How can I choose the right birth control for me?

Thomas R. Antony, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
The different types of birth control include barrier methods, hormonal birth control and permanent birth control. In this video, Thomas Antony, MD, of Citrus Memorial Hospital, describes examples of each type of birth control.
Choosing your birth control method is an important decision, one that you most likely have already made. But you should know that recent advances in reproductive science mean there are now more options available for women than ever before. So consider doing some research and having a discussion with your doctor about whether there are any new methods that might make better sense for you. Start by asking yourself some questions to see whether your current method fits your lifestyle:
  • Is it convenient enough that I will use it appropriately and consistently?
  • Am I comfortable with how effective it is?
  • Does it make sense for my budget?
  • Do I feel confident using it?
  • Is it ideal, given my sexual practices and childbearing wishes?
  • Every woman's body is different, especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health. So it's important to find a gynecologist you feel comfortable talking with about your contraceptive preferences.
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Since there is no one perfect method, our "choice" of a contraceptive will be something of a compromise. Safety and effectiveness are probably the most important factors. Convenience is also important to some. Those of us with medical problems, chronic illnesses, or disabilities may have additional needs to consider when seeking usable, effective contraceptives. Birth control methods differ in how much protection they give against STIs (e.g., gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, and HIV) and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). In general, barrier methods, especially male and female condoms, provide good protection against most reproductive tract infections. Inconsistent or incorrect use reduces the protection given by barrier methods. The Pill provides some protection against PID; it may increase the risk of chlamydia.

Its effect on other STIs remains uncertain. The IUD offers no protection against STIs. In women at risk for STIs, use of the IUD increases the chance of developing PID.
Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health With more than four million copies sold, "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is "the" classic resource that women of all ages can turn to for...
Donna C. Wicker, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Donna Wicker, MD, FACOG from Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center names a few of the options for birth control today, and the changes over time. Watch this video to learn more.
Adrienne W. Askew, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Birth control methods vary, from pills to patches to injectable. In this video, Wendy Askew, MD of Methodist Stone Oak Hospital explains the different forms of birth control and the potential benefits and side effects of each.
A method's effectiveness is based on the probability of unintended pregnancy in the first year of use. Effectiveness is usually presented with two numbers. The first reflects the effectiveness of the method when it is used perfectly, and the second is based on the effectiveness of the method with typical use. For example, the birth control pill has a "perfect use" effectiveness rating of 99.9 percent, which means that for every hundred women using the Pill for one year; less than one will become pregnant. In typical use, however - for example, when we forget to take a pill or don't get supplies in time-the effectiveness is only about 95 percent or five women in a hundred becoming pregnant.
How well a method will work for you will be determined by a number of factors:
  • The expected effectiveness of your chosen method
  • How consistently and correctly you use your chosen method
  • How often you have intercourse (a woman who has sex every day is at greater risk of pregnancy than a woman who has sex only occasionally)
  • Your age and fertility (younger women are more likely to become pregnant from a single act of intercourse than older women)
Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health With more than four million copies sold, "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is "the" classic resource that women of all ages can turn to for...
Tamie S. Babb, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Women can have children from their early teens until their late 40s, so birth control often plays a large role in a woman's life. Things a woman may want to consider are how effective the birth control is going to be, what the side effects are and whether she wants children in the future or not.

Many barrier methods are available over the counter, but doctors can prescribe other hormonal-type birth control options, including pills, patches, and inplants. The patch is easy to use and is changed just once a week. A hormonal implant is placed in your upper arm. It takes about five minutes to place, is easy to put in,  and it lasts three years. Intrauterine devices are also available that may prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years.

If a couple has decided that they've finished with their child bearing, then the man can have a vasectomy or the woman can get a tubal ligation.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Research shows that 75% of pregnancies in women over age 40 are unplanned. In this video, Dr. Oz discuss the best birth control options for women of any age.
Mark P. Hyde, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Thinking about starting birth control, or switching birth control methods? Mark Hyde, MD, OB/GYN gives a rundown of the various birth control options available today.
Jerry A. Lucas, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Women have access to a huge variety of birth control options, depending on their individual needs, wants and side effect management. Jerry Lucas, MD from Chippenham Hospital, describes birth control options in this video.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
No method of birth control is ideal for all women. Many options are safe and effective.

Some important factors to consider are:

Effectiveness: All methods of contraception may fail to prevent pregnancy even when used correctly. The rate of pregnancy varies. It can be as low as about 1% for the intrauterine device to as high as over 25% for the withdrawal method.

Safety: Many factors determine safety. These include characteristics of the birth control method and your medical history.

Side effects: Some women have uncomfortable side effects that limit which birth control method they would use. Birth control pills cause nausea in some women, for example.

Convenience: Some methods of birth control, such as condoms, have to be used during sex. This may be a good choice for couples that only want to use a contraceptive when they need it. For couples that do not want to interrupt their sexual activity, the pill may be a better choice.

Reversibility: Couples that do not want children (or don't want any more children) may choose a contraception that is permanent. Tubal ligation, for example, is a form of birth control that is not reversible. Obviously, this is not a good choice for couples that only want to avoid pregnancy until they are ready to have children.

Non-contraceptive benefits: Different methods of birth control provide benefits other than just preventing pregnancy. For example, birth control pills can decrease menstrual bleeding and cramping. That's a great benefit for women who are bothered by these symptoms. And condoms are the only form of birth control that can help protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Cost: The costs of different methods of birth control vary widely. The total cost must include all expenses, such as the cost of a doctor visit if a prescription is needed. The intrauterine device may have a higher initial cost, but because it is used over several years, the total cost may be less than other methods of birth control.

You and your doctor should look at the risks and benefits of each option to choose the contraceptive that is best for you.

Continue Learning about Birth Control

Birth Control

Birth Control

Do you want to prevent pregnancy? Do you want to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Those are the primary factors in deciding which type of birth control method you use. You have many options of birth control including ...

condoms, birth control pills, the patch, the vaginal ring, the IUD, hormone shots and implants, as well as sterilization. Make your decision based on factsincluding the failure rates for each type. And make sure you use the birth control method correctly each timeto avoid unplanned pregnancy.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.