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Medically Approved

8 types of birth control

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Combined pillMini pillImplantsIUDsVaginal ringBarrier methodsTubal ligationVasectomyChoosing the right option for youSummary
When deciding which birth control method is right for you, there are several factors to take into account, such as your personal health, convenience, and family planning.
Medically reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on January 3, 2024

A wide range of birth control options are available to help you manage your personal health.

When choosing a method that’s right for you, it can be helpful to consider its effectiveness, side effects, convenience, ease of use, and whether it’s reversible or permanent. 

Common forms of birth control include:

Combined pill

The combined contraception pill contains both estrogen and progestin. It stops the release of eggs from your ovaries and thickens the mucus in your cervix, so it’s harder for a sperm to reach an egg.

Examples of combination pills include:

You take the pill once daily. Side effects can include spotting, nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness. 

The combined pill is prescription-only and has a failure rate of about 9%. The birth control pill can offer some benefits, such as lighter and predictable periods, but it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

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The mini pill

The “mini-pill” contains only progestin and works primarily by thickening the mucus in your cervix to make it difficult for sperm to reach the egg. It has a failure rate of about 9%.

A common example is norgestrel (Opill), which is available over the counter. Side effects of the mini pill include nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, and irregular bleeding.

Implants

The hormonal implant etonogestrel (Nexplanon) is a thin rod inserted into the upper arm. It releases the hormone progesterone into your body over 3 years. It has a very low failure rate of 0.1%. 

A healthcare professional inserts the implant. The procedure involves numbing the arm and using a special tool to place the implant. It takes just a few minutes.

A doctor can remove the implant if you decide you want to stop using it or if it’s time for it to be replaced. Once the implant is taken out, you can get pregnant right away. 

The implant is a low-maintenance form of birth control, as you don’t have to remember to keep a schedule with taking a pill or removing a ring.

Some people experience spotting during the first 6–12 months with the implant. Other side effects include headaches, nausea, and breast pain. You might have a bruise on your arm when you first get the implant.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs)

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are placed into the uterus by a healthcare professional. They are long-term birth control options. An IUD is removable whenever you decide to stop using it or when it needs replacing.

There are two types of IUDs: the copper IUD and the IUD with progestin. 

The copper IUD (Paragard) stops sperm from reaching the egg. It lasts up to 10 years. Some people might experience cramping, spotting, or heavier and longer periods.

The IUD with progestin releases a hormone that makes it harder for a sperm to get to an egg. It lasts 3–5 years and is available under the brand names Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla.

Both types of IUD are very effective at preventing pregnancy, with fewer than 1 person out of 100 having a pregnancy while using the device. Some side effects include irregular bleeding, no period bleeding, and abdominal or pelvic pain.

The IUD is convenient, as it lasts for several years. Some IUDs, such as the copper IUD, are also effective forms of emergency contraception. They can prevent pregnancy 99% of the time if it’s placed within 5 days after sex without a condom or other barrier method. 

IUDs do not protect against STDs.

Vaginal ring

Vaginal rings need to be inserted into the vagina and contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. These hormones stop ovulation and also thicken the cervical mucus, which prevents pregnancy.

It is available under the brand names NuvaRing and Annovera, which are prescription-only.

The NuvaRing lasts for one menstrual cycle. You put it in for around 3 weeks and take it out for 1 week when you have your period. You then put in a new NuvaRing.

Annovera lasts for 1 year. You leave it in for about 3 weeks and remove it for 1 week during your period. You then reinsert the same Annovera ring. 

The vaginal ring is very effective at preventing pregnancy, but it does not offer protection against STDs. You can use a condom with a vaginal ring to protect against STDs and to lower your risk of pregnancy even more. The NuvaRing has a 7% failure rate with typical use. 

You don’t have to think about taking a pill every day, as you do with birth control pills if you use a vaginal ring. The ring can also make periods lighter. If you decide you no longer want to prevent pregnancy, you can stop using the ring at any time. 

When you first start using the vaginal ring, you might experience side effects like sore breasts, headaches, nausea, period changes, or spotting.

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Barrier methods

Yellow, blue, and pink condoms scattered across a surface to depict types of birth control.
Mauro Grigollo/Stocksy United

Barrier methods work by stopping the sperm from reaching the egg. They are not permanent birth control methods. Since you do not take them internally, they do not affect the body’s hormones. Internal and external condoms also reduce the chance of transmitting STDs. 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a pregnancy occurs 18–28 times out of 100 when using barrier methods.

Barrier methods include:

  • spermicide (Advantage-S, Gynol II)
  • condoms (Trojan, FC2 Female Condom)
  • sponge (Today)
  • diaphragm (Caya, Milex)
  • cervical cap (FemCap)

The diaphragm and cervical cap are prescription-only. The other methods are available over the counter.

Tubal ligation

Tubal ligation is a type of sterilization, and so is a permanent form of birth control. It is a surgical technique where the fallopian tubes are cut, closed, or have pieces removed. A doctor can also completely remove your fallopian tubes, which is known as bilateral salpingectomy.

After a tubal ligation, an egg can no longer move down the fallopian tubes to be fertilized by a sperm.

A tubal ligation is one of the most effective forms of birth control. It is irreversible. You can go back to your usual activities within a few days of the surgery. It is immediately effective at preventing pregnancy. Some people might experience pain or infection after the procedure. 

Vasectomy

A vasectomy is a surgical procedure that involves cutting the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles. Since sperm cannot reach an egg, it is not possible to conceive a pregnancy. A vasectomy is also a permanent form of birth control.

It takes about 3 months for sperm to clear out of semen after a vasectomy. Another birth control method is necessary during this time. Follow-up visits to measure sperm count are part of this procedure’s aftercare. Once the sperm count is zero, a vasectomy is a highly effective form of birth control.

Discomfort, bruising, and swelling are common in the 2 weeks following surgery. There is also the risk of bleeding under the skin and infection.

How to choose the right option for you

It can be beneficial to consider some of the following factors when choosing a birth control option:

  • your overall health
  • whether you want children in the future
  • frequency of sexual activity
  • number of sexual partners
  • the effectiveness of each method
  • the convenience of each method
  • the side effects of each method

Consider speaking with a healthcare professional, such as a gynecologist, to better understand what option may be right for you.

Summary

When deciding which birth control method is right for you, there are several factors to take into account, such as your personal health profile, sexual activity, and lifestyle planning. 

There are several birth control options to choose from, including the pill, IUDs, barrier methods, implants, sterilization and vaginal rings.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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