The Different Types Of Birth Control Explained

If you’re sexually active but know that you don’t want to become pregnant, then choosing a birth control that works for you is an important decision. There are plenty of types available, each with different disadvantages and side effects.

Below, we take an in-depth look at the types of birth control out there and how they differ so you can decide what’s right for you.

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Birth Control Implant

When using a contraceptive implant, a flexible plastic rod (usually no bigger than a matchstick) is inserted under the skin of the upper arm. It works by releasing a steady supply of pregestational hormone, which thickens the cervical mucus and uterus lining to prevent ovulation and pregnancy.

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This is one of the most effective forms of birth control with a 99% success rate. Once implanted, it can last up to 5 years, making it low maintenance.

Mayo Clinic explains that its benefits include that it can be removed at any time (and pregnancy is possible quickly after its removal). It also contains no estrogen, which can lead to uncomfortable side effects.

However, birth control implants are still associated with a variety of side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Upset stomach
  • Decreased libido
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Changes in instruction
  • Vaginal inflammation or dryness

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

An IUD is a t-shaped device that’s implanted into the uterus to interfere with the movement of sperm to prevent it from reaching and fertilizing an egg. IUDs are considered one of the most efficient forms of birth control. It has a 99% efficacy rate, and once implanted, can last between 3 and 12 years depending on the brand.

Some benefits of IUDs include that they’re a long-term solution, require little maintenance, and can be used when breastfeeding.

There are different types of IUDs, often divided into two categories – copper and hormonal. They’re both equally effective but come with different side effects. Hormonal IUDs are more likely to result in symptoms, which can include:


  • Spotting
  • Cramping
  • Irregular period
  • Lower back pain

In general, these symptoms tend to improve within a few months as the body gets used to the IUD. Additionally, not everyone experiences these side effects.

Birth Control Shot

The birth control shot – formerly known as Depo-Provera shot – is 94% effective. The medication is injected into your arm or buttons. It contains a strong dose of the progesterone hormone Depo-Provera, which interferes with ovulation and thickens the cervical mucus, thereby preventing sperm from reaching an egg to fertilize it.

One of the downsides of this form of birth control is it requires you to stick to a schedule. You’ll typically need to get the shot every 3 months. After stopping the shot, it can take up to 2 years to get pregnant. It’s not a good option for people who want to conceive in the near future.


The birth control shot has been linked to a number of side effects, including:

  • Acne
  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Irregular periods
  • Growth of facial and body hair
  • Mood changes (depression)

Cleveland Clinic notes that up to 50% of women who use the birth control shot stop getting their periods after a year of continual use.

Birth Control Pill

Birth control pills are a form of hormonal contraceptive. They work by releasing a cocktail of hormones (usually progestin and estrogen), which interferes with the body’s ability to get pregnant in several ways.

It can prevent ovulation, so no egg is released to fertilize, but it can also thicken the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Additionally, the pill can alter the lining of the womb to reduce the likelihood of a fertilized egg will implant.


When taken correctly, the pill can have up to a 91% success rate. However, one of the big drawbacks is that the pill needs to be taken on a schedule. This will vary depending on the brand, but most pills need to be taken on a daily basis. It’s easy to forget or lose track, which increases the risk of accidental pregnancy.

The side effects will vary depending on the type of birth control pill you use. In general, WebMD explains the symptoms can include:

  • Spotting
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Tender breasts
  • Abdominal pain
  • Irregular periods
  • Risk of blood clots, high blood pressure

Birth Control Patch

The patch is a hormonal form of birth control that releases a mixture of estrogen and progestin. It works similar to the pill in that the hormones prevent ovulation from occurring and can thicken the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.

Planned Parenthood explains the patch is 91% effective. But you need to follow a schedule, which is one of the downsides. There are different types of patches. But in general, you need to apply a new patch once a week. You’ll wear it for 3 weeks, and then take a break on the 4th week when menstruation will occur.

Like other forms, there are side effects linked to the birth control patch, including:

  • Acne
  • Fatigue
  • Spotting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Irregular periods

One-Time Options

The aforementioned forms of birth control are things a woman can do outside the bedroom to keep from getting pregnant. But of course, there are plenty of contraceptives that can be used during sex to prevent pregnancy. The biggest downside of these is that you have to stop sex to use the contraceptive. Some people also find it disrupts how sex feels.

Some of these options include condoms, internal condoms, diaphragms, a birth control sponge, spermicide, and a cervical cap. These methods often require the cooperation of your partner, so have a conversation beforehand to see what they prefer.

Because these contraceptives are designed for one-time use, and they don’t impact the female body’s ability to get pregnant, they often come with little to no side effects, which is a plus. They also don’t require you to stick to a daily or monthly schedule.

Sterilization

Finally, sterilization is a permanent form of birth control that can prevent you from getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant.

For women, sterilization is known as tubal litigation. This is a procedure in which the fallopian tubes are permanently blocked, clopped, or removed, thereby preventing eggs from being fertilized and implanted.

Some forms of tubal litigation are reservable (like if the fallopian tubes have only been tied), but it’s an invasive procedure with risks and a recovery time. Tubal litigation should not be considered if you plan to become pregnant in the future. It’s a good option for people who are confident they don’t want to be pregnant now or ever.

For men, sterilization is known as a vasectomy. While this is also considered a permanent, invasive procedure, it’s easier to reverse a vasectomy than it is tubal litigation.

We encourage you to speak to your doctor about birth control options and what’s the best choice for you.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD,


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