Birth Control: Types, Benefits, And How It Works

4 Minute Read

If you’re curious about birth control, you’ve come to the right place. With all the contraceptive options out there, it can be difficult to choose the type of birth control that’s right for you. But even when you do find a method you like, you might still wonder how to get birth control, how much it costs, and how effective it really is. Well, we’ve got you covered. Get your birth control questions answered right here, right now.

What is birth control?

If you’re sexually active, or are thinking about it, you might wonder “What is birth control?” Birth control is any method that prevents pregnancy. There are several contraception options, such as a condom, a birth control pill, or an intrauterine device (IUD). Talk to a healthcare provider to find a method that’s right for you.

When was birth control invented?

You might be wondering when was birth control invented? The first oral contraceptive was invented in 1960 by activist Margaret Sanger. It was called Enovid and it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

How does birth control work?

If you’re wondering how birth control works, it’s pretty simple. The hormones in the pill — estrogen and progestin — thicken the mucus in the cervix and stops ovulation. If the woman is not ovulating, the sperm can’t join or fertilize an egg and a pregnancy cannot result from intercourse.

Is birth control safe?

Yes, birth control is safe. As with any medication, however, there are some slight risks when taking the birth control pill. Some potential side effects include blood clots, liver tumors, stroke, and heart attack. Death can result in very extreme cases. Experiencing these things is very rare, but if you notice irregularities in your health after starting the pill, see your doctor.

How effective is birth control?

How effective birth control is can depend on the contraception. Popular methods, such as the birth control pill, a birth control implant, an IUD, or the birth control patch range from 99% to 91% effectiveness. Condoms are 85% effective. Note that hormonal birth control is only effective for preventing pregnancy, not STIs.

How effective is the birth control pill?

The birth control pill is 99% effective when taken correctly every day. Because most people aren’t perfect, however, the pill is more accurately 91% effective. Note that the pill only protects you from pregnancy, not STIs.

Most effective birth control

The most effective birth control methods include progestin-releasing implants and IUDS because they don’t require action from you once in your body. While the birth control pill is 99% effective, people forget to take the pill sometimes. That’s why 9 in 100 women on the pill get pregnant every year. While these pregnancy prevention methods are normally very effective, using a condom as backup doesn’t hurt.

Where can I get birth control?

To get birth control, you’ll need a prescription from a healthcare provider, a clinic, or your local Planned Parenthood. Depending on where you live, you can also get a prescription for birth control pills directly from a pharmacist or online from organizations such as Nurx, who will mail you a three-month supply of pills or other contraceptive options.

What happens if a guy takes birth control?

There are some birth control methods for men, such as condoms. But if a guy takes the birth control pill, which contains estrogen and progestin, they may experience some physiological changes. Taking just a few pills likely won’t do much, but if taken consistently, the pill can make a man’s breasts bigger, shrink the testicles, decrease sex drive and facial hair. 

Higher levels of estrogen can also increase the risk for prostate cancer. This is not recommended as a feminization method. If you are transitioning, or want to become more feminine, talk to your doctor about feminizing hormone therapy.

What are the different types of birth control?

There are many different types of birth control. Here are just a few:

  • Barrier methods, such as the external and internal condom, diaphragms, contraceptive sponge and cervical cap
  • Hormones, such as the birth control pill, contraceptive patch, and vaginal ring
  • Sterilization, such as a vasectomy or tubal ligation or the Essure system 
  • Intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Natural Family Planning (NFP)

Learn more about the various birth control methods.

Which birth control pill is best for me?

There are many birth control options and different types of pills have different hormone levels and hormone combinations. Finding the right birth control pill for you can take some trial and error as every body is different. Talk to your healthcare provider to find a pill that’s right for you.

Best non-hormonal birth control options

If you’re worried about the side effects of hormones, you may want to explore non-hormonal birth control options. The best non-hormonal birth control options include condoms, a cervical cap, a sponge, and other barrier methods. You can also try the copper IUD or natural family planning. Talk to a healthcare provider to find the best option for you.

How much does birth control cost without insurance?

A typical birth control pill pack lasts one month and can cost between $0 and $50. A visit to the doctor to get a prescription can be between $35 and $250. With health insurance and some government programs, however, this could all be free. Talk to your local Planned Parenthood to find out how to get affordable birth control.

How to take birth control?

Read the directions on your contraceptive of choice if you’re wondering how to take birth control. Generally, you’ll take one birth control pill orally every day at the same time. You can skip the last week of placebo pills while you’re on your period. Or you can start a new pack immediately to skip your period. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about how to take birth control.

When to start birth control?

You can start birth control at any time during your period cycle. The time it takes for birth control to effectively prevent pregnancy, however, depends on the type of contraception you choose. After starting birth control, ask your healthcare provider when it’s safe to be sexually active without backup protection.

How long does it take for birth control to work?

The pill typically takes a week to be effective. There are a few factors that affect how long it takes a birth control pill to work, such as the type of pill you’re on and when you start it. Consider using a condom, or another birth control method as backup, for up to seven days after starting the pill.

How long does birth control stay in your system?

Every body is different, but typically it takes a few days for hormones from the birth control pill to leave your system. Your period should return to its natural cycle within 4 to 12 weeks. You can get pregnant within the first month of going off the pill, though different contraceptive methods have different time frames.

How do antibiotics affect birth control?

Not all antibiotics affect hormonal birth control, but certain antibiotics, such as rifampin and griseofulvin, can decrease effectiveness. For that reason, some doctors may recommend using backup contraceptives while you’re on antibiotics and for one week after. Talk to your healthcare provider to see what’s best for you.

How likely is it to get pregnant on the pill?

It is very unlikely to get pregnant on the pill. In fact, the pill is 99% effective with perfect use. But because most people are not perfect — they forget to take the pill some days, or don’t refill their birth control pill prescription on time — the pill is 91% effective. That means, because of human fallibility, 9 out of 100 people on the pill get pregnant every year.

Reasons birth control fails

While the pill is 99% effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy, there are reasons birth control fails. Human fallibility — forgetting to take the pill every day or not refilling the monthly prescription on time — is the main reason. Consider setting up a daily phone alarm to remind you to take the pill consistently.

There’s no one right birth control method. Every body is different, so different options work better or worse for different people. That’s why the best thing you can do is get all the information you need and talk to a healthcare provider to find the birth control that works for you. Doing research and getting educated on birth control is half the battle to staying safe and protected.

Louise Bourchier, MPH

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Louise Bourchier is a sex educator and sex researcher with 8 years experience in the field. She teaches about sexual health, sexual pleasure, and communication in relationships through workshops, live-streams, and with written content. Using a sex-positive approach, a dash of humour, and bag full of fun props, Louise’s style of sex education for adults is not what you got in high school! Since 2011 she has taught over a hundred workshops to a wide range of audiences, from university students, to refugees, to medical professionals, to adult store clientele. She has a Masters of Public Health, and is currently a PhD candidate.

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