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Types of birth control

 Are you thinking about becoming sexually active? Have you already starting having sex? If so, you owe it to yourself and your partner to think about the kind of birth control that will best help you prevent pregnancy. When choosing, think about how well each kind works, but also think about which kind you’re likely to stick with and use correctly. Also think about whether it can help protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

There are a few main types of birth control, or contraception. They include:

Read more about how birth control works — and what doesn’t work. Also learn what to do if you need birth control in an emergency.
  • Barrier methods. These work by trying to block sperm from getting to the egg. They include the sponge, diaphragm, cervical cap, cervical shield, and male and female condoms.
  • Hormonal methods. These usually work by trying to stop your reproductive system from releasing an egg. Some also cause changes in the cervix that can help prevent sperm from getting to the egg.
  • Implantable methods. These include birth control rods that are put under your skin and the intrauterine device (IUD), which is put in your uterus (womb). They work in ways similar to hormonal methods.

Other than abstinence, no form of birth control works perfectly to prevent pregnancy. And only condoms protect against STIs — and even condoms don’t protect against all kinds of STIs. Your best bet might be to use a condom together with another type of birth control, like the pill.

Whatever type of birth control you use, make sure to read and follow all instructions carefully. If you’ve got questions, allergies, or any special concerns, make sure to talk with a doctor or other health care provider. This is no time to be shy!

Your doctor, nurse, parent, or other trusted adult also can help you figure out which kind of birth control might be right for you. You can also think about some questions:

  • Do you feel okay putting something into your vagina, like a diaphragm?
  • Can you see your doctor to have something put in for you, like a cervical cap?
  • Can you remember to do what you need, like bringing condoms with you or taking a pill at the right time?
  • Do you feel okay having something on your skin, like a patch?

Take a look at the alphabetical chart below to learn more about some popular types of birth control.

  

Cervical Cap

What is it?

The cervical cap, or FemCap, is a soft rubbery cup shaped like a thimble and made from silicone. It’s a barrier method. It fits snugly around the cervix, which is the opening to the womb.

How it works:

It prevents sperm from reaching an egg by covering the cervix.

How you use it:

You put the cervical cap in so it fits tightly over the cervix. It must be used with a spermicide. (Spermicides are creams, gels, foams, and other products that kill sperm. You can buy them in a drugstore.) After sex, the cap should be left in place for at least 6 hours but not longer than 48 hours.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to find the right fit for you and give you a prescription.

Some possible risks:

  • Irritation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Toxic shock if left in more than 48 hours

Pregnancy protection:

Around 17 to 23 out of 100 women who use the cap over the course of a year likely will get pregnant.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

It has to fit correctly to work well. Your doctor needs to find the right fit for you.

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Cervical Shield

What is it?

The shield is a small silicone cup that fits over the cervix, or opening to the womb. Suction helps it stay in place, so the same size fits everyone. It’s also called by the brand name Lea’s Shield. It is a barrier method.

How it works:

It prevents sperm from reaching an egg by covering the cervix, which is the opening to the womb.

How you use it:

You put the cervical shield in so it fits tightly over the cervix. It must be used with a spermicide. (Spermicides are creams, gels, foams, and other products that kill sperm. You can buy them in a drugstore.) After sex, the shield should be left in place for at least 8 hours but not longer than 48 hours.

Where you get it:

You need a prescription. You don’t need to be fitted because the shield only comes in one size. Still, your doctor or other health care professional should show you how to put it in.

Some possible risks:

  • Irritation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Toxic shock if left in more than 48 hours

Pregnancy protection:

Around 15 out of 100 women who use the shield over the course of a year likely will get pregnant.

STI protection

None
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Contraceptive Sponge

What is it?

It is a donut-shaped soft foam item with spermicide in it. It’s sold as the Today Sponge.

How it works:

It’s a barrier method; it blocks sperm from reaching the cervix, or opening to the uterus. It also uses a spermicide to kill sperm.

How you use it:

You wet it and push it up in the vagina to cover the cervix. It protects for up to 24 hours and for more than one act of sex during this time. To work, it must be left in at least 6 hours after the last time you had sex. It should not stay in more than 30 hours.

Where you get it:

You can buy it over the counter.

