Birth control, also known as contraception, is designed to prevent pregnancy. Birth control methods may work in a number of different ways:
- Preventing sperm from getting to the eggs. Types include condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and contraceptive sponges.
- Keeping the woman's ovaries from releasing eggs that could be fertilized. Types include birth control pills, patches, shots, vaginal rings, and emergency contraceptive pills.
- IUDs, devices which are implanted into the uterus. They can be kept in place for several years.
- Sterilization, which permanently prevents a woman from getting pregnant or a man from being able to get a woman pregnant
Your choice of birth control should depend on several factors. These include your health, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners and desire to have children in the future. Your health care provider can help you select the best form of birth control for you.
Best Method of Birth Control
There is no "best" method of birth control for every woman. The birth control method that is right for you and your partner depends on many things, and may change over time.
Before choosing a birth control method, talk to your doctor or nurse about:
- Whether you want to get pregnant soon, in a few years, or never
- How well each method works to prevent pregnancy
- Possible side effects
- How often you have sex
- The number of sex partners you have
- Your overall health
- How comfortable you are with using the method (For example, can you remember to take a pill every day? Will you have to ask your partner to put on a condom each time?)
Learn about types of birth control that you or your partner can use to prevent pregnancy.
Keep in mind that even the most effective birth control methods can fail. But your chances of getting pregnant are lower if you use a more effective method.
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Different types of Birth Control
Women can choose from many different types of birth control methods. These include, in order of most effective to least effective at preventing pregnancy:
- Female and male sterilization (female tubal ligation or occlusion, male vasectomy) — Birth control that prevents pregnancy for the rest of your life through surgery or a medical procedure.
- Long-acting reversible contraceptives or "LARC" methods (intrauterine devices, hormonal implants) — Birth control your doctor inserts one time and you do not have to remember to use birth control every day or month. LARCs last for 3 to 10 years, depending on the method.
- Short-acting hormonal methods (pill, mini pills, patch, shot, vaginal ring) — Birth control your doctor prescribes that you remember to take every day or month. The shot requires you to get a shot from your doctor every 3 months.
- Barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, sponge, cervical cap) — Birth control you use each time you have sex.
- Natural rhythm methods — Not using a type of birth control but instead avoiding sex and/or using birth control only on the days when you are most fertile (most likely to get pregnant). An ovulation home test kit or a fertility monitor can help you find your most fertile days.
Birth control can I get without a prescription
You can buy these types of birth control over the counter at a drugstore or supermarket:
- Male condoms
- Female condoms
- Emergency contraception (EC) pills. Plan B One-Step® and its generic versions are available in drugstores and some supermarkets to anyone, without a prescription. However you should not use EC as your regular birth control because it does not work as well as regular birth control. EC is meant to be used only when your regular birth control does not work for some unexpected reason.
Birth control do I have to see my doctor to get
You need a prescription for these types of birth control:
- Oral contraceptives: the pill and the mini-pill (in some states, birth control pills are now available without a prescription, through the pharmacy)
- Vaginal ring
- Diaphragms (your doctor or nurse needs to fit one to the shape of your vagina)
- Shot/injection (you get the shot at your doctor's office or family planning clinic)
- Cervical cap
- Implantable rod (inserted by a doctor in the office or clinic)
- IUD (inserted by a doctor in the office or clinic)
You will need surgery or a medical procedure for:
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- Female sterilization (tubal ligation)
- Male sterilization (vasectomy)
- Tubal implant (Essure®)