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Birth Control

A guide to your contraception options

While the decision to start birth control is pretty straightforward for most people, deciding which type to use can be a bit overwhelming, since there are so many different types. Not to fret, we have broken them down for you so you can make the best decision for your needs!

Some of the most common types of birth control available:

  • Birth control pills. Also known as "the pill," birth control pills regulate a woman's hormones and prevent ovulation each month. If a woman takes her pill at the same time every day, the pill is 99 percent effective. When pills are taken late or skipped, the effectiveness is greatly reduced. Because of this, on average, the birth control pill is about 93 to 97 percent effective.
  • Condom. This is one of the most common types of birth control. It is a thin piece of latex which is rolled over the erect penis and which prevents sperm from entering the vagina. Non-latex condoms are available as well, but are more expensive and less common.
  • Female condom. Similar to a male condom, the female version is a latex pouch inserted into the vagina that prevents the penis from coming into contact with the vagina and cervix. However, it has a much higher failure rate than the male condom – 21 percent as opposed to anywhere from 5 to 15 percent.
  • Spermicides. These chemicals are designed to kill sperm before they reach a woman's egg. They come in jelly, foam, foaming tablets and vaginal suppository form.
  • Diaphragm. This soft rubber dome is inserted into the vagina and placed over the cervix after being filled with a spermicide. It must be inserted no more than 3 hours prior to intercourse and is therefore not recommended for everyone.
  • Cervical cap. Much like a diaphragm, this is a small rubber or latex cup that is filled with a spermicide and inserted into the vagina prior to having sex.
  • Contraceptive sponge. This soft foam disc is inserted into the cervix and prevents sperm from reaching the egg. It has about a 1 in 10 failure rate, so using another method of contraception in addition to the sponge is recommended.
  • Injection. The two most common types of birth control shots are Depo-Provera and Lunelle. A shot every three months from a woman's doctor will prevent pregnancy by preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg every month.
  • Vaginal Ring. This flexible ring is inserted into the vagina, where it releases estrogen and progesterone into a woman's body. Much like the pill and injections, this is a hormonal control method of birth control.
  • Birth control patch. With a cycle much the same as birth control pills (three weeks on, one week off), this patch releases hormones through a sticky square attached directly to the skin.
  • Intrauterine Device (IUD). A medical professional must insert the IUD into a woman's vagina, but after that it is one of the least demanding types of birth control. An IUD may remain in place for 5 to 10 years, but can be removed at any time. The IUD is a small, T-shaped piece of plastic that releases copper, making a woman's vaginal mucus unwelcoming to sperm.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Many people start using birth control for reasons other than sexual health. Hormonal birth control, like the birth control pill, patch, shot or vaginal ring, can be used for acne treatment and coping with heavy menstrual periods and cramps.
  • Birth control pills can cause high cholesterol as well. The ingredients in the pills can change the levels of cholesterol in a woman's body, but are not significant in general, so cannot be used to control cholesterol levels. Consult your doctor if you think this may be a problem.
  • A generic birth control prescription is available from your doctor or a local health clinic. The FDA requires that generic pills be the same as their brand-name counterparts, but they are often cheaper in price.
  • Sometimes, a particular type of birth control may not agree with a woman's body. This is most commonly experienced with hormonal controls. Women who experience birth control spotting should consult their doctor to determine if there is something better out there for them.
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