Home > Health & Wellness > Health Library > Birth Control
Sometimes a woman may not
use birth control, or her method may fail. If this happens to you, you may
still be able to prevent pregnancy if you act quickly. For more information,
see the topic
Birth control is any method
used to prevent pregnancy. Another word for birth control is contraception (say
If you have sex without birth control, there
is a chance that you could get pregnant. This is true even if you have not
periods yet or you are getting close to
The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. But
finding a good method of birth control you can use every time can help you
avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
many different kinds of birth control. Each has pros and cons. Learning about
all the methods will help you find one that is right for you.
For hormonal or barrier methods to work best, you have
to use them exactly the way your doctor or the package instructions say. Even
then, accidents can happen. So it is a good idea to keep emergency birth
control on hand as backup protection.
The best method
of birth control is one that protects you every time you have sex. And with
many types of birth control, that depends on how well you use it. To find a
method that will work for you every time, some things to think about
If you are using a method now that you are not happy
with, talk to your doctor about other choices.
birth control methods may not be safe for you, depending on your health. To
make sure a method is right for you, your doctor will need to know if
You can buy:
You need to see a doctor or other health professional
Learning about birth control:
For teens only:
Using birth control:
What should I know about:
Advantages and disadvantages:
Whether you are male or
female, your life can suddenly be changed forever by pregnancy or a
sexually transmitted infection (STI). Think for a moment
what this would be like for you.
The most dependable way to
prevent pregnancy and STI infection is not to have sexual intercourse. This is
If you do not choose abstinence and are
sexually active, always be prepared. To protect yourself and your future, think
birth control methods and STI protection.
Never have sex without protection. Using condoms will
reduce your risk of getting an STI.
Even a single act of sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy or an
you plan not to have sex until you're older, take a little time to learn and
It may not be easy to talk about sexual activity and
birth control, but it is important that you know how to practice safer sex.
Hopefully, you have a parent, school or church counselor, or health
professional that you feel comfortable talking to. Organizations such as
Planned Parenthood are private, confidential resources for learning how to be
both sexual and responsible. See the Planned Parenthood website for teens at
www.teenwire.com, or check your telephone listings for the
Planned Parenthood office near you.
The best birth control methods for you are those that are easy for you to use (or are
already in effect) each time you have intercourse. Follow up regularly with a
health professional to make sure that your birth control method is working
effectively for you. And if you have any side effects that are making it hard
for you to use the method as directed, choose a different method.
If you have a long-term (chronic) illness or a disability, talk to a
health professional about which birth control choices are best for you.
Protect yourself and your
partner from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
Some teenage girls are worried
about visiting a health professional for birth control.
Before choosing and using a birth control method, be
honest with yourself. If it failed and you started a pregnancy, what would you
do? Are you ready to raise a child? Is an abortion an acceptable option for
you? Answering these questions can help you know how committed you are to
preventing a pregnancy. For most sexually active teens, it is worth it to use
the most effective birth control methods possible.
When choosing a
birth control method, also consider protecting yourself against sexually
transmitted infections. Condoms give the most effective STI protection for both partners, no matter what other birth control method
you are using. But as birth control, condoms
used alone are not highly dependable.
Hormonal pill, skin patch, or vaginal ring
Birth control shot
Intrauterine device (IUD)
This is not recommended, especially
for teenagers, because it:
Emergency contraception can be used if you have had unprotected sex or you think your birth control method may have failed. The pills can prevent a pregnancy
when taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex, although they are most effective
when used within 72 hours. A copper IUD is sometimes used as emergency contraception and can prevent pregnancy if it is
inserted within 5 to 7 days after you have had unprotected sex.
If you have had unprotected sexual intercourse or you think your birth control
method may have failed, emergency contraception is a backup to prevent a
It's a good idea to have emergency contraception on hand or a prescription for emergency contraception in case you ever need it. Talk to your health
professional or a family planning clinic about this.
If you do use
emergency contraception, be sure to follow up with your health professional to
find an effective, ongoing method of birth control.
information, see the Emergency Contraception website at
There are many methods of
birth control. Learn about the different kinds of
birth control to help you choose the best one for you. When making your choice,
also consider that only a condom will help protect you from
sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To protect
yourself and your partner against STIs, use a condom (along with your chosen
birth control method) every time you have sex.
Hormonal methods are very
reliable means of birth control. Hormonal methods use two basic
Combination and progestin-only methods are prescribed for
women for different reasons. Each
type of method has its pros and cons.
intrauterine device (IUD) is a small device that is
placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two main types of IUDs:
copper IUDs (such as ParaGard) and hormonal IUDs (such as Mirena or Skyla). When an IUD
is in place, it can provide birth control for 3 to 10 years, depending on the
type. Unlike IUDs that were used in the 1970s, present-day IUDs are small,
safe, and highly effective.
The hormonal IUD typically reduces menstrual flow and cramping
over time. On the other hand, the copper IUD can cause longer and heavier
periods. But the hormonal IUD can have other side effects, including
spotting, mood swings, and breast tenderness. These side effects occur less
frequently than with other progestin-only methods.
