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Types of birth control

Are you having sex or thinking about it? If so, you owe it to yourself and your partner to think about the kind of birth control that will best help you prevent pregnancy.

As you think about birth control, consider:

  • How well each kind works
  • Which kind you’re likely to use correctly and every time
  • Whether it can help protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs).

Remember that other than complete abstinence, no form of birth control works perfectly to prevent pregnancy.

Condoms are the only form of birth control that can help protect against STDs. Remember to use condoms correctly and every time you have sex. (See more info on condoms in our birth control chart.)

It's important to use a condom together with another type of birth control, like the birth control pill, patch, implant, or , to help prevent both pregnancy and STDs.

Have you heard that condoms make sex less pleasurable? Well, in a recent survey, people who used a condom and people who didn’t use one had no real difference in their ratings of pleasure. So, go ahead and enjoy the great safety benefits of a condom!

Whatever type of birth control you use, make sure to read and follow all instructions carefully. If you have questions, allergies, or any special concerns, make sure to talk with a health care professional. This is no time to be shy!

Birth control basics

Read more about how birth control works — and what doesn’t work. Also learn what to do if you need birth control in an emergency.

Your doctor or nurse also can help you figure out which kind of birth control might be right for you. This is an important decision, so it makes sense to get input from your parents or guardians or other trusted adults, too.

You can also think about some questions:

  • Do you feel okay putting something into your vagina, like a sponge?
  • Can you see your doctor to have something put in for you, like an IUD?
  • Can you remember to do what you need, like bringing condoms with you or taking a pill at the right time every day?
  • Would you like something you can just leave in and not have to remember, like an IUD or implant?
  • Do you mind taking hormones (with hormonal methods like the pill)?
  • Do you feel okay having something on your skin, like a patch?
  • Do you smoke? Smoking increases the risks of certain types of birth control. (Try to quit smoking to be healthier anyway!)
  • Are you concerned about side effects? Keep in mind that some side effects are not very likely to happen while others are more common. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns.

Take a look at the alphabetical chart below to learn more about some popular types of birth control. Keep in mind that this chart is in alphabetical order to make it easy to use. The types at the top are not there because they are best. Some of the most effective types of birth control are the implantable rod, IUD, and shot.

Cervical cap

What is it?

The cervical cap, or FemCap, is a soft rubbery cup shaped like a thimble and made from silicone. It fits snugly around the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus (womb).

How it works:

It prevents sperm from reaching an egg by covering the cervix.

How you use it:

You put the cervical cap in so it fits tightly over the cervix. It must be used with a spermicide. (Spermicides are creams, gels, foams, and other products that kill sperm. You can buy them in a drugstore.) After sex, the cap should be left in place for at least 6 hours but not longer than 48 hours.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to find the right fit for you and give you a prescription.

Some possible risks or side effects:

Pregnancy protection:

Around 17 to 23 out of 100 women who use the cap over the course of a year may get pregnant.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

  • It has to fit correctly to work well. A trained doctor needs to find the right fit for you.
  • Spermicides made from the chemical N9 can cause irritation, which may increase the risk of getting HIV from an infected partner.

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Contraceptive sponge

What is it?

It is a donut-shaped plastic foam item with spermicide in it. It’s sold as the Today Sponge.

How it works:

It blocks sperm from reaching the cervix, or opening to the uterus. It also uses a spermicide to kill sperm.

How you use it:

You wet it and push it up in the vagina to cover the cervix. It protects for up to 24 hours and for more than one act of sex during this time. To work, it must be left in at least 6 hours after the last time you had sex. It should not stay in more than 30 hours.

Where you get it:

You can buy it over the counter.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Toxic shock syndrome if left in for more than 24 to 30 hours
  • Irritation from the spermicide, which may increase the risk of getting HIV from an infected partner

Pregnancy protection:

Around 12 to 24 out of 100 women may get pregnant over the course of a year while using the sponge (if used correctly).

STD (STI) protection:

None.

Other information:

If your partner has HIV, using the sponge could increase your chances of getting it.

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Diaphragm

What is it?

The diaphragm is a round latex or silicone dome that you put into your vagina.

How it works:

It prevents sperm from reaching an egg by covering the cervix (the opening to the womb) and by holding spermicide that kills sperm.

How you use it:

You put spermicide in the diaphragm and then put the diaphragm up inside your vagina. You do this up to 6 hours before having sex. You need to add a spermicide each time you have sex and also if the diaphragm has been in for 6 hours. The diaphragm must be left in for 6 to 8 hours after sex and removed as soon as possible after that. It should not stay in for more than 24 hours.

Where you get it:

A doctor or other health care professional needs to find the right fit for you and give you a prescription.

Some possible risks or side effects:

Pregnancy protection:

Around 12 women in 100 may get pregnant over the course of a year while using the diaphragm (if used correctly).

