What is the best kind of birth control?

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Photo Credit: Peshkova/iStock Photo

Unless you’re intentionally trying to have a child, if you’re having sex, you need to be using some kind of birth control. Birth control reduces the chance of pregnancy considerably, and depending on which method of birth control you use, you may experience other benefits, like reducing your chance of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The trouble is, there are many types of birth control available. Acquiring birth control is easier than ever, with options for online ordering and home delivery, but with so many possibilities, it can be difficult to know what’s best.

Abstinence

First, we have to mention abstinence as a method of birth control. The only surefire way to avoid pregnancy is to have zero sexual contact. As long as you practice abstinence, pregnancy will be impossible. However, most other forms of birth control have high rates of effectiveness, and still allow you to have sexual contact.

Surgery

There are several different types of sterilization surgery available, for both men and women. In women, a pair of fallopian tubes connect the ovaries and the uterus. During sterilization surgery, these tubs may be blocked, tied, clamped, sealed, or cut. Technically, the procedure is known as “tubal ligation,” but informally it’s known as “getting one’s tubes tied.” This is a permanent procedure with an extremely high effectiveness rate.

Sterilization surgery for men exists to block the tubes that lead from the testes to other glands, preventing sperm from entering the equation. Known as a vasectomy, this procedure can be reversed and only requires local anesthesia, making it a safer procedure than a female sterilization procedure. It is ideal as a permanent birth control solution, and is extremely effective.

IUDs and Shots

For women, there are several hormonal options that are designed to introduce progestin, a specific hormone, sometimes along with other hormones, into the female body. Progestin plays a role in both the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, and if properly controlled, can prevent pregnancy from occurring.

IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are inserted into a woman’s uterus by a clinician; once there, they release progestin for an extended period of time, often 3 to 5 years (depending on the type of IUD). If fully implanted successfully, it is highly effective. However, it may also be associated with side effects, such as irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and pelvic infections.

Birth control shots work similarly. Rather than implanting a device in the uterus, these shots are injected directly into the bloodstream. Shots are shorter-term, lasting three months, but are equally effective.

Vaginal rings and birth control patches work through similar mechanisms, but are typically used individually, rather than needing the intervention of a clinician.

Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills are by far the most popular method of hormonal birth control, in part because they’re cheap, they’re convenient, and they’re highly effective—all with minimal side effects.

Traditional birth control pills are “combination” pills that utilize a combination of estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy. They also have the useful side effect of reducing the severity of menstrual bleeding and pain. These pills are small, and must be taken every day to be completely effective, preferably in the same time window. For women sensitive to estrogen, there are also types of pills that contain progestin alone.

Birth control pills are highly effective, but only if they’re taken as directed. If you don’t take these pills every day, or if you time your ingestion inconsistently, it could interfere with their effectiveness.

Condoms

Male condoms are also a common form of birth control, again due to their inexpensiveness and convenience. Condoms introduce a physical barrier between the penis and vagina, preventing sperm from ever reaching the uterus and reducing the possibility of STD infection simultaneously. If used correctly, they’re an effective form of birth control; however, many people use condoms incorrectly, reducing their effectiveness. If improperly worn or used, the effectiveness can drop to zero.

There are also female condoms, which similarly introduce a physical barrier, but they aren’t as common or as easy to use as male condoms.

Behavioral Changes

Some people also make behavioral changes to reduce the chances of pregnancy. For example, they may abstain from sex only during peak fertility periods, or may withdraw before ejaculation. These methods are not reliable, and shouldn’t be your only form of birth control.

While most methods of birth control are effective when used properly, no method of birth control (aside from abstinence) is perfectly reliable. If you want the best possible results, use multiple forms of complementary birth control; for example, many people choose to take a birth control pill regularly, while also using a male condom during sex. If you have questions about any of these methods or personal concerns, be sure to talk to your doctor about your options.


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