work for you.
Obvs not an option available to everyone, but it’s surprisingly effective.
Be warned, however. It’s not fail-safe.
Breastfeeing is 99% of preventing pregnancy but only in the first six months after giving birth.
Yes, it’s been done this way for centuries.
Yes, it offers some protection.
Nope, it doesn’t offer a lot of protection.
In short, it’s a gamble.
Let’s just circle around here for a moment.
Asexuality is a thing.
And if it’s your thing, you never have to have sexual intercourse even once in your whole life.
And if asexuality is not your thing, but you’re not feeling like engaging in sex at the moment, that’s also totally fine.
Whatever reasons are your reasons and doing the business is no one’s business but your own.
Is there an emergency contraceptive pill?
If you need birth control after the fact, there are two main types of emergency contraceptives are:
- The emergency contraception pill: AKA the morning-after pill can be taken up to five days after sex.
- The copper IUD: Yes, the little plastic device placed in your uterus to stop you from getting pregnant can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex or up to 5 days after ovulation.
You have options—always
Just make sure you know enough about each to decide the right move for you. 💕
We’re having the conversation (always).