Published Aug 31, 2023

What types of birth control can help me prevent pregnancy?

Dr. Sudip Bose
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sudip Bose
Young woman in a work apron on a sunlit balcony
Published Aug 31, 2023

Key Points:

  1. There are two main types of birth control: hormonal and non-hormonal.
  2. Non-hormonal birth control includes condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges, vaginal gels and spermicides, the copper IUD and sterilization. Only condoms protect against sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs).
  3. Hormonal birth control contains hormones that make pregnancy less likely. It includes the pill, patch, ring, some types of IUDs, implants and the shot.

Modern condoms didn’t arrive on the market until the 1930s and the birth control pill wasn’t available to everyone until 1972. Lucky for us, dozens of birth control treatment options are available today. So there’s a safe and effective option for practically everyone.

Dr. B makes getting a birth control prescription online more accessible than ever. If you’re ready for a convenient + discreet online consultation, get started today. Otherwise, read on for a breakdown of what many types of birth control have to offer.

Two birth control types

There are two types of birth control: those with and those without hormones.

Birth control without hormones physically blocks sperm from reaching the egg. Hormonal birth control works by changing the body to make pregnancy less likely. For top protection, combine two kinds of birth control—like condoms and the pill or using spermicide with a diaphragm.

It’s important to note that only condoms protect against sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs). So they should be used by anyone with multiple partners and those at high risk for STIs.

Non-hormonal birth control

Non-hormonal birth control physically prevents the egg from meeting sperm. Many forms are available in drugstores without a prescription.

There are many reasons to choose non-hormonal birth control.

  • Non-hormonal birth control can be easy to find and free in some places
  • Condoms also protect against STIs
  • It can be hard to remember to take the pill at the same time every day
  • Some hormonal birth control methods can cause side effects
  • Some people don’t have sex often enough to require ongoing birth control
  • Hormonal birth control requires a prescription
  • Some hormonal birth control can pass hormones via breast milk to a baby
  • Some people just prefer birth control without hormones

If you’re considering a non-hormonal form of birth control, here’s a quick overview of your options.

Male condoms

Worn over the penis during sex, condoms collect semen and keep it from entering the uterus. The thin sheaths are made from latex, plastic, or natural materials (like lambskin). When used perfectly, they’re 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. But 18 out of 100 people become pregnant if they only use condoms during sex.

Condoms are easy to find in stores and don’t require a prescription. They are also sometimes free at clinics and pharmacies. And they protect against STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.

Female condoms

These long, latex tubes are placed in the vagina before sex, where one closed end keeps sperm out of the uterus. When used perfectly, they’re 95% effective. But they can be tricky to use, so 21 out of 100 people become pregnant using this method every year. They’re easy to find over the counter and protect against STIs.

Spermicides

Spermicide gels, foams and suppositories are put into the vagina before sex. Available over the counter without a prescription, they work by using a chemical called nonoxynol-9 to kill or paralyze sperm.

Some people find this chemical irritating or have an allergy to it. And because they irritate the vagina, they may increase STI risk. They also fail 21% of the time—so many providers recommend using them with methods like condoms or a diaphragm.

Vaginal gel

Vaginal gels are placed into the vagina within an hour before having sex and reapplied before each sexual encounter. The gel affects the pH level of the vagina, making it harder for sperm to move into the uterus. Gels are 86% effective on their own.

Diaphragm

This reusable silicone cup is placed into the vagina, where it blocks sperm from entering the uterus. Because they come in different sizes, a health provider must fit you for one. You also may need to be measured for a new size if you give birth or your weight changes significantly.

When used with a spermicide, diaphragms are 94% effective—but 12% of people become pregnant yearly using this method. And they must be left in place for eight hours after sex, which increases risk of vaginal and urinary tract infections.

Cervical cap

Cervical caps are similar to the diaphragm in that they’re fitted by a health provider and must be refitted after giving birth or significant weight change. They’re placed over the cervix before sex and must remain for 48 hours. Because they’re tricky to use, they’re only 80% effective at preventing pregnancy—even when used with a spermicide.

Sponge

Available over the counter, foam sponges contain spermicide. They’re placed in the vagina before sex, where they can remain for up to 24 hours and throughout multiple sexual encounters. When used perfectly in people who have never given birth, they can be 91% effective. For people who have given birth or who use them incorrectly, they are only 76% effective.

Copper intrauterine device (IUD)

The copper intrauterine device (IUD) is a T-shaped plastic device placed inside the uterus by a healthcare provider. It contains a copper wire wrapped around the base that kills sperm, keeps sperm from swimming to the uterus and prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It can be used as emergency contraception if put in the uterus up to five days after unprotected sex.

This IUD is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It can be left in the uterus for up to 10 years and removed if you desire to get pregnant. But it can also cause cramping and bleeding between periods.

Sterilization (vasectomy and tubal ligation, aka “tying your tubes”)

Vasectomy is a surgical procedure that blocks the tubes that carry sperm out of the penis. Tubal ligation blocks the tubes that connect ovaries to the uterus so eggs cannot reach sperm. Both are nearly 100% effective and permanent birth control. (Only vasectomies can be reversed; successful reversal depends on how long it’s been since the vasectomy.)

Withdrawal method

Withdrawal happens when the penis is removed from the vagina before ejaculation. 22 out of 100 people who practice this method become pregnant every year.

Natural family planning

Natural family planning (NFP) involves tracking the menstrual cycle and other fertility signs. (So it's best for those with regular cycles.) It may involve counting days since menstruation, examining vaginal discharge or cervical mucus or taking your temperature daily. Some people also use tools like ovulation predictor kits. When fertility is high, sex is avoided, or a barrier method is used.

