Health and Medical

Confused About Which Type of Birth Control Is Best for You? 7 Things You Need to Know

Sex is a perennially fascinating topic, but it’s also pretty complicated. You wouldn’t want a moment of passion to leave you with an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection. Fortunately, using birth control and practicing safe sex can ease your mind about pregnancy or an STI. Still, finding the right birth control method can be complex.

You have lots of options, so how do you choose? Some methods, including pills, patches, shots, IUDs, and rings, affect your hormones. Condoms, diaphragms, and sponges don’t. How the method works is important, but there’s more to consider when deciding which one is best for you.

Do you want a “set it and forget it” solution? Are you worried about potential side effects? Is there anything in your medical history you need to work around? These are all good questions you should think about. The subjects below should also be part of your decision-making process.

1. Accessibility

What good is birth control if you can’t actually get it? Fortunately, it doesn’t always require a visit to the doctor. Some methods, like condoms, are sold over the counter. You can also get birth control via the internet thanks to prescriptions from licensed online medical professionals. This way, birth control pills, shots, rings, and patches are conveniently shipped to your door.

Cost can also be a factor — so think about the price tag. Picking up a 12-pack of condoms for less than $10 won’t break the bank. Other birth control options will require more budgeting. Your out-of-pocket cost for an IUD could be $1,000 or more. Getting your “tubes tied” (tubal ligation) is permanent and pricier still — around $6,000.

2. Kids

Sure, babies are cute. Just look at those chubby cheeks and tiny fingers! But do you want one of your own right now — or ever? That’s something to consider when choosing which birth control method you’ll use. If you’re in a committed relationship, you should discuss short-term versus permanent options with your partner.

If you’re thinking about trying for a baby in the next few years, birth control pills are an easy choice. Once you stop taking them, your ability to get pregnant can return within weeks. Consider an IUD (copper or hormonal) if starting a family is roughly five to 10 years in your future. But if diaper bags and Cheerio-crusted car seats aren’t your dream, getting your tubes tied could be best.

3. Effectiveness

Abstinence is the only birth control method that’s 100% effective. Most other forms can get pretty close, though. The catch is that you have to use them the right way every single time. So when you’re choosing, think about a method’s success rate and what it takes to get it to work well.

Overall, the forms that require a consistent schedule — pills, shots, rings, and patches — can be at least 95% effective. Barrier methods, including condoms, diaphragms, or sponges, can have a higher failure rate — up to 20%. Condoms can break, and sponges can move. Human error causes most mishaps, though, because it takes more attention in the moment to use them correctly.

4. Side Effects

Knowing what could happen when you use any form of birth control is a big deal. It doesn’t matter how effective it is. If it makes you feel bad or causes any dangerous health problems, it’s not going to work for you.

Weight gain, headaches, tender breasts (ouch!), irregular periods, and moodiness are common with some forms. Other options can put you at risk for bigger health problems, such as blood clots, heart attack, or stroke. It’s important to know whether any of these side effects will impact you. Talking with your doctor can help you make an informed decision.

5. Medical History

During that conversation with your doctor about side effects, be sure to go over your medical history. Any existing health problems or medications you’re taking could make some birth control methods dangerous.

If you have a history of blood clots, estrogen- and progesterone-containing birth control pills are a no-go. They can also be problematic if you’re over 35, smoke, or have a history of breast or cervical cancer. Other medications, including antibiotics and antifungals, and the supplement St. John’s wort can also make some pills less effective.

6. STI Prevention

If you’re sexually active, pregnancy likely isn’t your only concern. Preventing an STI is probably high on your list as well. That means just taking your pill every day, going in for your shot, or relying on your IUD isn’t enough. You’ll need to pair it with a barrier method of birth control you use every time you have sex.

Currently, the most effective barrier method for STI prevention is the male condom. When used correctly, they have a 98% success rate. Female condoms — which are worn inside the woman’s body — also work well, but they are slightly less effective (around 95%). Never use them both together because they could break, slip out of place, or stick together. Also, remember that diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps are barrier methods that don’t prevent STIs.

7. Religious Scruples

If you have spiritual, moral, or religious beliefs that are at odds with pills, IUDs, or condoms, don’t worry. You still have an option. It’s critical to remember, though, that it won’t protect you from STIs.

Natural family planning — charting your cycle so you know which days you’re most likely to get pregnant — can be effective. It does require self-control, however. For NFP to really work, you can’t have sex on your most fertile days. Since this method doesn’t offer STI protection, it’s best used in a committed relationship with a partner you trust.

Choosing the right birth control method boils down to figuring out what works best for your life. Consider your future career goals and family plans, and weigh the financial cost of all the options. Most importantly, be honest with yourself about how good you are at sticking to a schedule. Then talk to your doctor about your health and how these options are likely to affect you. Ultimately, selecting the right birth control method can give you peace of mind and a happier, healthier sex life.

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