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There are many methods of birth control that either a woman or man can use. Talk with your health care provider to help you figure out what method is best for you. You can always try one method, if you do not like it, try another one.

Keep in mind that most birth control methods do NOT protect you from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. (See STD section). Other than not having sex, the best protection against STDs and HIV is the male latex condom.

The female condom may give some STD protection. Other birth control methods that involve using a spermicide (a jelly or cream that kills sperm) also may give some protection against chlamydia and gonorrhea, but might increase the risk of HIV infection, (more on that in the HIV section).

Remember, all of the methods mentioned work best when used correctly. Be sure you know the correct way to use them, before you use them for the first time. Talk with your health care provider and don't feel embarrassed about talking with her or him again if you forget or don't understand.

Learning how to use some birth control methods can take time and practice. Sometimes health care providers don't explain how to use a method because they think you already know how. For example, some people don't know that you can put on a male condom. Yes, women should be able to do this well too. Also, not everyone knows that you need to leave a "reservoir" or space at the tip of the condom for the sperm and fluid when a man ejaculates, or has an orgasm.

The more you know about the correct way to use birth control, the more control you will have over deciding if and when you want to become pregnant.

Here is a list of birth control methods with estimates of effectiveness, or how well they work in preventing pregnancy when used correctly, for each method:

Continuous Abstinence -This means not having sexual intercourse at any time. It is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy. This method is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you're in a sexual relationship, obviously this is not a method that can recommend.

The Male Condom - Condoms are called barrier methods of birth control because they put up a block, or barrier, which keeps the sperm from reaching the egg. Only latex (polyurethane) (because some people are allergic to latex) condoms are proven to help protect against STDs, including HIV. "Natural" or "lambskin" condoms made from animal products also are available, but lambskin will not protect you from HIV.

Lambskin condoms are not recommended for STD prevention because they have tiny pores that may allow for the passage of viruses like HIV, hepatitis B and herpes. Male condoms are 86 to 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Condoms can only be used once. You can buy them at a drug store, or online or from the link at the bottom of the page. Condoms come lubricated (which can make sexual intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable) and non-lubricated (which can also be used for oral sex). It is best to use lubrication with non-lubricated condoms if you use them for vaginal or anal sex. Only use water-based lubricants with condoms!. Oil-based lubricants like massage oils, baby oil, lotions, or petroleum jelly will weaken the condom, causing it to tear or break. Always keep condoms in a cool, dry place. If you keep them in a hot place (like your wallet, or glove compartment), the latex breaks down, causing the condom to tear, get small holes, or break. See Men's Condoms for more. 

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The Female Condom - Worn by the woman, obviously, this barrier method keeps sperm from getting into her body. It is made of polyurethane, is packaged with a lubricant, and may protect against STDs, including HIV. It can be inserted up to 8 hours prior to sexual intercourse. Female condoms are 79 to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. There is only one kind of female condom and its brand name is Reality.

Diaphragm or Cervical Cap - These are barrier methods of birth control, where the sperm are blocked from reaching the egg. The diaphragm is shaped like a shallow latex cup. The cervical cap is a thimble-shaped latex cup. Both come in different sizes and you need a health care provider to "fit" you for one. Before sexual intercourse, you use them with spermicide (to block or kill sperm) and place them up inside your vagina to cover your cervix (the opening to your uterus). You can buy spermicide gel at a drug store. Some women can be sensitive to nonoxynol-9 and need to use spermicides that do not contain it.

The diaphragm is 80 to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. You must insert another application of spermicidal gel or cream before you have intercourse a second time. DO NOT remove the diaphragm, use the applicator that comes with the spermicide. Read the insert carefully for directions and make sure you know how to do this before you use it for the first time, practice by yourself before you need to use it, that way you won't feel under pressure to get it right the first time. Your health care provider who prescribes the diaphragm should make sure you know how to use it, but they are often too busy to take the time to do this.

The cervical cap is 80 to 90% effective at preventing pregnancy for women who have not had a child, and 60 to 80% for women who have had a child. Requires a visit with your health care provider for proper fitting. Many women complain that this is not a comfortable method -- especially when compared to the diaphragm.

Oral Contraceptives - Also known as "the pill," contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. A pill is taken daily to block the release of eggs from the ovaries. It also lightens the flow of your period and protects against pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer. It does not protect against STDs or HIV of course.

