When weighing birth control options, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each. You should also evaluate which option works best for your lifestyle, sexual habits and overall health.

Barrier Methods of Contraception

Condom

  • Sheath worn over the penis during intercourse (male condom) or inserted into the vagina (female condom); blocks sperm from entering cervical canal
  • 87-90% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Convenient; can be purchased in any drugstore without a prescription; easy to use; protects against STIs; good for five years from manufacture date
  • Cons: Good for one-time use only; male condoms can break and female condoms can slip out

Contraceptive Sponge

  • Soft, 2-inch round foam with spermicide inside that is inserted into the vagina; blocks sperm from entering cervix and inhibits sperm motion with spermicide
  • 80-91% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Convenient; can be purchased in any drugstore without a prescription; can be inserted up to 30 hours before sex; can be used while nursing
  • Cons: May be difficult to remove; can irritate the skin or cause dryness; must remain in vagina for six hours after intercourse; doesn’t protect against STIs

Cervical Cap

  • Small, thimble-shaped dome filled with spermicide and inserted over the cervix; prevents sperm from entering cervical canal
  • 80% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Can be worn for 48 hours; spermicide does not need to be added with each sexual encounter
  • Cons: Requires fitting by a doctor or nurse practitioner; may be difficult to insert; does not protect against STIs

Diaphragm

  • Soft, flexible dome-like cup inserted into the vagina with spermicide on both sides; blocks sperm from entering the cervix
  • 82% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Can insert 2-3 hours before intercourse; don’t need to take out in between acts of sexual intercourse within six hours
  • Cons: Requires fitting by a doctor or nurse practitioner before first use or after significant weight gain or loss; may be difficult to insert; does not protect against STIs

Spermicide

  • Inserted into vagina and melts to coat entire surface; kills sperm or prohibits motion of sperm
  • 74% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Comes in many form (jellies, foams, creams, films, suppositories); convenient; can be purchased at any drugstore without a prescription
  • Cons: Needs to be placed in the vagina at least 15 minutes prior to intercourse; must be inserted each time sexual intercourse happens; can be messy

Hormonal Methods of Contraception

Hormonal methods rely on delivery of estrogen or progesterone. They decrease a women’s fertility by preventing ovulation, thinning uterine walls and thickening cervical mucus.

Birth Control Pills (Oral Contraceptives)

  • Daily pill taken by mouth at the same time every day
  • 92-99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Decreases menstrual flow, period cramps and risk of ovarian cancer; allows for spontaneity when having intercourse
  • Cons: Side effects may include headaches, nausea, weight gain and high blood pressure; does not protect against STIs; requires a prescription

Vaginal Ring

  • Flexible 2-inch ring inserted into the vagina and kept there for three weeks each month
  • 92-99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Decreases menstrual flow and period cramps; allows for spontaneity when having intercourse
  • Cons: Side effects include nausea, headaches, weight gain, breast tenderness, high blood pressure and vaginal irritation; does not protect against STIs; requires a prescription

Depo-Provera

  • Injection of synthetic progesterone given every three months
  • 97-99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Light or absent period; allows for spontaneity when having intercourse; reduces ovarian and uterine cancer risk
  • Cons: Side effects include weight gain, irregular bleeding, acne, mood swings, depression and headaches; may increase risk of osteoporosis; does not protect against STIs; requires a prescription

Contraceptive Patch

  • Adhesive patch applied weekly that delivers estrogen and progesterone through the skin
  • 92-99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Easy to use, period flow and cramps decrease, allows for spontaneity when having intercourse
  • Cons: Side effects include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, weight gain and skin irritation; may increase risk of breast cancer; does not protect against STIs; requires a prescription

Other Methods of Contraception

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

  • Small device with string attached that is inserted into the uterus; changes uterine lining to prevent implantation if fertilization occurs
  • 99% effective at preventing pregnancy

Withdrawal

  • Removal of erect penis from vagina before ejaculation; also known as pulling out or coitus interruptus
  • 73% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Free, convenient
  • Cons: Ejaculation may not be properly timed; if having intercourse more than once, sperm may still be present on penis from first encounter

Natural Family Planning

  • Daily temperature is taken to determine ovulation dates; abstinence from sexual intercourse or another contraception method is used around ovulation time; also known as the rhythm method
  • 75% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Free after initial purchase of thermometer; natural
  • Cons: May not accurately predict ovulation; if you forget to take your temperature first thing in the morning, you won’t be able to get an accurate reading for that day

Sterilization

  • In men, sterilization is done with vasectomy—surgical closure of tubes that carry sperm. In women, sterilization is done with tubal ligation—fallopian tubes are blocked so that the eggs can’t travel and unite with sperm.
  • 99.98% effective in men; 99.5% effective in women

Emergency Contraception

  • Pills that can be taken after having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy
  • Up to 89% effective in preventing pregnancy
  • Pros: Available over the counter without a prescription, can be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex
  • Cons: Side effects include nausea, vomiting, headache, breast tenderness and irregular periods; does not protect against STIs