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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.

The Sponge continued...

Effective rate: 76%, which is considered a high failure rate. That means about one in four women who use sponges as their method of birth control for one year will get pregnant.

Drawbacks: Certain women may be allergic to the spermicide or sponge materials or find them irritating. If you leave the sponge in more than 30 hours, there is an increased risk of toxic shock syndrome. The sponge does not protect against STDs.

Benefits: The sponge may be inserted up to 24 hours before intercourse and protects for multiple acts of intercourse during this time. You must leave it in for at least six hours after intercourse, but never more than 30 hours.

The Condom

What it is: Using a condom is a barrier method and the only form of male birth control.

How it works: A thin sheath is rolled over the penis before intercourse, capturing sperm and preventing semen from entering the vagina.

Effective rate: 82%

Drawbacks: Since condoms must be used just prior to intercourse, they may interfere with spontaneity.

Benefits: When used consistently and correctly, latex condoms can significantly reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the CDC. No prescription is needed.

Side effects: There are no side effects, unless you are allergic to latex. In that case, polyurethane condoms may be a good alternative.


If you want a "natural" method, you can try abstinence or withdrawal.

Refraining from sexual activity is the only method that is 100% effective for preventing pregnancy and the transmission of STDs, according to the American Pregnancy Association.


Having the male partner withdraw before ejaculating every time you have vaginal intercourse has about a 78% effective rate and does not protect against STDs.

Emergency Contraception

What if you forget to use birth control or your contraceptive fails? There are two types of emergency birth control:

"Morning-after" pills: There are several brands of emergency (or "morning-after") contraceptive pills on the market. Most contain the hormone progestin in a higher dose than regular birth control pills. Plan B One-Step is the only drug currently available over the counter with no prescription or age restrictions.   

The pill should be taken as soon as possible, but no later than three days after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. It works mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It is possible that a morning-after pill may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg or by preventing it from implanting in the wall of the uterus.

The morning-after pill is 89% effective, particularly when taken immediately.

Copper IUD:  Your doctor can insert a copper IUD up to five days after intercourse to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Copper IUDs are more than 99% effective when used as emergency contraception.

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Reviewed on August 14, 2012

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