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Birth Control: An Overview

By preventing unplanned pregnancies, birth control (contraception) allows a woman to decide the best time for her to start a family – and how large that family will be.

From permanent options such as tubal ligation to flexible choices like LARCs (long-acting reversible contraception), each form of birth control has its pros and cons. The best method of birth control is one that fits your lifestyle and health.

With so many options available, it’s important to discuss birth control with your health care provider, such as an OB-GYN. When determining the effectiveness of a birth control method, your provider may talk about “perfect use” vs. “typical use.” Perfect use is when the method is used correctly all the time – for instance, a woman never forgets to take a single birth control pill. “Typical” use describes how most people actually use the method.

Below is an overview of some commonly used contraceptives that can help you decide which options you’d like to discuss with your HerHealth physician.

To request an appointment, call 479.463.5500 or click below.


  • Prevent pregnancy by acting as a barrier to keep sperm from entering the uterus.
  • Easily accessible; can be purchased at drug stores and supermarkets.
  • No prescription needed for most.
  • Contain no hormones.
  • Slight risk of vaginal irritation or allergic reaction
  • Effectiveness with typical use: 18–28 women out of 100 will become pregnant.

Condoms, offered in male or female versions, are the only methods that provide at least some protection against sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex.

Spermicides are available in many forms, including foams, creams, gels and vaginal suppositories, and typically contain a chemical called nonoxynal-9 that works to inactivate sperm. Effectiveness depends on timing, so it is important to follow the label instructions.

Sponges are disposable, soft foam devices containing spermicide. Sponges are designed to be inserted into the vagina up to 24 hours before sex.


  • Prevent pregnancy by altering a woman’s hormones.
  • May help with irregular periods, menstrual pain, acne.
  • Prescription needed.
  • Can increase risk of some health problems.
  • Effectiveness with typical use: 6–9 women out of 100 will become pregnant.

Birth control injection contains the hormone depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, or DMPA, and protects against pregnancy for three months. Can affect fertility for several months after injections stop.

Progestin-only pill or “mini-pill” contains the hormone progestin and should be taken at the same time each day, following package instructions.

Birth control pill contains both progestin and estrogen hormones. It should be taken at the same time each day, following package instructions.

Vaginal ring is a flexible, plastic ring that is inserted into the upper vagina; it releases progestin and estrogen. The ring is designed to be replaced every 21 days.

Patch is worn on the skin and replaced each week. It releases estrogen and progestin. The patch is less effective in women who weigh more than 198 pounds.


  • Prevent pregnancy with hormones and/or by making uterus inhospitable to fertilization.
  • Work for an extended length of time.
  • Reversible; can be removed at any time without affecting fertility.
  • Must be placed by a health care provider.
  • Effectiveness with typical use: About 1 in 100 women will become pregnant.

Intrauterine device (IUD), considered the most effective form of birth control, is a small plastic T-shaped device that is inserted into and left inside the uterus. A woman may choose a hormonal IUD – approved to use for 3 to 6 years and releases progestin into the uterus – or a copper IUD that is approved for up to 10 years. The copper IUD does not contain hormones; it releases copper into the uterus, which interferes with sperm’s ability to move.

Implant is a flexible, plastic rod about the size of a matchstick that is inserted just under the skin in the upper arm. It releases progestin into the body. The implant is approved for up to 3 years of use.


  • Prevent pregnancy by signaling a woman’s fertile days, during which she abstains from sex or uses a barrier method.
  • No prescription needed.
  • Requires dedicated attention.
  • Effectiveness with typical use: 12–24 women out of 100 will become pregnant.

Fertility awareness birth control is based on a woman's observation of physical signs of ovulation, such as changes in cervical mucus consistency and a rise in basal body temperature. Ovulation signals the days in a woman’s cycle during which she is most likely to become pregnant. To prevent pregnancy, a woman would avoid having intercourse (or use a barrier method) during the days of the month that she is fertile.


  • Prevent pregnancy by eliminating pathways for sperm to travel to uterus.
  • Considered permanent.
  • Requires a surgical procedure.
  • Effectiveness: Fewer than 1 woman out of 100 will become pregnant.

Tubal ligation is a surgical sterilization procedure for women. The fallopian tubes, which carry the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus, are tied, blocked or cut entirely.

Vasectomy is a surgical sterilization procedure for men. The vas deferens, tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the semen, are cut and blocked so that the semen no longer contains sperm.


Sometimes, life gets in the way of birth control. A woman may not be using contraceptives when intercourse occurs, or her birth control method may fail. Emergency Contraception, or EC, was designed for these cases. EC does not end an existing pregnancy; it prevents pregnancy from occurring. To be effective, EC must be used within 3-5 days after unprotected sex.

  • Some EC pills can be bought at a pharmacy without a prescription; others require a prescription.
  • The copper IUD can also be used as a form of EC. A health care provider such as an OB-GYN must insert the IUD.

Find more information about birth control options from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

To request an appointment, call 479.463.5500 or click below.