The pill may add to your risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, blood clots, and blockage of the arteries. If you are over age 35 and smoke, or have a history of blood clots or breast or endometrial cancer, your health care provider may advise you not to take the pill. The pill is 95 to 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly. You will need a prescription for the pill and visits with your health care provider or gynecologist to make sure you are not having problems. * Never take someone else's pills, or just stop and stop the pill if you are on it. If you want to stop taking the pill talk to your health care provider about that, so you will be covered by another form of contraception.

Depo-Provera - With this method women get injections, or shots, of the hormone progestin in the buttocks or arm every three months. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. It is 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy. Requires visits with your health care provider to make sure you are not having any problems. Prolonged use of the drug may result in significant loss of bone density. This bone loss is greater the longer the drug is used. Women should only use Depo-Provera Contraceptive Injection as a long-term birth control method (longer than two years) if other birth control methods are inadequate.

The Patch (Ortho Evra) -This is a skin patch worn on the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body. It releases the hormones progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. You put on a new patch once a week for three weeks, then do not wear a patch during the fourth week in order to have a menstrual period. The patch is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, but appears to be less effective in women who weigh more than 198 pounds. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. You will need to visit your health care provider for a prescription and to make sure you are not having any health problems.

The NuvaRing - The NuvaRing is a ring that releases the hormones progestin and estrogen. You squeeze the ring between your thumb and index finger and insert it into your vagina. You wear the ring for three weeks, take it out for the week that you have your period, and then put in a new ring. The ring is 98 to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. You will need to visit your health care provider for a prescription and to make sure you are not having any health problems.

The Sponge - The "Today Sponge" combines a spermicide with a barrier contraceptive. It offers an immediate and continuous presence of the spermicide nonoxynol-9 throughout a 24-hour period, allowing for as many acts of intercourse as desired within that period without the need for additional spermicide. Learning to use Today Sponge has been compared with learning to use contact lenses. With a little practice, insertion and removal become simple procedures.

Insertion: With clean hands, remove Today Sponge from its inner package. Holding the Sponge in one hand with the dimple (concave) side facing upward, and the loop dangling down, wet the sponge thoroughly with clean tap water. Gently squeeze the Sponge to produce amounts of suds. This activates the spermicide and facilitates insertion. Do not be concerned about producing too much suds. There is more than enough spermicide in Today Sponge to provide effective prevention of pregnancy. Fold the sudsy Sponge in half - still with the dimple side facing upward - and insert deeply in the vagina, along the back wall to cover the cervix. The dimple should face the cervix, and the loop should face away from the cervix.

Removal: Wait at lease six hours after the last act of intercourse before removing the 'Today Sponge'. Put a finger into the vagina and reach upward to find the string loop. Bear down and push Today Sponge toward to vaginal opening. Hook the finger around the string loop or grasp Today Sponge between thumb and forefinger. Slowly and gently withdraw Today Sponge from the vagina. If the vaginal muscles seem to be holding Today Sponge tightly, wait a few minutes, then try again. While relaxing, breathe out slowly while bearing down and remove 'Today Sponge'.

Today Sponge does not contain hormones. Comfort: generally neither partner can feel the sponge during intercourse. Effective immediately after insertion. Easy to buy: Sold over-the-counter, without a prescription. No special fitting is required. Its small size allows a woman to carry it in her purse. It is disposable after each use. Not as messy as other spermicidal products.

Some women may be allergic to the spermicide -- not common. Does not protect against HIV/AIDS, although may provide some protection from other STDs. Do NOT use during your period. Toxic shock syndrome is not common, but can occur.

The effectiveness for Today Sponge is 89% to 91% (see Today Sponge product labeling). Another measurement of efficacy is the "use-effectiveness" rate, which measures the level of effectiveness that can be expected by a large group of women, some of whom either fail to use the Sponge correctly or do not use it every time they have intercourse. The use-effectiveness rate for the Sponge is 84% to 87% (see Today Sponge product labeling).

Side Effects: Allergy to or irritation from the spermicide in it -- not common. Do NOT use during your period, some cases of toxic shock syndrome have been reported.

The following are not methods of birth control that we would recommend to teenagers and young adults. Unless of course you need to use Plan B as an emergency contraceptive. (This does not include emergency contraception, which of course, should be available if need be).

Plan B®, is available over-the-counter in the United States without a prescription if you are age 17 or older. To find out more about Plan B®, go to their web site. If you need Plan B and you are under the age of 17, see your health care provider right away after unprotected intercourse for a prescription for it. It can also be used if the condom you were using broke, but time is of the essense. It is also used to help prevent conception if you are raped.