About 23% of people get pregnant using natural family planning every year.

Hormonal birth control:

Many different kinds of birth control contain forms of two different hormones—progesterone and estrogen. These impact the release of an egg from the ovaries and how the uterus prepares for pregnancy, making it harder for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus.

Hormonal birth control is only for people who have started their periods (menstruation). People who are breastfeeding and those with a history or increased risk of blood clots or stroke should not take birth control with estrogen. (Several birth control pills contain low-dose or progestin-only contraception.

Hormonal birth control methods don’t protect against STIs. And those like the pill, patch or ring must be used correctly every time to work. But in addition to preventing pregnancy, hormonal birth control can:

  • Help with other issues like painful periods or irregular menstrual cycles
  • Help reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer
  • Increase the effectiveness of non-hormonal methods (like using the pill and condoms)
  • Be reversed—so you can usually get pregnant when you stop using it

Birth Control Pills

Most birth control pills contain forms of both progesterone and estrogen. These affect ovulation, thin the uterine lining and thicken cervical mucus. The minipill contains only progestin.

Combination pills can regulate your cycle, reduce acne, lower the risk of some cancers, reduce cramping and treat some severe forms of PMS. The minipill only contains progestin, which is often a better choice for breastfeeding people or those sensitive to estrogen. Low-dose pills have a small amount of estrogen. They are often prescribed to perimenopause patients to ease hot flashes or irregular periods.

When used perfectly, the pill is between 95-97% effective. But it can be hard to remember to take the pill at the same time each day. So 8 out of 100 people become pregnant while using the pill every year.

Birth Control Patch

The patch is a prescription birth control method applied to clean, dry skin on the back, upper arm, buttocks, or belly. It remains for three weeks, releasing hormones that stop ovulation and thicken cervical mucus. (So it’s harder for sperm to swim through.)

The patch can also make periods lighter, more regular and less painful. And it stops preventing pregnancy soon after it’s removed.

The patch is 99% effective when used perfectly. But in real life, 9 out of 100 people become pregnant while using the patch every year.

Birth Control Ring

The vaginal ring is a thin, flexible ring inserted into the vagina. It contains hormones that stop ovulation and change how the body prepares for pregnancy. It can be left in for a month when it’s either removed to allow a period or replaced for those desiring no period.

Most people don’t feel the ring during sex—and you can become pregnant as soon as you stop using it. It may also ease and regulate periods and reduce the risk of some cancers. The ring is up to 99% effective when used perfectly and 93% effective for most people.

Birth Control Shot

The birth control shot (Depo-Provera) is an injection that contains progestin—which keeps your body from releasing an egg and thickens cervical mucus. It may provide other health benefits like reducing how often you get your period or your risk for uterine cancer. Repeated every three months, it often requires a visit to a healthcare provider. (But you may be able to give it to yourself at home.)

The shot is 99% effective against pregnancy (as long as you remember to get it every 12-13 weeks). It can take 9-10 months to get pregnant after you get the shot.

Birth Control Implant

The birth control implant (Nexplanon) is a thin, matchstick-sized rod. It's placed under the skin, where it can remain for up to 5 years. It contains only progestin, which stops ovulation and makes cervical mucus thick and sticky, so it’s harder for sperm to swim through.

The implant is more than 99% effective since there’s no way to make a mistake while using it. Unlike the shot, you can get pregnant shortly after the implant is removed.

Birth Control IUD

Like the copper intrauterine device (IUD), hormonal IUDs are T-shaped plastic rods placed in the uterus. Hormonal IUDs contain progestin, which stops the ovaries from releasing an egg and thickens cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to enter the uterus. Hormonal IUDs can be left inside the uterus for 3-8 years (depending on the brand).

They may make periods lighter or stop altogether. And some can be used as emergency contraception if placed within 5 days after unprotected sex.

One of the most effective forms of birth control, hormonal IUDs prevent pregnancy in more than 99% of people. They’re safe to use while breastfeeding and you can get pregnant as soon as they’re removed.

Banner advertising Dr. B's services for birth control

Which birth control is best for you?

The best method of birth control for you is one you’ll take consistently and correctly—every time. If you’re curious about getting birth control online but not sure which is the best for your health history and lifestyle, Dr. B can help!

Start a discreet $15 online consultation. A licensed provider will guide you through options and recommend birth control pills online (or the ring). We’ll also show you how much your chosen method costs at local pharmacies and provide a drug discount card to help you secure that price. Then the provider will send the prescription to your chosen pharmacy.

Sources:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Progestin-only hormonal birth control: pill and injection.

American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc.; Progestin-only (norethindrone) oral contraceptives.

Britton, L. E., et al, (2020). CE: An evidence-based update on contraception. The American Journal of Nursing.

Cooper, D. B., et al. (2022). Oral contraceptive pills. StatPearls.

Horvath, S., et al. (2018). Contraception. Endotext.

Kao, A. (2000). History of oral contraception. Journal of Ethics.

Le Guen, M., et al. (2021). Reasons for rejecting hormonal contraception in Western countries: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine.

Planned Parenthood. Birth control implants: NEXPLANON information.

Planned Parenthood. Birth control patch: Ortho Evra: transdermal patch.

Planned Parenthood. Depo-Provera: birth control shot: birth control injection.

Planned Parenthood. IUD birth control: info about Mirena & Paragard IUDs.

Planned Parenthood. Nuvaring: birth control vaginal ring: estrogen ring.

Youssef H. (1993). The history of the condom. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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