collage of women of all ages
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Which Type Is Best for You?

Start with a few questions: How will you protect against STDs? How important are convenience and cost? What about how well it works? Only abstinence is 100% effective, but there are methods that come close if you use them right.

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spermicide contraception options
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This is a foam, jelly, cream, or film that goes into the vagina before sex that contains a chemical that kills sperm. Some types must be put in place 30 minutes ahead of time. If you use it often, it can irritate the vagina, making infections and STDs more likely. People usually also use other types of birth control with it.

Pros: Easy to use, inexpensive.

Cons: May make STDs more likely, and 29% get pregnant during first year of use.

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condom contraception in hand
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Male Condom

The latex condom blocks sperm from entering the woman's body, which protects against pregnancy and STDs. Of couples who rely on male condoms only, 15% get pregnant in a year.

Pros: Widely available, protects against STDs, inexpensive.

Cons: Effective only if used correctly every time. Can't be reused.

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female condom contraception in hand and inserted
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Female Condom

This is a thin plastic pouch that lines the vagina. A woman can put it in place up to 8 hours before sex. To do that, she would grasp a flexible plastic ring at the closed end and guide it into position. It doesn't work as well as the male condom.

Pros: Widely available, offers some protection against STDs.

Cons: Can be noisy, 21% of users get pregnant, and not reusable. Should not be used with a male condom, to avoid breakage.

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diaphragm contraception in hand and inserted
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This is a rubber dome that a woman places over her cervix before sex. You should also use a spermicide. Of 100 women who use it, 16 get pregnant in a typical year.

Pros: Inexpensive (a $15-$75 device lasts 2 years).

Cons: Must be fitted by a doctor. No STD protection. Can't be used during your period due to a risk of toxic shock syndrome.

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cervical cap contraception in hand and inserted
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Cervical Cap

This device, also called the FemCap, is similar to a diaphragm, but smaller. It slips into place over the cervix. You use it with spermicide. About 15% of women who never had children get pregnant when using the cervical cap. About 30% of women who have had children get pregnant.

Pros: Can stay in place for 48 hours, inexpensive.

Cons: Must be fitted by a doctor. No protection against STDs. You can't use it during your period.

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sponge contraception in hand and inserted
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Birth Control Sponge

It's made of foam and contains spermicide. A woman can place it against her cervix up to 24 hours before sex. It works to prevent pregnancy about as well  as the cervical cap. But unlike that product or the diaphragm, you don't need to get fitted by a doctor.

Pros: No prescription, effective immediately.

Cons: Can be hard to put in. No STD protection. You can't use it during your period.

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birth control pills contraception
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Birth Control Pill

The most common type uses estrogen and progestin to prevent ovulation. It's very effective if taken right. About 8% of typical users get pregnant. You'll need a prescription for it.

Pros: More regular, lighter periods, or no periods, depending on the type. Less cramping.

Cons: Cost ($15-$50 per month). No STD protection. May cause breast tenderness, spotting, blood clots, and raised blood pressure. Some women shouldn't use it due to health risks.

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woman applying birth control patch contraception
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Hormonal Birth Control Patch

Women who forget daily pills may want the patch. You wear it on your skin and change it once a week for 3 weeks, then go a week without it. It releases the types of hormones in birth control pills and works just as well.

Pros: More regular, lighter periods with less cramping. No need to remember a daily pill.

Cons: Cost ($15-$50 per month). May cause skin irritation or other side effects similar to birth control pills. No STD protection.

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birth control ring contraception
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Vaginal Ring

The NuvaRing is a soft plastic ring that goes inside the vagina. It releases the same hormones as the pill and patch, and it works just as well to prevent pregnancy. You replace it only once a month.

Pros: Lighter, more regular periods. Less-frequent replacement.

Cons: Cost ($30-$50 per month). May cause vaginal irritation or other side effects similar to pills and the patch. Doesn't protect against STDs.

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close up of person getting birth control shot
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Birth Control Shot

It's called Depo-Provera, and it's a hormonal shot that protects against pregnancy for 3 months. For the typical couple, it works better than the birth control pill. Only 3% of users get pregnant in a year.

Pros: Injected only 4 times per year, highly effective.

Cons: Cost (about $240 per year). May cause spotting and other side effects. Doesn't protect against STDs.

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doctor showing woman birth control implant
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Birth Control Implant

This is a matchstick-sized rod that a doctor places under the skin of a woman's upper arm. It releases the same hormone that's in the birth control shot. The failure rate is less than 1%.

Pros: Protects against pregnancy for 3 years and then must be removed. Highly effective.

Cons: More expensive up front ($400-$800 for exam, implant, and insertion). May cause side effects, including irregular bleeding. Doesn't protect against STDs.

