What's the Best Birth Control?

What's "best" among birth control methods differs from person to person. What's right for you may not be right for everyone. And your needs may change over time, too.

You should think about:

  • How fail-proof do you need your protection plan to be?
  • How much does the cost matter?
  • How important is your privacy?
  • Do you have a regular partner whose needs you care about?
  • Do you need to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
  • How much effort do you want to make to prevent a pregnancy?
  • If you're a woman, does it matter if your period is affected?
  • Will you some day want to have a child?

You can compare facts about birth control methods in the sections below, including the basic ways they work.

  • Behavior: Something you or your partner has to do
  • Barrier: Goes on or in your body before you have sex to block the sperm from getting to the egg
  • Hormonal: Changes a woman's body chemistry. (Depending on the specific hormones, it stops ovaries from releasing eggs, thickens the mucus around your cervix to keep sperm from reaching the egg, or thins the lining of the uterus.)
  • Medical: A procedure that changes your body

When doctors talk about how effective a birth control method is, sometimes there are different rates when it's used "ideally" -- meaning exactly the way it was designed -- versus how the average person uses it in real life. "Typical" use takes into account that people can't or don't always use birth control correctly or consistently.

Keep in mind, out of every 100 women who don't use any form of birth control, you can expect about 85 to get pregnant within a year.

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Abstinence

Type: Behavior

How it works: Some people consider abstinence to mean zero sexual contact (complete abstinence). Others say it's when the penis does not have contact with the vagina (contraceptive abstinence).

Number of pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 0
  • Typical use = unknown

How long it lasts: As long as you abstain

STD protection? Yes, when you practice complete abstinence; no, if you only practice contraceptive abstinence.

Need to see a doctor? No

Pros: Highly effective when used correctly. No side effects. No cost.

Cons: Giving up sex for a long time may be very hard. It may be hard to say "no" or "stop" while you're enjoying other sex play.

Sterilization Surgery for Women

Type: Medical

How it works: The two fallopian tubes that connect your ovaries and uterus are blocked, tied, clamped, sealed, or cut. Known as a tubal ligation, it's commonly called "getting your tubes tied."

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = less than 1

How long it lasts: Ongoing

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Permanent, one-time procedure

Cons: You'll have to go to the hospital, and you'll need general anesthesia for the surgery. Risks of pain, bleeding, infection, and ectopic pregnancy afterward. Not meant to be reversed.

Sterilization Implant for Women

Type: Medical

How it works: Tissue grows around a small coil placed in each fallopian tube, blocking it.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = less than 1

How long it lasts: Ongoing

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: One-time procedure. Can be done in your doctor's office without general anesthesia. It goes in through your vagina, so you won't need to be cut.

Cons: 3-month waiting period before it's effective. Problems can include changes in their monthly period, pain in the lower belly, or allergic reactions to the metal in the coil.Risk of ectopic pregnancy. Not meant to be reversed.

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Sterilization Surgery for Men

Type: Medical

How it works: The tubes from the testes to other glands are blocked so the semen no longer has sperm.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = less than 1

How long it lasts: Ongoing

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: One-time procedure. Only needs local anesthesia.

Cons: Risks of pain, bleeding, and infection. Waiting period before it's effective. Not meant to be reversed.

Implantable Rod

Type: Hormonal

How it works: Using a needle, a doctor sticks a matchstick-sized rod with progestin under the skin on your arm.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = less than 1

How long it lasts: Up to 3 years

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Long-term protection against pregnancy. Can be reversed easily if you want to become pregnant.

Cons: May cause changes in your bleeding pattern and weight gain. Possible breast and stomach pain.

Progestin IUD (Kyleena, Liletta, Mirena, Skyla)

Type: Hormonal

How it works: A small T-shaped device that has progestin goes into your uterus.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = less than 1

How long it lasts: Up to 3-5 years

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Nothing to do right before having sex. Once removed, it's possible to conceive. Can be used while breastfeeding. May cause lighter periods or no periods.

Cons: May cause irregular periods, pain, or ovarian cysts. In unusual cases, you may become infertile or have pelvic inflammatory disease. In rare instances, the IUD may get stuck in or on your uterus or a cause serious infection.

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Copper IUD

Type: Medical

How it works: A small T-shaped device with copper goes into your uterus. It keeps sperm from reaching or fertilizing the egg. It may keep the egg from attaching to the lining of your uterus.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = less than 1

How long it lasts: Up to 10 years

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Nothing to do right before having sex. Once removed, it's possible to conceive. Can be used while breastfeeding.

Cons: May cause cramps or bleeding. In unusual cases, you may become infertile or have pelvic inflammatory disease. In rare instances, the IUD could get stuck in or on your uterus or cause a serious infection.

