Deciding on the best method of birth control can be challenging; there are many options and factors to consider, such as the effectiveness, costs, and availability of various forms of birth control.
Barrier birth control methods work by physically blocking sperm from reaching the egg, preventing fertilization. Many barrier methods are used, along with a spermicide, to increase their effectiveness. Examples of barrier birth control options include condoms (male and female), diaphragms, cervical caps, and contraceptive sponges.
The main advantage of using barrier methods include no hormones, no impact on your menstrual cycle, affordability, safe to use while breastfeeding, and availability without a prescription. On the other hand, barrier birth control methods often lead to user error and are not as effective as other methods.
Spermicide or Vaginal Gel
Spermicides are non-hormonal birth control methods with chemicals that kill sperm or stop it from moving so it can’t reach the egg for fertilization. Vaginal gel works by lowering the pH, or acidity, of the vagina; an acidic environment makes it more difficult for sperm to move and reach the egg.
Spermicides and vaginal gels are affordable and available without a prescription, making them a popular choice for many people. However, they are considered to be fairly ineffective when used on their own. It’s strongly recommended that spermicides and vaginal gels be used in conjunction with a barrier method.
Fertility Awareness Method
The basis of fertility awareness methods is understanding which days of the month you are ovulating and most fertile, typically by tracking your menstrual cycle, cervical mucus texture, and basal body temperature. To avoid getting pregnant, you can abstain from sex during your most fertile days or use another form of birth control (e.g., condoms, etc.). Although the fertility awareness method offers a free, natural approach to birth control, it’s far less effective than other methods.
Hormone methods include short and long-acting methods that work by preventing the egg from being released.
Short-acting hormonal methods of birth control must be taken daily or replaced weekly or monthly. However, they are very effective in preventing pregnancy and may also help relieve other issues, such as menstrual cramps and acne. Examples of short-acting hormonal methods include:
- Birth control pills
- Vaginal ring (ex. NuvaRing)
- Skin patches (ex. Xulane)
- Contraceptive injection (ex. Depo-Provera)
Long-acting hormonal methods work by preventing pregnancy and, depending on the device, typically last three years, although some can last up to ten years, or until you decide to have them removed. Examples of long-acting hormonal methods of birth control include intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants.
The primary disadvantages of hormonal methods of birth control are the potential side effects. Common side effects of hormonal birth control include headaches, nausea, sore breasts, vaginal yeast infections, spotting between periods, mood swings, reduced libido, and the formation of blood clots. With long-term use, some hormonal birth controls also increase your risk of getting cancer.
Tubal ligation is commonly referred to as “getting your tubes tied.” The procedure is a permanent form of birth control that involves severing the fallopian tubes and sealing or tying them off so that eggs cannot be fertilized. Tubal ligation is 99% effective and has no impact on your hormones. However, it’s also difficult to reverse. Other disadvantages of tubal ligation include surgical risks (infection, bleeding, side effects from anesthesia, etc.) and a low risk of having an ectopic pregnancy (when an egg is fertilized outside of the uterus).
Often referred to as “morning-after pills,” emergency contraception is designed to be taken after birth control failure. One of the most common types is levonorgestrel (ex. Plan B), which prevents pregnancy by hindering the egg’s release from the ovary. Another type of emergency contraception is ulipristal acetate (ex. Ella), which is available through a prescription. While emergency contraception is very useful in preventing pregnancy, it should not be relied on as a primary form of birth control.
Find Out About Your Birth Control Options
Schedule an appointment with Pacific Gynecology & Obstetrics Medical Group to talk to a gynecologist and explore which type of birth control option works best for you.