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iud contraception inserted
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That stands for intrauterine device. It's placed inside a woman's uterus. The copper IUD, ParaGard, works for as long as 10 years. The hormonal IUD must be replaced after 5 years. Both types make it harder for sperm to fertilize the egg. Fewer than 8 in 1,000 women get pregnant.

Pros: Long-lasting, low-maintenance.

Cons: Irregular or heavier periods. More expensive up front, may slip out, may cause side effects.

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tubal ligation surgery
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Tubal Ligation

If you're sure you won't want to get pregnant, you may be ready for permanent birth control. The operation for women is called tubal ligation, or "having your tubes tied." A surgeon closes off the fallopian tubes. This prevents eggs from leaving the ovaries. (The banding method is shown here.)

Pros: Permanent, nearly 100% effective.

Cons: Requires surgery, may not be reversible, expensive. Doesn't protect against STDs.

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tubal implant surgery
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Tubal Implants

A newer procedure blocks the fallopian tubes without surgery. A doctor puts a small metal or silicone implant inside each tube. Scar tissue grows around the implants and blocks the tubes. Once an X-ray confirms the tubes are blocked, no other form of birth control is needed.

Pros: Permanent, no surgery, almost 100% effective.

Cons: Takes a few months to become effective. May make pelvic infections more likely. Irreversible, expensive.


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vasectomy surgery
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Besides condoms, a vasectomy is the only birth control option for men. A doctor surgically closes the vas deferens -- the tubes that carry sperm from the testes. This prevents the release of sperm but doesn't affect ejaculation.

Pros: Permanent, cheaper than tubal ligation, almost 100% effective.

Cons: Requires surgery, not effective immediately, may not be reversible. Doesn't prevent STDs.

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morning after contraception pill in blisterpack
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Emergency Contraception

This method works after sex to help avoid pregnancy. This is an option if you didn't use contraception or if a woman suspects her usual method failed. There are lots of types to choose from, including brand-name pills or generic versions. You can get some of them over the counter.

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older multi-ethnic women in yoga class
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Options for Older Women

If you're over age 35 and smoke or are obese, the combination birth control pill, patch, and ring are not recommended. Ask your doctor about safe alternatives. If you're nearing menopause, the birth control shot has an added benefit: It may relieve some of the symptoms of perimenopause.

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dry lawn and garden hose on kerb
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"Pulling out" is the age-old method that relies on the man withdrawing his penis from the vagina before ejaculation. If it's done correctly every time, about 4% of users get pregnant in a year. But with more typical use, about 18% get pregnant.

Pros: Free, no need for devices or hormones.

Cons: May be hard to do correctly. No protection against STDs.

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graphic of most fertile days of the month
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Ovulation Predictor Kits

A lot of women who want to get pregnant use these to figure out when they're most fertile. The kit comes with a urine test that checks how much luteinizing hormone (LH) you have. LH surges 24 to 38 hours before you ovulate, which is when you're most likely to get pregnant. To try to prevent pregnancy, don't have sex when you're ovulating.

Pros: No drugs, inexpensive.

Cons: Limits spontaneous sex, and the odds of getting pregnant are high.

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sperm fertilizing egg
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Least Effective Methods

Without using any form of birth control, 85% of sexually active couples will get pregnant within a year. Even the least effective birth control options greatly lower that number.

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couple walking along beach at sunset
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Most Effective Methods

If you don't want to get pregnant, it really matters how correctly you use your method of birth control. The most effective types are those that you don't have to think about.  

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/23/2018 Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 23, 2018


1) Asia Images Group / Getty, PhotoAlto / Ale Ventura, Thomas Tolstrup / Photographer’s Choice

2) Hemera / Getty               

3) Steve Pomberg / WebMD

4) Steve Pomberg / WebMD

5) Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD, Keith Brofsky / Thinkstock

6) Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD, Maggie Murray / Photolibrary

7) Steve Pomberg / WebMD, Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD

8) Steve Pomberg / WebMD, Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD

9) Don Farrall / Photolibrary

10) Philippe Garo / Photo Researchers, Inc.

11) sodapix / Photolibrary

12) ERproductions Ltd / Blend Images

13) PHANIE / Photo Researchers, Inc.

14) Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD

15) Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD

16) Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD

17) Peggy Firth and Susan Gilbert, CMI, for WebMD

18) Cordelia Molloy / Photo Researchers, Inc.

19) Jetta Productions / Walter Hodges / Photolibrary

20) George Diebold / Getty

21) iStockphoto / Thinkstock

22) Corbis


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Keoniger-Donohue, R. Women's Health Care: A Practical Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 2006.
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National Women's Health Information Center.
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Speroff, L., Darney, P.D. A Clinical Guide for Contraception. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2005.
The Nemours Foundation.

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 23, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.