Birth Control Shot (Depo Provera)

Type: Hormonal

How it works: Your doctor gives you a shot of progestin.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = 6

How long it lasts: 3 months

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Nothing to do right before having sex. Birth control protection starts with the first shot. Reversible. Can use while breastfeeding.

Cons: Must get repeat injections on time. You may lose bone density when you get shots for more than 2 years in a row. You could have bleeding between periods, headaches, weight gain, nervousness, or tummy discomfort. You may not ovulate for up to a year after a shot.

Vaginal Ring

Type: Hormonal

How it works: You put a flexible plastic ring into your vagina. It releases progestin and estrogen.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = 9

How long it lasts: 1 month for each ring

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Easy to use. Nothing to do right before having sex.

Cons: Must keep the ring in place, and change it timely. Vaginal discharge, mild discomfort. Increased risks of heart attack and stroke. Can come out of place.

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Birth Control Patch

Type: Hormonal

How it works: You stick a square patch that's about 2 inches across on your abdomen, buttocks, arm, or back. Your skin absorbs estrogen and progestin from it. Use it for 3 weeks, then skip a week so you have a period.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = 9

How long it lasts: 1 week per patch

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Easy to use. Nothing to do right before sex.

Cons: Must be changed on time. May cause a skin reaction. Raises risks of blood clots and strokes.

Extended- or Continuous-Use Birth Control Pill

Type: Hormonal

How it works: You take a pill with progestin and estrogen every day.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = 9

How long it lasts: 3 months or 1 year, depending on your prescription

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Nothing to do right before sex. Fewer or no periods. Makes menstrual cramps and acne less severe.

Cons: Must take a pill at the same time every day. May cause more spotting between periods than with regular birth control pills. Fewer or no periods makes it harder to know if you're pregnant. Changes in your period, nausea, breast tenderness, headache, high blood pressure risks, and greater chances of blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke.

Birth Control Pill

Type: Hormonal

How it works: You take a pill with progestin and estrogen every day.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = 9

How long it lasts: 1 month per package

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Nothing to do right before sex. Makes periods more regular and lighter. Makes menstrual cramps and acne less severe.

Cons: Must take a pill at the same time every day. Changes in your period. Nausea, breast tenderness, headache. You may develop high blood pressure. Higher risks of blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke.

Birth Control 'Mini-Pill'

Type: Hormonal

How it works: You take a pill with progestin every day.

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Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = less than 1
  • Typical use = 9

How long it lasts: 1 month per package

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Nothing to do right before sex. Can be used while breastfeeding. Makes periods lighter. Makes menstrual cramps less severe. May be used by women who shouldn't take the regular birth control pill because of high blood pressure, blood clots, migraines, and smoking over age 35.

Cons: Must take a pill at the same time every day. Can cause irregular bleeding, headache, breast tenderness, nausea, and dizziness.

Diaphragm With Spermicide

Type: Barrier

How it works: You load a dome-shaped disk with sperm-killing jelly (nonoxynol-9) and put it into your vagina to cover your cervix.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 6
  • Typical use = 12

How long it lasts: Up to 2 hours

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Works immediately. Can't be felt by you or your partner. Can be used while breastfeeding. No hormonal changes. Can be inserted hours before having sex. Can be left inside the vagina for up to 24 hours, as long as you add spermicide each time you have sex and then every 2 hours afterward.

Cons: Must be fitted to your size and refitted often. Can cause irritation, allergic reactions, or infections. Spermicides with nonoxynol-9 can increase risks of HIV/AIDS. Must leave diaphragm in at least 6 hours after sex. More than 24 hours of use raises risks of toxic shock syndrome.

Male Condom

Type: Barrier

How it works: You put a thin sheath over your erect penis right before sex and take it off before the penis gets soft.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 2
  • Typical use = 18

How long it lasts: One act of intercourse

STD protection? Yes

Need to see a doctor? No

Pros: Widely available, easy to carry, and disposable. Latex condoms are the best protection against STDs other than abstinence.

Cons: Must be used every time you have sex. Makes sex less spontaneous, since you need to put the condom on properly. May cause irritation or allergic reactions.

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Female Condom

Type: Barrier

How it works: You put a thin pouch into your vagina before sex.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 5
  • Typical use = 21

How long it lasts: One act of intercourse

STD protection? Yes

Need to see a doctor? No

Pros: Can be inserted before sex. Less decrease in sensation for men than with a male condom. Stronger than latex.

Cons: Can slip while using. May be hard to insert or remove. Not easy to find. More costly than male condoms.

Withdrawal

Type: Behavior

How it works: The man takes his penis out of the vagina before he ejaculates.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 4
  • Typical use = 22

How long it lasts: One act of intercourse

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? No

Pros: Free. Can be used with other forms of birth control.

