Diaphragms, condoms, and IUDS, oh my! When it comes to birth control, the options are positively dizzying. Should you be wrapping it up? Applying a patch? Popping a pill? To know what option might be best for you, it’s good to get a pregnancy-preventing primer.
First up, the basics. Birth control refers to anything people use to avoid pregnancy, and it comes in two broad categories: hormonal and non-hormonal. Hormonal contraception uses progesterone and/or estrogen to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation. Non-hormonal contraception uses barrier methods or other technologies to prevent sperm from coming in contact with the egg. Both have their positives and negatives!
Hormonal contraception uses progesterone and/or estrogen to prevent pregnancy, while non-hormonal contraception uses barrier methods and other technologies.
Hormonal Birth Control Methods:
- The IUD
- The implant
- The shot
- The pill
- The patch
- The ring
There are a number of upsides to hormonal birth control. Not only is it generally more reliable in preventing pregnancy, it’s also easier to use and more discreet, in that it doesn’t require sex to be interrupted (as compared with someone having to dash off to put on a condom). However, hormonal contraception can cause a number of side effects, such as: a decreased sex drive, acne, or mood swings. It can also be expensive or difficult to access depending on your location, and sometimes it can take awhile for your period return after stopping it, which could interfere with trying to get pregnant down the road.
Non-hormonal Birth Control Methods:
- Copper IUD
- External condoms
- Internal condoms
- The sponge
- The cervical cap
- Fertility Awareness Methods
Non-hormonal contraception is generally easier to access and has fewer side effects. Depending on your health insurance status, it can also be cheaper than some hormonal options. And most non-hormonal methods don’t affect the menstrual cycle (the one exception being the copper IUD). However, non-hormonal contraception is less reliable in preventing pregnancy overall, and it can interrupt or limit sex to certain windows of time.
So, how do you decide which method is best for you?
Start by considering a couple of key questions. These will help you work out your priorities when deciding which birth control to try:
1. What Do You Care Most About?
- Easy to use
- Easy to access
- Low maintenance
If reliability and ease of use are most important for you, then IUDs, implants, and the shot are great options. If accessibility and low hormone levels are most important to you, condoms, the sponge, diaphragms, cervical caps, and Fertility Awareness Methods are your go-tos. If cost and ease of access are most important, generic brands of the pill are your best bets. Think about which factors are most important to you, then start eliminating birth control methods that don’t align with your priorities.
Think about which factors are most important to you, then start eliminating birth control methods that don’t match your priorities.
2. How Much Time You Want To Spend On Your Birth Control?
- A few seconds each time you have sex
- A few minutes a day
- A few seconds a day
- A few seconds a week
- A few seconds every three months
- A doctor’s appointment every few months
- A doctor’s appointment once, then no time at all for a few years afterward
If you don’t mind spending a few seconds each and every time you have sex getting supplies prepped, condoms, cervical caps, spermicide, and diaphragms are good options. If you’re open to spending a few minutes a day on your birth control strategy, FAM/FABM methods may suit you, as they require daily cycle-tracking, temperature-taking, and cervical mucus monitoring. The pill only requires a few seconds to take, but you have to be sure you have a consistent schedule, as it must be taken at the same time every day.
If you don’t want to deal with thinking about your birth control on a daily basis, there are a number of longer-lasting options. The patch only needs to be replaced once a week, and the ring every three months. The shot requires a short doctor’s appointment every three months, and an IUD only requires one doctor’s appointment for insertion, and then lasts five years. Decide how much time you want to put into your birth control and eliminate methods that require more than you want to invest.
It’s totally normal to try a few different methods in order to figure out what works well for you.
Once you’ve decided what’s most important and how much time you want to invest, you can decide which method you want to try. It’s totally normal to try a few different options in order to figure out which works well for you. Many people have to try a few different pills or brands of condoms before finding the one that feels best. And some people try the shot, an IUD, or an implant only to decide a different method would work better—and that’s totally okay!
The great thing about birth control is that it puts you in charge.