(including the diaphragm; cervical cap; cervical shield; male condom; female
condom; and spermicidal foam, sponge, gel, suppository, or film) prevent sperm
from entering the uterus and reaching the egg. Typically,
barrier methods are not highly effective, but they generally have fewer side
effects than hormonal methods or IUDs. Spermicides and condoms should be used
together or along with another method to increase their effectiveness. Barrier
methods can interrupt sex, because they must be used every time you have
Condoms (male or female) should always be used if you are
at risk of getting or spreading a
sexually transmitted infection, such as
Fertility awareness requires that a
couple chart the time during a woman's
menstrual cycle when she is most likely to become pregnant and avoid intercourse
or use a barrier method during that time. Fertility awareness is not a good
choice if you need a highly effective form of birth control.
Breast-feeding may work as a form of birth control in the first 6 months after
giving birth if you follow specific guidelines. For this method to work, you
must breast-feed your baby every time. You can't use formula or other
supplements. This is called the
lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
Sterilization is a surgical procedure done for men or women who decide
that they do not want to have any (or more) children. Sterilization is one of
the most effective forms of birth control. Sterilization is intended to be
permanent, and although you can try to reverse it with another surgery,
reversal is not always successful.
Female sterilization is more complicated, has higher
risks of problems after surgery, and is more expensive than male
Birth control is
an important consideration after you have had a child. Your ability to become
pregnant again may return within 3 to 6 weeks after childbirth. Think about
what type of birth control you will be using, and make a plan during your
pregnancy. Most methods of birth control are safe and effective after delivery. But in the first couple of weeks after delivery or if you are breast-feeding, it's best to use a method that doesn't contain estrogen. Talk to your doctor about which type is best for you.
With so many methods
available and so many factors to consider, choosing
birth control can be difficult. You may be able to
decide on a method by asking yourself the following questions:
One of your first considerations might be to determine whether you want
permanent or temporary birth control. In other words, you should consider
whether you want to conceive any (or more) children. This is a decision that
will affect the rest of your life and can be made only after thinking it
If you know that you will not ever want to
conceive a pregnancy,
tubal ligation or tubal implants for you or a
vasectomy for your partner is a reasonable option to
If you are not sure about the future even though you
know how you feel now, a temporary method is a better choice. If you are young,
have few or no children, are choosing sterilization because your partner wants
it, or think it will solve money or relationship problems, you may regret your
If an unplanned pregnancy would seriously impact your plans for the
future, choose a birth control method that is highly effective. Or if you have
a stable relationship and income and plan to have children in the future
anyway, you may feel comfortable using a less reliable method.
Consider how important it is to you to avoid pregnancy, and then look at how well each birth control method works. Hormonal methods and IUDs work very well. Barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, and spermicides are only moderately effective. Fertility awareness is even less effective.
Be honest about how much effort you are willing to put into birth control. To be effective, birth control pills require you to take a pill every day. Barrier methods have to be used before sex. Fertility awareness requires that you watch your temperature and other signs closely. You must also avoid sex on days when you could get pregnant. If you are not willing to put in the effort, choose another method of birth control.
comfortable you feel about using a particular method of birth control. If you
are not comfortable with or might not consistently use a birth control method
for any reason, that method is not likely to be reliable for you in the long
Unless you know that your partner has no other sex
partners and is free of
sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you are at risk
for STI infection. If you are at risk, protect yourself from infection every
time you have sex. Use a condom in addition to any other birth control method
You can choose between a
male or female condom to reduce your risk for
HIV (the virus that causes AIDS),
pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and other
If you have health problems or other risk factors, some
birth control methods may not be right for you.
Other health problems that might keep you from using a
particular birth control method are relatively rare, especially in young women. But before using any method, talk with your health professional
to see if it is safe for you.
Other things to consider when choosing a method of birth
Thinking about the pros and cons of hormonal birth control methods may help you choose the one that is best for you.
After you have looked at the facts about the different
methods and thought about your own values and needs, you can choose the method
that will work best for you. Using condoms with any method may increase its
reliability and helps to protect you from
sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced
this decision. Personal stories may help you decide.
You can use emergency
contraception if a condom breaks, you've forgotten a pill, you are taking other
medicines that may affect contraception medicines, or you have had
unprotected sex. Emergency contraception does not
sexually transmitted infections.
For more information, see the topic
For many methods of birth control, you'll need to see your doctor to get a prescription. If you want to start birth control, talk with your doctor about options that are right for you. And if you have problems with a birth control method, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend another birth control method or help you solve the problem you are having.
Other Works Consulted
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Emergency contraception. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 112. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 115(5): 1100–1109.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Noncontraceptive uses of hormonal
contraceptives. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 110. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 115(1): 207–218.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2011). Long-acting reversible contraception:
Implants and intrauterine devices. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 121. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 118(1): 184–196.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). U.S. medical eligibility criteria for contraceptive use. MMWR, 59(RR-4). Available online:
Mishell DR (2007). Family planning: Contraception,
sterilization, and pregnancy termination. In VL Katz et al., eds.,
Comprehensive Gynecology, 5th ed., pp. 275–325.
Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
Mishell DR (2012). Contraception. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds., Goldman's Cecil Medicine, 24th ed., pp. 1552–1555. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Stubblefield PG, Roncari, DM. (2012). Family planning. In JS
Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 15th ed., pp.
211–269. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
August 7, 2013
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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