Cons: The man may not pull out in time. Pre-ejaculate can still contain sperm.

Fertility Awareness

Type: Behavior

How it works: You track your fertility to help you figure out which days to abstain or use a barrier method. There are different ways to do this.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = up to 5
  • Typical use = 24

How long it lasts: As long as it's practiced

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? No

Pros: May be OK for some religious practices. Inexpensive. Helps you understand your body better.

Cons: Requires careful record keeping. You can't be sexually spontaneous during fertile periods. Not useful if your period cycle lasts fewer than 26 or more than 32 days.

Sponge With Spermicide

Type: Barrier

How it works: You put a disk with sperm-killing jelly (nonoxynol-9) into the vagina before having sex.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 9-12 (pregnancy is more likely if you've already had a baby)
  • Typical use = 20-24

How long it lasts: Up to 24 hours

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? No

Pros: Works immediately. Can have sex more than once while inserted, with no need to add more spermicide.

Cons: May not fit well for women who've had a baby. Can cause irritation or allergic reactions or be difficult to remove from vagina. Spermicides with nonoxynol-9 can increase risks of HIV/AIDS. Must leave sponge in for at least 6 hours after sex. More than 24 to 30 hours of use raises risk of toxic shock syndrome.

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Cervical Cap With Spermicide

Type: Barrier

How it works: You put a soft cup loaded with sperm-killing jelly (nonoxynol-9) inside the vagina to fit snugly over the cervix.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 14
  • Typical use = 17-23

How long it lasts: Up to 42 hours

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Hormones? No

Pros: Smaller and uses less spermicide than a diaphragm. Reusable. Can be inserted up to 6 hours before sex. Can have sex more than once while inserted, with no need to add more spermicide.

Cons: May not fit well for women who've had a baby. May need to be resized. May cause irritation, allergic reactions, or abnormal pap smears. Spermicides with nonoxynol-9 can increase risks of HIV/AIDS. Must be left in for at least 6 hours after sex. More than 48 hours of use raises risks of toxic shock syndrome.

Spermicide

Type: Barrier

How it works: You put a foam, cream, jelly, film, or tablet containing sperm-killing nonoxynol-9 into your vagina.

Pregnancies per 100 women:

  • Ideal use = 18
  • Typical use = 28

How long it lasts: One act of intercourse

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? No

Hormones? No

Pros: Easy to insert. Lubricates vagina.

Cons: Must be put inside the vagina 5-90 minutes before sex, and left inside for at least 6-8 hours after. May cause irritation, allergic reactions, and infections. Can increase risks of HIV/AIDS.

Morning-After Pill (Next Choice, Plan B, Plan B One-Step)

Type: Emergency hormonal

How it works: Stops an egg from leaving the ovary. May also prevent an egg from getting fertilized or attaching to the uterus lining.

Effectiveness: 7 out of 8 women who would have gotten pregnant won't.

When it works: Up to 3 days after having unprotected sex or birth control failure

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? No, if you're 18 or older; maybe, if you're not

Pros: You can buy Plan B One-Step without a prescription. Next Choice and Plan B are available over-the-counter if you're age 17 or older.

Cons: Not meant for regular birth control. If you're under 17, you may need a prescription. May cause nausea, vomiting, tummy pain, fatigue, and headache.

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Ella (ulipristal acetate)

Type: Emergency hormonal

How it works: Blocks a hormone to stop or delay the ovaries from releasing an egg. May also prevent the egg from attaching to the uterus lining.

Effectiveness: 6 or 7 out of every 10 women who would have gotten pregnant won't.

When it works: Within 5 days of having unprotected sex or birth control failure

STD protection? No

Need to see a doctor? Yes

Pros: Can be taken later than other forms of emergency contraception. May be more effective than other emergency contraception if you're overweight.

Cons: Not meant for regular birth control. Requires a prescription. Risks of headache, nausea, tummy pain, menstrual cramps, fatigue, or dizziness. Use only birth control methods without hormones for the next 5 days.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on December 08, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

The Kinsey Institute: "Choosing the Right Contraceptive Method."

Dailard, C. The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, December 2003.

FDA: "Birth Control: Medicines to Help You."

UpToDate: "Pregnancy rate (percent) during first year of use of contraceptives," "Emergency Contraception."

American Sexual Health Association: "Birth Control Method Comparison Chart."

Center for Young Women's Health: "Contraception: Success and Failure Rates of Contraceptives."

Guttmacher Institute: "Contraceptive Use in the United States."

CDC: "Effectiveness of Family Planning Methods."

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: "Choosing a Birth Control Method."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Progestin-Only Contraceptives."

Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Birth Control Methods Fact Sheet."

Liletta.

Mirena.

Skyla. 

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