Everything You Need to Know About These Birth Control Methods

October 2nd 2015

Phoebe Petersen

While choosing a birth control method is a very personal decision, there are some things everyone should know. Most notably, not all birth control is created equal. Here is a breakdown of the best (most effective and safe) birth control options on the market, as well as a few you might want to think twice about.

Everyone who passed high school health class knows that abstinence is the only way to avoid pregnancy 100 percent of the time. Sterilization (a vasectomy for men and tubal ligation for women) is a close second: it’s effective between 99.5 and 99.9 percent of the time, but its permanence is a major drawback. If you want to retain the option of pregnancy someday while still being protected, there are some very good options on the market.

1. Intrauterine Device (IUD)

The IUD is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. In fact, IUD use increased 83 percent from 2006 to 2010 and from 2011 to 2013, TIME reports. The IUD is a t-shaped device that is inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs on the market in the U.S.: the copper IUD (ParaGard) and the hormonal IUD (Mirena and Skyla).

Longevity: One reason for its popularity is that it is long-acting. Skyla lasts three years, Mirena five years, and ParaGard for 12 years.

Effectiveness: The hormonal IUD is effective 99.8 percent of the time, and the copper 99.2 percent of the time.

Cost: Depending on your insurance plan, the cost ranges between $0 and $1,000 dollars, making it the most inexpensive long-term and reversible option, according to Planned Parenthood.

2. Implant

The implant is a hormonal birth control method that Planned Parenthood describes as “a matchstick-sized rod that is inserted in the arm to prevent pregnancy.” There are two brands on the market, Implanon and Nexplanon.

Longevity: The birth control implant lasts for up to three years before it needs to be removed or replaced.

Effectiveness: It is 99.95 percent effective, according to a study using data from the FDA and Centers for Disease Control.

Cost: The implant costs $0 to $800 for insertion, and removal ranges from $0 to $300.

3. Pill

One of the more widely known types of birth control, the pill, is a combination of progestin and estrogen (or in some cases just progestin) that prevents eggs from leaving the ovaries while also making it more difficult for sperm to reach the eggs by thickening the cervical mucus.

Longevity: The pill is taken orally, and it must be taken daily, preferably at the same time each day.

Effectiveness: If taken correctly, the pill is 99.7 percent effective, however, if not taken as directed, its effectiveness drops to 91 percent.

Cost: The cost of the exam to get a prescription ranges from $0 to $250, and the pills themselves cost $0 to $50 per month. Although the pill costs less upfront, it is more expensive in the long-term than either the implant or the IUD.

4. Patch

The patch is similar to the pill, but instead of being taken orally, progestin and estrogen enter the body through a patch affixed to the skin. The patch must be changed each week for three weeks, followed by one patch-less week before the cycle begins again. Although its brand name, Ortho Evra has been discontinued, generic brands are available.

Longevity: The patch must be changed on the same day every week.

Effectiveness: Like the pill, the patch is 99.7 percent effective if used correctly, but its effectiveness drops to 91 percent if it is not always used as directed. However, research by the Guttmacher Institute found that women’s compliance with the patch is higher than with the pill (88 percent for the patch compared to 78 percent for the pill).

Cost: The patch is typically more expensive than the pill, ranging from $0 to $80 per month, plus the cost of the exam to get a prescription.

5. The NuvaRing

Similar to the patch and the pill, the vaginal ring (or NuvaRing), releases progestin and estrogen into the body to prevent pregnancy, this time through a ring inserted into the vagina. The ring remains in place for three weeks at a time, and is then removed for a week before beginning again.

Longevity: The ring must be removed every three weeks on the same day of the week. A new ring is inserted following one week without the ring.

Effectiveness: The NuvaRing has the same effectiveness rate as the patch and the pill.

Cost: The NuvaRing typically costs the same as the patch.

6. The Shot

Also known by its brand name, Depo-Provera, the contraceptive shot is an injection of progestin into the arm.

Longevity: It must be given once every three months, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Effectiveness: The shot is 99.7 percent effective if given every three months. If not used correctly, its effectiveness drops to 97 percent.

Cost: After the initial exam, Planned Parenthood estimates that each injection costs between $0 and $150.

7. The Condom

The most well-known form of birth control, the condom is cheap and can be used with any of the above methods for extra protection.

Longevity: Don’t try and use them more than once.

Effectiveness: If used correctly all the time, condoms would be 98 percent effective. With imperfect use, they are only 82 percent effective.

Cost: About $1 per condom.

Other options

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above methods, although all of them have proven to be relatively safe and effective (there are, of course, potential side effects as there are with any medications or procedures). However, there are a few birth control options whose disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. Even if women who have never given birth use the sponge perfectly, it is only 91 percent effective. For women who have given birth, that number drops to 80 percent, and with imperfect use it falls even further. Similarly, the cervical cap, at its best, works only 92 percent of the time and the diaphragm works 94 percent of the time. Although the cost or other potential benefits might be appealing, when it comes to birth control, it’s better to be on the safe side.

For more information on how to select a birth control method, visit both the Mayo Clinic and Planned Parenthood for detailed guides to help find the best fit for you.