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

  • To work well, the diaphragm has to fit right. Your doctor will find the right size and let you know when you may need a new one.
  • If you gain or lose more than 10 pounds, you need to be checked to see whether your diaphragm still fits.
  • Baby oil, petroleum jelly, and other oil-based lubricants can weaken a diaphragm. Use a water-based lubricant like K-Y jelly instead.
  • Spermicides made from the chemical N9 can cause irritation, which may increase the risk of getting HIV from an infected partner.

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Female condom

What is it?

Female condom.

The female condom is a thin pouch that lines the vagina. It is made from a rubber-like substance that is not latex.

How it works:

Sperm get caught inside the condom.

How you use it:

You put it in your vagina before sex. The condom cannot disappear inside your body. A ring keeps the condom inside. Another one covers the outside of the vagina. After sex, before standing up, you twist the outside ring, remove the condom gently, and throw the condom away. Use a new one each time you have sex. Don’t use it together with a male condom.

Where you get it:

You can buy it over the counter.

Some possible risks:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Irritation

Pregnancy protection:

Around 21 out of 100 women may get pregnant while using the female condom over the course of a year.

STD (STI) protection:

The female condom is believed to protect against some STDs (STIs), including HIV, but not as well as the male latex condom.

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Implantable rod

What is it?

The implant is a small plastic rod about the size of a matchstick that is placed under the skin of the upper arm. It is also called by its brand name, Nexplanon.

How it works:

It uses the hormone progestin to cause changes in the cervix that can stop sperm from joining with an egg. It may also stop the ovaries from releasing eggs.

How you use it:

A doctor or other health care professional inserts it. It lasts up to 3 years. You can have it removed sooner if you want.

Where you get it:

A doctor or other health care professional needs to insert it.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Changes in your period
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Cysts on the ovaries
  • Mood changes
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Less interest in sex
  • Sore breasts

Pregnancy protection:

Fewer than 1 woman in 100 may get pregnant while using the implant over the course of a year. That means the rod is a very good form of contraception.

The rod may not work as well for women who are overweight.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

It might not work as well if you are taking certain medicines, so discuss this with your doctor. Also tell your doctor if you are taking the herb St. John’s wort.

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Intrauterine device: copper type

What is it?

A hand holding a copper-type intrauterine device

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped device that is put into and left inside the uterus, or womb. One type of IUD has copper in it (ParaGard).

How it works:

The copper IUD works to stop sperm from reaching an egg and to stop an egg from attaching to the uterus (womb).

How you use it:

A doctor needs to put an IUD in for you. The copper IUD can stay in for up to 10 years. An IUD can be removed sooner if you want.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to insert it.

Some possible risks or side effects:

Pregnancy protection:

Fewer than 1 woman in 100 may get pregnant over the course of a year while using the IUD. That means the IUD is a very good form of contraception.

STD (STI) protection:

None

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Intrauterine device: hormonal type

What is it?

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped device that is put into and left inside the uterus, or womb. One type of IUD is the hormonal IUD (Mirena and Skyla). It has the hormone progestin in it, which is a hormone used in birth control pills.

How it works:

The hormonal IUD works to stop sperm from reaching an egg and to stop an egg from attaching to the uterus (womb). It also may prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg.

How you use it:

A doctor needs to put an IUD in for you. The hormonal IUD needs to be replaced after 5 years (3 years for Skyla). The copper IUD can stay in for up to 10 years. An IUD can be removed sooner if you want.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to insert it.

Some possible risks or side effects:

Pregnancy protection:

Fewer than 1 woman in 100 may get pregnant over the course of a year while using the IUD. That means the IUD is a very good form of contraception.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the hormonal IUD work less well.

The hormonal IUD will cause much lighter periods and possibly no periods.

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Male condom

What is it?

Male condom.

Also called a rubber, this is a thin protective covering. It is shaped a little like a sock when it is unrolled.

How it works:

It covers the penis so that when a man ejaculates (or “comes”), the sperm stay inside the condom.

How you use it:

You put a new condom over an erect penis before each sex act (and before any contact between genitals). To make sure sperm doesn’t spill into the vagina, the man must pull out his penis before it softens. He also should hold the condom against the base of the penis when pulling out. To learn more, watch this video on how to put on a condom.

Where you get it:

You can buy it over the counter, at places like drugstores and supermarkets.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Irritation

Pregnancy protection:

Around 18 women out of 100 who use a male condom over the course of a year may get pregnant.

STD (STI) protection:

Except for abstinence (not having sex) condoms made from latex and coated with a proper lubricant are the best protection against STDs (STIs).

Other information:

  • Keeping condoms in a hot place like a wallet or car can weaken the latex.
  • Baby oil, petroleum jelly, hand cream, and other oil-based lubricants can weaken a latex condom. Use a water-based one like K-Y jelly instead.
  • If you or your partner has a latex allergy, you could use polyurethane condoms instead.
  • Condoms with the spermicide N9 may work less well to prevent HIV.
  • Only use one condom at a time. (Two is not better!)

