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Pills, Patches and Implants: Our Complete Guide to Birth Control

Everything you always wanted to know about preventing pregnancy

BHM Edit Staff | 8/13/2013, 10 a.m.
IUDs have made a comeback. Thinkstock

The array of contraception options can be dizzying. When you’re deciding on a birth control method, Planned Parenthood suggests you keep these seven considerations in mind: lifestyle fit, convenience, effectiveness, safety, affordability, reversibility and protection against sexually transmitted infections. We’ll add an eighth: You may need to make this decision a few times throughout your childbearing years; no one method will suit you for your entire life.

So sit back and let us guide you through the choices.

Abstinence

The only form of birth control that is 100 percent effective: Abstinence (also known as not having sex). Pregnancies (per 100 women): 0.

Cervical Cap

Similar to a diaphragm, but smaller, a cervical cap slips into place over the cervix, blocking sperm’s entry into the uterus. It is used in conjunction with spermicide. Cervical caps can stay in place for 48 hours, giving them a thumb’s up on the spontaneity front. Cervical caps must be fitted by a physician, and they provide no STI protection. They also can’t be used during your period. Pregnancies (per 100 women): 11 to 16 (women who have never had children); 22 to 32 (women who have had children).

Condom (female)

A thin rubber sheath with one closed end, the female condom was first introduced in 1994. Version two (quieter than the first version, which users complained squeaked) was released in 2009. In addition to being a contraceptive, the female condom also provides protection from sexually transmitted infections (STI). Like the male condom, the female condom is designed for one-time use. Unlike the male condom, an erect penis is required to use the female condom. Pregnancies (per 100 women): 20.

Condom (male)

Condoms, latex, lambskin or polyurethane shields, have been around for a least 400 years. To use it, roll it over an erect penis. Sounds simple, but a 2012 report from the Kinsey Institute found an unexpected number of adults use condoms incorrectly. Designed for one-time use, latex and polyurethane condoms also protect against STIs. Latex condoms are weakened by oil-based lubricants. Pregnancies (per 100 women): 11 to 16.

Diaphragm

A rubber dome that is placed over the cervix before sex, a diaphragm is used with a spermicide. A diaphragm is relatively inexpensive and lasts about two years. But it must be fitted by a doctor, doesn’t provide STI protection and can’t be used during your period due to a risk of toxic shock syndrome. If you gain significant weight, you may need to be refitted. Pregnancies (per 100 women): 11 to 17.

Emergency Contraception

Plan B, Plan B One-Step and Next Choice (a generic form of Plan B) is an option if you didn’t use birth control or your usual method failed. Also called the morning-after pill, all three options contain a high dose of a hormone found in many birth control pills and must be used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. Ella, a non-hormonal emergency contraception drug, requires a doctor’s prescription regardless of a woman’s age and can be taken up to five days after sex. Emergency contraception doesn’t work if you are already pregnant Pregnancies (per 100 women): 1.