Some possible risks:

  • Irritation and allergic reactions
  • Risk of toxic shock syndrome if left in for more than 30 hours

Pregnancy protection:

Around 16 to 32 out of 100 women likely will get pregnant over the course of a year while using the sponge.

STI protection:

None.

Other information:

If your partner has HIV, using the sponge could increase your chances of getting it.
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Diaphragm

What is it?

Diaphragm.The diaphragm is a round latex dome that fits inside the vagina. It’s a barrier method.

How it works:

It prevents sperm from reaching an egg by covering the cervix, which is the opening to the womb.

How you use it:

You put the diaphragm inside your vagina up to 6 hours before having sex. You need to add a spermicide to kill sperm each time you have sex and also if the diaphragm has been in for 6 hours. The diaphragm must be left in for 6 to 8 hours after sex and removed as soon as possible after that. It should not stay in for more than 24 hours.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to find the right fit for you and give you a prescription.

Some possible risks:

  • Irritation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Toxic shock if left in too long

Pregnancy protection:

Around 15 women in 100 likely will get pregnant over the course of a year while using the diaphragm.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

To work well, the diaphragm has to fit right. Your doctor will find the right size and let you know when you may need a new one. Baby oil, petroleum jelly, and other oil-based lubricants can weaken a diaphragm. Use a water-based lubricant like K-Y jelly instead.
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Female Condom

What is it?

Female condom.The female condom is a thin pouch that lines the vagina. It is made from a rubber-like substance that is not latex. It is a barrier method.

How it works:

Sperm get caught inside the condom.

How you use it:

You put it in your vagina before sex. The condom cannot disappear inside your body. A ring keeps the condom inside. Another one covers the outside of the vagina. After sex, before standing up, you twist the outside ring, remove the condom gently, and throw the condom away. Use a new one each time you have sex. Don’t use it together with a male condom.

Where you get it:

You can buy it over the counter.

Some risks:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Irritation

Pregnancy protection:

Around 20 out of 100 women will likely get pregnant while using the female condom over the course of a year.

STI protection: 

The female condom is believed to protect against some STIs, including HIV, but not as well as the male latex condom.
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Implantable Rod

What is it?

The implant is a small plastic rod about the size of a matchstick that is placed under the skin of the upper arm. It is also called by its brand name, Implanon.

How it works:

It uses the hormone progestin to cause changes in the cervix that can stop sperm from joining with an egg. Less often, it stops the ovaries from releasing eggs.

How you use it:

Your doctor or nurse inserts it. It lasts up to 3 years.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to insert it.

Some possible risks:

  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Cysts on the ovaries
  • Mood changes
  • Hair loss
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Less interest in sex
  • Sore breasts
  • Changes in your period

Pregnancy protection:

Fewer than 1 woman in 100 likely will get pregnant while using the implant over the course of a year. It may not work as well for women who are overweight.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

It might not work as well if you are taking certain medicines, so discuss this with your doctor. Also tell your doctor if you are taking the herb St. John’s wort.
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Intrauterine Device (IUD)

What is it?

Intrauterine Device.The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped device that is put into and left inside the uterus, or womb. Two types are available in the United States: the hormonal IUD (Mirena) and the copper IUD (ParaGard).

How it works:

The copper IUD works to stop sperm from reaching an egg and to stop an egg from attaching to the uterus. The hormonal IUD does the same things, but also prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg.

How you use it:

A doctor needs to put an IUD in for you. The hormonal IUD needs to be replaced after 5 years. The copper IUD can stay in for 5 to 10 years.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to insert it.

Some possible risks:

  • Cramps
  • Bleeding
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Not being able to have a baby
  • Tear or hole in the uterus

Pregnancy protection:

Fewer than 1 woman in 100 likely will get pregnant over the course of a year while using the IUD.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

Some doctors don’t recommend the IUD for teens. Also, some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the hormonal IUD work less well.
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Male Condom

What is it?

Male condom.Also called a rubber, this is a thin protective covering. It is a barrier method.

How it works:

It covers the penis so that when a man ejaculates (or “comes”), the sperm stays inside the condom.

