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Choose the Right Birth Control

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The Basics

Birth control (contraception) can help you prevent pregnancy until you are ready for a baby. Some types of birth control can also help protect you and your sex partner from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

How do I choose the right birth control?
There isn’t one method of birth control that’s right for everyone. Each type of birth control has pros and cons. Here are some things to think about when choosing a birth control method:

  • Do you want to have children some day? How soon?
  • Are you in good health?
  • How often do you have sex?
  • How many sex partners do you have?
  • Does the method protect against STDs?
  • How well does the method work?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Will you be able to use it correctly every time?

How does birth control work?
It depends on the type of birth control you use. Here are some of the most common methods of birth control.

Abstinence means that you don’t have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. This is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy. It’s also the best way to protect yourself from STDs.

Barrier methods
Barrier methods work by preventing the sperm and egg from touching each other. Common barrier methods include:

  • Male condoms (worn on the penis)
  • Female condoms (placed on the outside and inside of the vagina)
  • Birth control diaphragm (placed inside the vagina)

Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
An IUD is a T-shaped piece of plastic with copper or hormone medicine. It’s put inside the woman’s uterus by a doctor or nurse. An IUD with hormones is sometimes called an IUS (intrauterine system).

The IUD is very effective at preventing pregnancy, and some kinds can last for 5 to 10 years. The woman and her male partner shouldn’t be able to feel the IUD when it’s in place.

Hormonal methods
These methods work by preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg each month. Examples include:

  • Birth control pills
  • Patch (put on the skin)
  • 3-month shot
  • IUD (intrauterine device) with hormones
  • Implant (tiny tube put under the skin)
  • Ring (put in the vagina)

    Natural family planning (NFP)
    NFP works by learning when the woman is more likely to get pregnant. People who want to prevent pregnancy don’t have sex on these days or use another method of birth control.

    There are different types of NFP, like the rhythm and calendar methods. Couples can also use NFP when they want to get pregnant.

    Emergency contraception pill (ECP or “the morning after pill”)
    Sometimes people forget to use birth control (they miss a pill or shot) or their birth control fails (the condom breaks). ECP should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, or within 72 hours. It may work up to 5 days after sex.

    ECP won’t stop a pregnancy that has already happened.

    Sterilization is a permanent method of birth control. This is an option for people who are totally sure they don’t want any more children.

    • In men, this means cutting or blocking the tubes that carry sperm to the outside of the body. This is called a vasectomy (“vah-SEK-tah-mee”).
    • In women, this means cutting or blocking the tubes that carry eggs into the uterus. This is called tubal (“TOO-buhl”) sterilization.

    Check out these resources to learn more about the different types of birth control:

    What types of birth control help prevent STDs?
    Next to abstinence, using a male condom made of latex (rubber) is the best way to prevent STDs, including HIV.

    Barrier methods used inside the vagina, like the female condom and diaphragm, can also lower the risk of some STDs.

    Do I need to see a doctor to get birth control?
    It depends on which birth control method you choose. You can buy some birth control over-the-counter. Over-the-counter means you can buy it at a store without a prescription. For other methods, you will need to see a doctor or nurse.

    Birth control methods you can get without a prescription include:

    • Male condoms
    • Female condoms
    • Emergency contraception pills (girls younger than age 17 need a prescription)

    Birth control methods you can get only from a doctor or nurse include:

    • Birth control pills
    • Patch
    • Diaphragm
    • 3-month shot
    • IUD (intrauterine device)
    • Implant 
    • Ring 

    You need surgery or a medical procedure for:

    • Sterilization (for both women and men)

    Take Action!

    Follow these steps to choose the right birth control for you.

    Talk to a nurse, doctor, or family planning educator.
    Ask about the types of birth control that are available to you. Your age and overall health can affect your choice.

    Answer these questions to get birth control recommendations. External Links Disclaimer Logo

    What about cost?
    The Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, covers some methods of birth control for women. It also covers patient education and counseling about birth control for women.

    Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out what this means for you.

    For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

    Find free or low-cost services near you.
    If you don’t have insurance, or if your insurance doesn’t cover birth control, you may still be able to get free or low-cost birth control through a family planning clinic or community health center.

    Family planning clinics provide education, counseling, and medical services (including birth control). No one is turned away for not being able to pay. To find services near you:

    Talk to your sex partner.
    Some types of birth control are used by men, and some types are used by women. You will both need to be comfortable with the method you choose.

    When you both understand how a method works, it will be easier to use the method correctly.

    Understand the instructions.
    Birth control only works if you use it correctly every time. Be sure you understand what you’ll need to do to protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy or an STD. If you have questions, talk to a doctor or pharmacist.

    Get tips on how to use a condom correctly to help prevent STDs.

    Get tested for STDs.
    The only way to know for sure if you have a sexually transmitted disease is to get tested. If you think you may be at risk, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

    To find a place to get tested:

    Use these conversation starters to talk with your partner about getting tested, too.

    Get tested for HIV.
    Just like other STDs, the only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Take this list of questions about HIV testing to your next checkup.

    You can get tested at a doctor’s office or health center. To find a testing center:

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    Content last updated on: August 24, 2012

    National Health Information Center

    P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133