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Birth Control Health Center

Your Birth Control Options

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IUDs (Intrauterine Devices)

These are small plastic devices that a doctor or nurse will insert into your uterus. The procedure is simple and quick, although a little uncomfortable. Once it's in position, the IUD will protect you from pregnancy for a long time.

IUDs that use hormones are good for 5 years. The copper-T IUD -- which uses copper, a natural sperm-killer -- is good for up to 10 years. Again, IUDs don't protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. IUDs are about 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Emergency Contraception

You shouldn’t consider this a form of regular birth control. It’s called “emergency” contraception for a reason. It’s for use after unprotected sex or if your condom breaks. It can prevent pregnancy up to 3 to 5 days later, although the sooner you take it, the better.

Most emergency contraception products are pills, but the copper-T IUD works as emergency contraception, too. In fact, research shows that the pills start to lose its effectiveness in women heavier than 165 pounds and is not recommend for anyone over this weight. Instead, the IUD is the suggested option for emergency contraception in this group.

Tips for Effective Birth Control

For birth control to work, you have to use it correctly every time. Here are some tips.

  • Be prepared. If you're sexually active, always have birth control with you. Keep track of your supply. If you run out at the wrong moment, you're at risk of doing something you'll regret. 
  • Check expiration dates. Condoms and other latex or plastic types of birth control can break down over time. Pills become less effective. Never rely on birth control that's past its expiration date.
  • Store birth control correctly. Light and heat can damage condoms and other forms of birth control. Don't ever use a condom that's been stuck in a car's glove compartment or crammed in a wallet.
  • Follow directions. In the heat of the moment, you probably won't take a break to carefully read the instructions in the box. So plan ahead -- read them well before you use a form of birth control for the first time.

While condoms work well, they can rip or tear. Lower the chances of that happening.

  • Be careful when opening the wrapper. Don't risk tearing the condom by opening it with scissors or your teeth.
  • Make sure you're using the right size. A condom that's too small or big may not work.
  • Put it on correctly. Make sure you're unrolling it in the right direction. As you're putting it on, hold the tip to prevent an air bubble from forming. Air can increase the risk of a break.
  • Use lubrication. It lowers the risk of condom tears. Only use water-based lubricants. Don't use any that are oil-based, like baby oil or petroleum jelly. They can break down the condom. For better protection, use a lubricant with spermicide.
  • Have emergency contraception on hand. Even if you're careful, accidents happen. If a condom breaks, using emergency contraception -- as soon as you can -- may give you peace of mind.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 01, 2013
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