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What to Consider When Choosing Birth Control

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 13, 2021

Your birth control choices can be overwhelming. You’ve got over a dozen options to pick from -- each with its pros and cons. When it comes right down to it, the best birth control is the method you’re most likely to use. But here are some other things to consider as you decide.

Family Planning

If you hope to start a family soon, you’ll want a method that you can easily stop when you’re ready, such as birth control pills or condoms.

On the other hand, if you’re not thinking about having kids in the near future, long-lasting and reversible options, like an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted in your uterus or a birth control implant in your arm, may be more convenient and effective. These methods can last for several years before you have to replace them.

If you’re sure you don’t want kids, you may decide on a permanent form of birth control. If you’re a woman, you can have a tubal ligation. You might hear this called “getting your tubes tied.” Men can have a vasectomy.

Breastfeeding

If you’re nursing, your chances of getting pregnant are lower, but you’ll still need some type of birth control. You’ll also need to make sure that the option you choose doesn’t impact your breast milk.

Ease and Timing of Use

Birth control comes in many different forms. Pick a method that you are most likely to use correctly.

With birth control pills, you’ll have to remember to take it every day at the same time. The patch you’ll need to change every week. With condoms, you’ve got to have them on hand and use them correctly every time. You have to place spermicide in your vagina no more than 1 hour before sex, and it has to stay there for as many as 8 hours after.

There are other methods that you won’t have to interact with as much. They leave less room for user error. But they are longer-lasting and tend to require a doctor’s office visit.

Think about how each method suits your comfort level and lifestyle.

Protection Against STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections)

Condoms are the only type of birth control that can also protect against STIs. If this is a concern for you and your partner, you’ll need to use a new one each time you have sex, whether or not you use another form of birth control.

Menstrual Periods

Some types of birth control come with an added perk. They stop or greatly reduce menstrual flow. If this is an important feature for you, ask your doctor which methods bring this benefit.

Side Effects and Safety

Some types of birth control have side effects or put you at risk for certain health conditions. Some forms may not be safe for people who have a specific health condition or take a particular medication. Your doctor can explain which methods would be least likely to cause unwanted side effects and which would be safest for you, based on your health and any problems that run in your family.

Cost

Birth control prices range from $2 for a condom to $6,000 for sterilization surgery. You’ll need to think about what you can afford. If you have health insurance, find out which kinds of birth control your plan covers. That could help you decide.

Your Age

Until you go through menopause (meaning that you haven’t had a period in a year), you’ll need a form of birth control to keep from getting pregnant. But some types of birth control, like hormone-based pills, can pose health risks if you’re over 45.

Your Gender Identity

If you’re transgender or nonbinary, you may have to try a few types of birth control before you find a method that feels right for you. For instance, if you are a transgender man, hormone-based birth control, such as the pill or patch, can stop menstrual periods, when you take it without stopping. This can be gender-affirming. On the other hand, taking a daily pill could be an unwelcome reminder of gender dysphoria. Talk with a doctor you trust about which methods might be best for you.

Religion and Culture

Your beliefs and traditions can affect your choice of birth control. Some types of birth control may feel more in line with your values.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Planned Parenthood: “Birth Control.”

Mayo Clinic: “Birth Control Options: Things to Consider.”

The North American Menopause Society: “Contraception: You Need It Longer Than You May Think.”

CDC: “When Women Can Stop Using Contraceptives,” “Contraception.”

UW Health: “Finding the Birth Control Method That’s Right For You.”

University Health Service, University of Michigan: “How to Choose a Contraceptive Method.”

Cleveland Clinic: “How to Pick the Birth Control Method That’s Right For You,” “Contraception During Breastfeeding.”

Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada: “Religious and Cultural Influences on Contraception.”

Power to Decide: “How Birth Control Can Help with Gender Dysphoria.”

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