How you use it:

You put a new condom over an erect penis before each sex act. To make sure sperm doesn’t spill into the vagina, the man must pull out his penis before it softens. He also should hold the condom against the base of the penis when pulling out. To learn more, watch "How to Use a Condom."

Where you get it:

You can buy it over the counter.

Some possible risks:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Irritation

Pregnancy protection:

Around 11 to 16 women out of 100 who use a male condom over the course of a year likely will get pregnant.

STI protection:

Condoms made from latex and coated with a lubricant give the best protection from STIs. Even so, they don’t protect against all STIs.

Other information:

  • Keeping condoms in a hot place like a wallet or car can weaken the latex.
  • Baby oil, petroleum jelly, and other oil-based lubricants can weaken a latex condom. Use a water-based one like K-Y jelly instead.
  • If you or your partner has a latex allergy, you could use polyurethane condoms instead.
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Oral Contraception: Combination Pill (The Pill)

What is it?

Birth control pills.Also called “the pill,” this is a hormonal method.

How it works:

It uses two hormones, estrogen and progestin, to keep the ovaries from releasing an egg and to cause changes in the uterus and cervix to keep sperm from joining an egg.

How you use it:

You have to take a pill around the same time every day.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Changes in your period
  • Changes in mood
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of some cancers — but also reduced risk of other cancers
  • Rare risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke

Pregnancy protection:

Over the course of a year, around 5 out of 100 women likely will get pregnant on the pill; being overweight may increase the chances of pregnancy.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

There also is a type of combination pill that reduces the number of periods to one every 3 months (instead of one a month like on the regular pill).

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the pill work less well.

Smoking increases some of the risks of hormonal birth control like the pill. That’s another good reason to quit smoking!

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Oral Contraception: Progestin-only Pill (Mini-pill)

What is it?

Also called “the mini-pill,” this is a hormonal method.

How it works:

It uses one hormone, progestin, to cause changes in the uterus and cervix to keep sperm from joining an egg. Less often, it stops the ovaries from releasing an egg.

How you use it:

You have to take a pill around the same time every day. If you take it more than 3 hours late, you need to add another method of birth control.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks:

  • Spotting between periods
  • Weight gain
  • Sore breasts

Pregnancy protection:

Around 5 out of 100 women may get pregnant on the pill; being overweight may increase the chances of pregnancy.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the pill work less well.
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Patch

What is it?

Also called by the brand name Ortho Evra. This is a hormonal method.

How it works:

It uses the hormones in the combined birth control pill but sends them through your skin into your blood. Less often, it stops the ovaries from releasing an egg.

How you use it:

You put on a new patch once a week for 3 weeks. You don’t wear a patch on the fourth week. Then you start the steps over again.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks:

Similar risks as combination pill, plus more estrogen than with pill (although it’s not clear yet if that’s a problem)

Pregnancy protection:

Around 5 out of 100 women likely will get pregnant over the course of a year on the pill; it may not work as well in women weighing more than 198 pounds.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the patch work less well.
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Shot

What is it?

Also called by its brand name, Depo-Provera, this is a shot, or injection.

How it works:

It uses the hormone progestin to stop an egg from being released. It also causes changes in the cervix to stop sperm from joining with an egg.

How you use it:

You get a shot every 3 months.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you the shot.

Some possible risks:

  • Spotting between periods
  • Weight gain
  • Sore breasts
  • Headaches

Pregnancy protection:

Over the course of a year, fewer than 1 woman in 100 may get pregnant while using the shot.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

The shot can cause a loss of bone density. The bone may start to grow when the shot is stopped, so the loss seems not to be a big problem for older women. However, it’s not clear yet what effect the shot could have on younger women whose bones are still developing.

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the shot work less well.

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Vaginal Ring

What is it?

It is a small plastic ring that sends hormones into the vagina. It is also called by its brand name, NuvaRing.

How it works:

It uses the same hormones as the combined birth control pill but sends them into your vagina.

How you use it:

You put in a ring. After 21 days, you take it out. You wait 7 days and then put in a new one.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks:

  • Similar risks as combination pill
  • Swelling of the vagina
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Irritation

Pregnancy protection:

Around 5 out of 100 women may get pregnant while using the ring.

STI protection:

None

Other information:

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the ring work less well.
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Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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