Birth Control Methods

Types of birth control methods

There are many methods of birth control that a woman can use. Talk with your health care provider to help you figure out what method is best for you. You can always try one method and if you do not like it, you can try another one.

Keep in mind that most birth control does NOT protect you from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like gonorrhea, herpes, and chlamydia. Other than not having sex, the best protection against STDs and HIV is the male latex condom. The female condom may give some STD protection. Other birth control methods that involve using a spermicide (a cream or jelly that kills sperm) also may give some protection against chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Don't forget that all of the methods outlined below work best if used correctly. Be sure you know the correct way to use them. Talk with your health care provider and don't feel embarrassed about talking with her or him again if you forget or don't understand.

Know that learning how to use some birth control methods can take time and practice. Sometimes health care providers do not explain how to use a method because they may think you already know how. For example, some people do not know that you can put on a male condom "inside out." Also, not everyone knows that you need to leave a "reservoir" or space at the tip of the condom for the sperm and fluid when a man ejaculates, or has an orgasm.

The more you know about the correct way to use birth control, the more control you will have over deciding if and when you want to become pregnant.

The following is a list of birth control methods with links to more information, including estimates of the contraceptive's effectiveness: that is, how well they work in preventing pregnancy when used correctly:

Additional birth control methods include:

  • Continuous Abstinence -This means not having sexual intercourse at any time. It is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy. This method is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.

  • Periodic Abstinence or Fertility Awareness Methods - A woman who has a regular menstrual cycle has about nine or more fertile days, or days when she is able to get pregnant, each month. Periodic abstinence means you do not have sex on the days that you may be fertile. Fertility awareness means that you can be abstinent or have sex but you use a "barrier" method of birth control to keep sperm from getting to the egg. Barrier methods include condoms, diaphragms, or cervical caps, used together with spermicides, which kill sperm. These methods are 75 to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

    Keep in mind that to practice these methods, you need to learn about your menstrual cycle (or how often you get your period). You keep a written record of when you get your period, what it is like (heavy or light blood flow), and how you feel (sore breasts, cramps). You also check your cervical mucus and take your basal body temperature daily, and record these in a chart. This is how you learn to predict, or tell, which days you are fertile or "unsafe." You can ask your health care provider for more information on how to record and understand this information.

  • Emergency Contraception - This is NOT a regular method of birth control and should never be used as one. Emergency contraception, or emergency birth control, is used to keep a woman from getting pregnant when she has had unprotected vaginal intercourse. "Unprotected" can mean that no method of birth control was used. It can also mean that a birth control method was used but did not work - like a condom breaking. Or, a woman may have forgotten to take her birth control pills, or may have been abused or forced to have sex when she did not want to. Emergency contraception consists of taking two doses of hormonal pills taken 12 hours apart and started within three days after having unprotected sex. These are sometimes wrongly called the "morning after pill." The pills are 75 to 89% effective at preventing pregnancy. Another type of emergency contraception is having the Copper T IUD put into your uterus within seven days of unprotected sex. This method is 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy. Neither method of emergency contraception protects against STDs or HIV. You will need to visit your health care provider for either a prescription for the pills or for the insertion of the IUD, and to make sure you are not having problems. More on Emergency Birth Control

Are there any foams or gels to prevent pregnancy?

You can purchase what are called spermicides in drug stores. They work by killing sperm and come in several forms - foam, gel, cream, film, suppository, or tablet. They are inserted or placed in the vagina no more than one hour before intercourse and left in place at least six to eight hours after. You may protect yourself more against getting pregnant if you use a spermicide with a male condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap. There are spermicidal products made specifically for use with the diaphragm and cervical cap. Check the package to make sure you are buying what you want.

All spermicides have sperm-killing chemicals in them. Some spermicides also have an ingredient called nonoxynol-9, which can protect you from the STDs gonorrhea and chlamydia. Nonoxynol-9 will not protect you from HIV. Some women are sensitive to nonoxynol-9 and need to use spermicides without it. Spermicides alone are about 74% effective at preventing pregnancy.

How effective is withdrawal as a birth control method?

Withdrawal is not the most effective birth control method. It works much better when a male condom is used.

Withdrawal refers to when a man takes his penis out of a woman's vagina (or "pulls out") before he ejaculates, or has an orgasm. This stops the sperm from going to the egg. "Pulling out" can be hard for a man to do and it takes a lot of self-control. When you use withdrawal, you can also be at risk for getting pregnant BEFORE the man pulls out. When a man's penis first becomes erect, there can be fluid (called pre-ejaculate fluid) on the tip of the penis that has sperm in it. This sperm can get a woman pregnant. Withdrawal also does not protect you from STDs or HIV.

Is the pill safe?

Today's pills have lower doses of hormones than earlier birth control pills. This has greatly lowered the risk of side effects. However, there are both benefits and risks with taking birth control pills. Benefits include having more regular and lighter periods, fewer menstrual cramps; and a lower risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Serious side effects include an increased chance, for some women, of developing heart disease and high blood pressure. Minor side effects include nausea, headaches, sore breasts, weight gain, irregular bleeding and depression. Many of these side effects go away after taking the pill for a few months. Women who smoke, are over age 35, or have a history of blood clots or breast or endometrial cancer are more at risk for dangerous side effects and may not be able to take the pill. Talk with your health care provider about whether the pill is right for you.

Will birth control pills protect from HIV and other STDs?

Some people wrongly believe that if they take birth control pills, they are protecting themselves not only from getting pregnant but also from infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Birth control pills or other types of birth control, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), Norplant, or tubal ligation will NOT protect you from HIV and other STDs.

The male latex condom is the only birth control method that is proven to help protect you from HIV and other STDs. If you are allergic to latex, there are condoms made of polyurethane that you can use. Condoms come lubricated (which can make sexual intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable) and non-lubricated (which can be used for oral sex). It is important to only use latex or polyurethane condoms to protect against HIV and other STDs. "Natural" or "lambskin" condoms have tiny pores that may allow for the passage of viruses like HIV, hepatitis B and herpes. If you use non-lubricated condoms for vaginal or anal sex, you can add lubrication with water-based lubricants that you can buy at a drug store (like KY jelly). Never use oil-based products, such as massage oils, baby oil, lotions, or petroleum jelly, to lubricate a condom. These will weaken the condom, causing it to tear or break.

It is very important to use a condom correctly and consistently - which means every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. If you do not know how to use a condom, talk with your health care provider. Don't be embarrassed. Also do not assume that your partner knows how to use a condom correctly. Many men have never had anyone show them how. The biggest reason condoms fail is due to incorrect use. Male condoms can only be used once. Research is being done to find out how effective the female condom is in preventing HIV and other STDs.

Disclaimer: All information provided in this document is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for advice provided by a medical doctor or qualified healthcare provider. You should not use this information for self-diagnosis or for treating a health problem or disease. If you have any questions whatsoever about your medical health or believe you have a medical problem or disease, you should contact your medical doctor or healthcare provider. You should never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical advice or treatment because of something you have read herein. No guarantee is made about the accuracy, completeness, or relevance of the information contained herein.