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Today's Birth Control Options

With so many contraception options available, do you know which one to choose? Our guide can help.

Patch

If you'd rather think about birth control only on a weekly or monthly basis, you might try a patch or vaginal ring.

What it is: This is a small patch you place on your upper shoulder, upper back, abdomen, or hip that delivers estrogen and progestin through the skin.

How it works: Similar to birth control pills, the hormones suppress ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, and thin the uterine lining.

Effective rate: 91%

Drawbacks: You must remember to change the patch every week. It does not protect against STDs.

Benefits: Most women wear the patch three weeks on and one week off, but it can be worn for four weeks continuously to prevent your period, says Whitaker.

Side effects: Some women develop skin irritation, such as a rash or redness at the site of the patch, but you can move it to another location. Hormonal side effects are similar to the pill.

Vaginal Ring

What it is: This is a small plastic ring inserted into the vagina, which slowly releases hormones into the body.

How it works: You insert the ring into the vagina yourself. The ring releases estrogen and progestin, which are absorbed through the vaginal tissues. As with the birth control pill, the hormones in the ring prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus to block sperm, and thin the uterine lining, which may prevent an egg from implanting.

Effective rate: 91%

Drawbacks: Though women often worry about inserting the ring correctly, there's usually no cause for concern, says Whitaker. "If you put it in and it stays in your vagina, it's in right."

Benefits: Women who want to avoid periods can leave the ring in for four weeks and then replace it with a new one, she adds. Like the pill, it offers a reduced risk of colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. Using the vaginal ring may reduce menstrual pain and improve acne.

Side effects: The ring's side effects are similar to those associated with the pill: headaches, weight gain, and nausea.

Who should not use birth control pills, a patch, or a ring: Women who get migraines with auras, have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, or are 35 or over and smoke should not use these three birth control methods, according to the CDC. It's best to discuss your medical history with your doctor.

The Sponge

If you want birth control without a prescription, you might consider the sponge or condoms.

What it is: This is a small, donut-shaped, soft plastic device containing spermicide, which you insert deep into your vagina before intercourse.

How it works: The sponge works two ways: by blocking or covering the cervix to prevent sperm from reaching the egg, and by continually releasing spermicide to disable the sperm.

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