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Oral contraception: combination pill

What is it?

Birth control pills.

Also called “the pill,” this is a hormonal method.

How it works:

It uses two hormones, estrogen and progestin, to keep the ovaries from releasing an egg and to cause changes in the uterus and cervix to keep sperm from joining an egg.

How you use it:

You have to take a pill around the same time every day. If you miss a pill (or start a pack of pills too late), you may need to use an additional form of birth control. You can read the manufacturer’s instructions or talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Changes in your period
  • Changes in mood
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headache
  • Slightly increased risk of breast cancer — but also reduced risk of other cancers
  • Rare risk of blood clots, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke

Pregnancy protection:

Over the course of a year, around 9 out of 100 women may get pregnant on the pill; being very overweight may increase the chances of pregnancy.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

  • There is more than one kind of pill. Your doctor or nurse will know which type is best for you.
  • There is a type of combination pill that reduces the number of periods to 1 every 3 months (instead of 1 a month like on the regular pill).
  • Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the pill work less well.
  • Smoking increases some of the risks of hormonal birth control like the pill. That’s another good reason to quit smoking!
  • The pill can have benefits other than preventing pregnancy. These include helping with cramps and acne and having shorter, lighter periods.

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Oral contraception: progestin-only pill

What is it?

Also called “the mini-pill,” this is a hormonal method.

How it works:

It uses one hormone, progestin, to cause changes in the uterus and cervix to keep sperm from joining an egg. Less often, it stops the ovaries from releasing an egg.

How you use it:

You have to take a pill around the same time every day. If you take it more than 3 hours late, you need to add another method of birth control for 2 days.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Irregular bleeding, such as spotting between periods
  • Weight gain
  • Sore breasts
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • May be increased risk of breast cancer — but this is only a slightly increased risk – and the pill can also reduce the risk of other cancers

Pregnancy protection:

Around 9 out of 100 women may get pregnant on the pill; being overweight may increase the chances of pregnancy.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the pill work less well.

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Patch

What is it?

Also called by the brand name Ortho Evra. This is a hormonal method.

How it works:

It uses the hormones in the combined birth control pill but sends them through your skin into your blood. It works to stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. It also causes changes in the uterus and cervix to keep sperm from joining an egg.

How you use it:

You put on a new patch once a week for 3 weeks. You don’t wear a patch on the fourth week. Then you start the steps over again. If you forget to put on a new patch or if a patch falls off, you may need to use another form of birth control. Read the instructions from the company or talk to your pharmacist or doctor about what to do.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks or side effects:

Similar risks as combination pill, plus possibility of increased risk of side effects from stronger dose of estrogen than with pill. One of the possible side effects is a rare risk of blood clots. Some studies have reported that women who use the patch have a higher risk of getting a blood clot.

Pregnancy protection:

Around 9 out of 100 women may get pregnant over the course of a year on the patch; it may not work as well in women weighing more than 198 pounds.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

  • Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the patch work less well.
  • If you wear a patch on a place like your upper arm, other people may be able to see that you are using birth control.

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Shot

What is it?

Also called by its brand name, Depo-Provera, this is a shot, or injection.

How it works:

It uses the hormone progestin to stop an egg from being released. It also causes changes in the cervix to stop sperm from joining with an egg.

How you use it:

You get a shot every 3 months.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you the shot.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Lighter or heavier periods and after time, possibly no periods
  • Spotting or bleeding between periods
  • Weight gain
  • Sore breasts
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes

Pregnancy protection:

Over the course of a year, fewer than 6 women in 100 may get pregnant while using the shot. That makes the shot a very good method for preventing pregnancy.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

  • The shot may cause a loss of bone density. Normal bone growth starts again when the shot is stopped, so the loss seems not to be a big problem for older women. However, it’s not clear yet what effect the shot could have on younger women whose bones are still developing.
  • Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the shot work less well.

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Vaginal ring

What is it?

It is a small plastic ring that sends hormones into the vagina. It is also called by its brand name, NuvaRing.

How it works:

It uses the same hormones as the combined birth control pill but sends them into your vagina.

How you use it:

You put in a ring. After 21 days, you take it out. You wait seven days and then put in a new one. If the ring falls out or you forget to put in a new one, you may need to use another form of birth control. Read the company’s instructions or ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do.

Where you get it:

Your doctor or other health care professional needs to give you a prescription.

Some possible risks or side effects:

  • Similar risks as combination pill, including rare risk of blood clots and stroke
  • Vaginal discharge (fluid)
  • Irritation or swelling in vagina

Pregnancy protection:

Around 9 out of 100 women may get pregnant while using the ring.

STD (STI) protection:

None

Other information:

Some medicines and some herbal products like St. John’s wort may make the ring work less well.

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Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 28, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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