Copper IUD (Intrauterine Device) - An IUD is a small device that is shaped in the form of a "T." Your health care provider places it inside the uterus. The arms of the Copper T IUD contain some copper, which stops fertilization by preventing sperm from making their way up through the uterus into the fallopian tubes. If fertilization does occur, the IUD would prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the uterus. The Copper T IUD can stay in your uterus for up to 10 years. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. This IUD is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Requires visits with your health care provider to have it inserted and to make sure you are not having any problems. Not all health care providers insert IUDs.

Progestasert IUD (Intrauterine Device) -This IUD is a small plastic T- shaped device that is placed inside the uterus by a health care provider. It contains the hormone progesterone, the same hormone produced by a woman's ovaries during the monthly menstrual cycle. The progesterone causes the cervical mucus to thicken so sperm cannot reach the egg, and so that a fertilized egg cannot successfully implant into the lining of the uterus. The Progestasert IUD can stay in your uterus for one year. This IUD is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. Requires visits with your health care provider to have it inserted and to make sure you are not having any problems. Not all health care providers insert IUDs.

Mirena® is an Intrauterine System or IUS - Mirena® is a small T-shaped device like the IUD and is placed inside the uterus by a health care provider. It releases a small amount of a hormone each day to keep you from getting pregnant. The IUS stays in your uterus for up to five years. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. The IUS is 99% effective. The Food and Drug Administration approved this method in December 2000. Requires visits with your health care provider to make sure you are not having any problems. Not all health care providers insert the IUS.

Surgical Sterilization (Tubal Ligation or Vasectomy) - These surgical methods are meant for people who want a permanent method of birth control. In other words, they never want to have a child or they do not want more children. Tubal ligation or "tying tubes" is done on the woman to stop eggs from going down to her uterus where they can be fertilized. The man has a vasectomy to keep sperm from going to his penis, so his ejaculate never has any sperm in it. They are 99 to 99.5% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Nonsurgical Sterilization (Essure Permanent Birth Control System) - This is the first non-surgical method of sterilizing women and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in November 2002. A thin tube is used to thread a tiny spring-like device through the vagina and uterus into each fallopian tube. Flexible coils temporarily anchor it inside the fallopian tube. A Dacron-like mesh material embedded in the coils irritates the fallopian tubes' lining to cause scar tissue to grow and eventually permanently plug the tubes. It can take about three months for the scar tissue to grow, so it is important to use another form of birth control during this time. Then you will have to return to your health care provider for a test to see if scar tissue has fully blocked your tubes. In studies of more than 600 women, followed for a year, there so far have been no pregnancies in those whose Essure devices were implanted successfully.

Emergency Contraception - This is NOT to be used as a method of birth control and should never be used as one. Emergency contraception, or emergency birth control, is used to keep a woman from getting pregnant when she has had unprotected vaginal intercourse. "Unprotected" can mean that no method of birth control was used. It can also mean that a birth control method was used but did not work - like a condom breaking. Or, a woman may have forgotten to take her birth control pills, or may have been abused or forced to have sex when she did not want to.

Emergency contraception consists of taking two doses of hormonal pills taken 12 hours apart and started within three days after having unprotected sex. These are sometimes wrongly called the "morning after pill." The pills are 80 to 90% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Another type of emergency contraception is having the Copper T IUD put into your uterus within seven days of unprotected sex. This method is 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Neither method of emergency contraception protects against STDs or HIV. You will need to visit your health care provider for either a prescription for the pills or for the insertion of the IUD, and to make sure you are not having any health problems.

Plan B - is FDA Approved in the United States. You must be at least age 18 to purchase. No prescription necessary.

Withdrawal refers to when a man takes his penis out of a woman's vagina (or "pulls out") before he ejaculates, or has an orgasm. This stops the sperm from going to the egg. "Pulling out" can be hard for a man to do and it takes a lot of self-control. When you use withdrawal, you can also be at risk for getting pregnant BEFORE the man pulls out. When a man's penis first becomes erect, there can be fluid (called pre-ejaculate fluid) on the tip of the penis that has sperm in it. This sperm can get a woman pregnant. Withdrawal also does not protect you from STDs or HIV. We do NOT consider this a method of birth control and can not be held liable for any situations resulting from the use or misuse of the information provided here. See the disclaimer for more.

In the future, we will have a page on each of these topics and keep you up to date on the status of methods.

For more about birth control methods contact the National Women's Health Information Center, in the United States at: (800) 994-WOMAN (9662)

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Resource Center
Internet Address:

Population Council
Phone Number(s): (212) 339-0500
Internet Address:



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