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Choose the Right Birth Control

Content last updated on:
November 25, 2014

The Basics

Birth control (also called contraception) can help you prevent pregnancy until you are ready for a baby. Some types of birth control can also help protect you and your sex partner from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

How do I choose the right birth control?
There isn’t one method of birth control that’s right for everyone. Each type of birth control has pros and cons. Here are some things to think about when choosing a birth control method:

  • Do you want to have children some day? How soon?
  • Are you in good health?
  • How often do you have sex?
  • How many sex partners do you have?
  • Does the method protect against HIV and other STDs?
  • How well does the method work?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Will you be able to use it correctly every time?

How does birth control work?
It depends on the type of birth control you use. Here are some of the most common methods of birth control.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
An IUD is a small, T-shaped piece of plastic with copper or hormones. It’s put inside a woman’s uterus by a doctor or nurse. There are 2 kinds:

  • Copper IUD – This releases a small amount of copper to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. It can last for 5 to 10 years.
  • Hormonal IUD – This releases a small amount of hormone to prevent pregnancy. It’s sometimes called an intrauterine system (IUS). Hormonal IUDs can last for up to 5 years.

An IUD is very effective at preventing pregnancy. A woman and her partner shouldn’t be able to feel the IUD when it’s in place.

If a woman decides she wants to get pregnant, the IUD can be removed easily by a doctor or nurse.

Hormonal methods
These methods work by preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg each month. They also cause other changes that make it more difficult to get pregnant.

Hormonal methods include:

  • Hormonal IUD (intrauterine device)
  • Implant (tiny tube put under the skin)
  • 3-month shot
  • Birth control pills
  • Patch (put on the skin)
  • Ring (put in the vagina)

Some hormonal methods work better than others, and some require more effort to use. For example, birth control pills have to be taken every day, but hormonal IUDs last for 3 to 5 years. Talk to your doctor about what makes sense for you.

Barrier methods
Barrier methods work by preventing the sperm and egg from touching each other. Common barrier methods include:

  • Male condoms (worn on the penis)
  • Female condoms (placed on the outside and inside of the vagina)
  • Birth control diaphragm or cervical cap (placed inside the vagina)

Male latex (rubber) condoms are also very effective in preventing HIV and reducing the risk of other STDs.

Natural family planning (NFP)
NFP works by learning when the woman is more likely to get pregnant. People who want to prevent pregnancy don’t have sex on these days or they use another method of birth control.

NFP is only an option for women who have regular periods. It may not be as effective at preventing pregnancies as some other forms of birth control, like IUDs or hormonal methods.

Couples can also use NFP when they want to get pregnant. Find out more about natural family planning.

Emergency contraception
Sometimes people forget to use birth control (for example, they miss a pill or shot) or their birth control fails (like if the condom breaks). There are 2 options for emergency contraception:

  • Copper IUD: A doctor or nurse will need to place this inside the woman’s uterus within 5 days of unprotected sex.
  • Emergency contraception pills (ECP or “the morning after pill”): The woman will need to take ECP as soon as possible within 5 days of unprotected sex. ECP won’t stop or harm a pregnancy that has already happened.

Sterilization
Sterilization is a permanent method of birth control. This is an option for people who are 100% sure they don’t want any more children.

  • In men, this means cutting or blocking the tubes that carry sperm to the outside of the penis. This is called a vasectomy (“vah-SEK-tah-mee”).
  • In women, this means cutting or blocking the tubes that carry eggs into the uterus. This is called tubal (“TOO-buhl”) sterilization.

What types of birth control help prevent STDs?
Next to abstinence (not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex), using a male condom made of latex is the best way to prevent some STDs, including HIV.

Barrier methods used inside the vagina, like the female condom and diaphragm, can also lower the risk of some STDs.

Non-barrier methods, like birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs), don’t prevent STDs. If you choose one of these methods, you will still need to use male latex condoms to help prevent HIV and other STDs.

Do I need to see a doctor to get birth control?
It depends on which birth control method you choose. You can buy some birth control over the counter. Over the counter means you can buy it at a store without a prescription. For other methods, you will need to see a doctor or nurse.

Birth control methods you can get without a prescription include:

  • Male condoms
  • Female condoms
  • Emergency contraception pills
  • Birth control sponge

Birth control methods you can get only from a doctor or nurse include:

  • Birth control pills
  • Patch
  • Diaphragm and cervical cap
  • 3-month shot
  • Ring 

You need surgery or a medical procedure for:

  • Sterilization (for both women and men)
  • IUD (intrauterine device)
  • Implant 

Check out these resources to learn more about the different types of birth control:

Take Action!

Take Action!

Follow these steps to choose the right birth control for you.

Talk to a nurse, doctor, or family planning educator.
Ask about the types of birth control that are available to you. Your age, number of sexual partners, and overall health can affect your choice.

Answer these questions to get birth control recommendations.

What about cost?
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, most insurance plans must cover birth control that's prescribed by a woman's doctor. They also must cover patient education and counseling about birth control for women.

Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out what this means for you.

For information about other services for women covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Find free or low-cost services near you.
If you don’t have insurance, or if your insurance doesn’t cover birth control, you may still be able to get free or low-cost birth control through a family planning clinic or community health center.

Family planning clinics provide education, counseling, and medical services (including birth control). No one is turned away for not being able to pay. To find services near you:

Talk to your sex partner.
Some types of birth control are used by men, and some types are used by women. You and your partner will both need to be comfortable with the method you choose.

When you both understand how a method works, it will be easier to use the method correctly.

Understand the instructions.
Birth control only works if you use it correctly every time. Be sure you understand what you’ll need to do to protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy or an STD. If you have questions, talk to a doctor or pharmacist.

Get tips on how to use a condom correctly to help prevent HIV and other STDs.

Get tested for STDs.
Most people who have an STD don’t have any symptoms. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure you have one. If you think you may be at risk, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

To find a place to get tested:

Use these conversation starters to talk with your partner about getting tested, too.

Get tested for HIV.
As with other STDs, getting tested for HIV is the only way you know if you have the disease. Take this list of questions about HIV testing to your next checkup.

You can get tested at a doctor’s office or health center. To find an HIV testing center:

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