Although some methods of birth control are available at any drug store, others can only be prescribed by a physician. An appointment to discuss birth control options will involve discussing whether you have any medical conditions or take other medications, whether you are sexually active and how many partners you have, and whether you plan on getting pregnant sooner rather than later.
There are dozens of types of contraception. Some you can only use once; others last for years.
These types of contraception must be used every time you have sex. They work best when paired with spermicide, and are 71% to 88% percent effective, depending on the option.
- Cervical cap
A diaphragm or cervical cap must be prescribed by a doctor after a vaginal exam to ensure proper fit. Condoms are the only birth control method that also protects against most sexually transmitted infections.
Hormonal birth control methods are more than 90% effective. They must be replaced on a regular schedule or, if you are using the birth control pill, taken daily. Many women find hormonal contraception improves their skin and regulates their menstrual cycle, but others find the side effects harder to tolerate. Costs vary for the different methods; all require a prescription.
- Implant (lasts up to five years)
- Patch (replace weekly)
- Pill (take daily)
- Shot (get every three months)
- Vaginal ring (replace monthly)
Emergency contraception, i.e., the morning after pill, is available to purchase over the counter. It is a combination of hormones designed to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg when taken within a specific number of days after unprotected sex. It should not be used as a regular form of birth control.
Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are implanted by a physician and are 99% effective. Depending on the type of IUD, it can protect against pregnancy up to 12 years. Hormonal IUDs use progestin to prevent pregnancy and last for three to seven years. A copper IUD has no hormones and can stay in place for 12 years, making it a good option for women who can’t tolerate hormones but want long-term birth control. An IUD can be removed at any time if you decide you want to get pregnant.
- Fertility awareness (a.k.a. the rhythm method)
Abstinence from vaginal intercourse is the only 100% reliable way to prevent pregnancy.
Your provider can go over all the pros and cons of different birth control types with you. Just because you choose one option doesn’t mean you can’t switch to something else later. After starting your chosen method, you should pay attention to any side effects and discuss them with your doctor if you find them worrisome.