Birth control helps prevent unplanned pregnancies. But did you know some birth control options have other positive health benefits? Let’s talk about the different types, benefits and risks, and how to get birth control.
What is birth control?
Birth control is a medicine or device that helps keep people who have vaginal sex from getting pregnant. There are many different types of birth control, and some provide other health benefits. And if you’ve decided to participate in sexual activity, you should talk to your partner about birth control.
What are my birth control options?
There are a lot of different kinds of birth control – some work better than others. Make sure you’re talking to your doctor or another health care professional about what’s best for you. Some people have to try a couple different kinds before they find one they like.
Forms of birth control that are medicines have one thing in common. They release hormones into a female’s body that prevent ovulation, or releasing an egg during a menstrual cycle (period). Sperm must attach to an egg to form a baby so no egg = no baby.
Here are some of the most common types of birth control, from most reliable to least reliable:
- Implant – The implant is 99% effective and helps keep you from getting pregnant for up to 3 years. A health care provider puts the implant in your arm.
- IUD – An IUD or intrauterine device is 99% effective. It helps prevent pregnancy for 3 to 10 years depending on the type – hormonal vs. non-hormonal. The IUD is put into your uterus by a health care provider.
- Shot – The shot is 94% effective and there is no limit as to how many years you can be on the shot. The shot is an injection you get every three months from your doctor or at a clinic or pharmacy. You can also get the shot from a pharmacy and a parent or guardian, or even you, can do the injection.
- Pill – The pill is 91% effective. One pill lasts 24 hours, so it’s important to remember to take it around the same time each day for it to remain effective. The pill is a medicine you take daily that you can get with a prescription from a health care provider.
- Patch – The patch is 91% effective. It’s long lasting as long as you change it once a week. You can get the patch with a prescription from your health care provider. It can be placed on your stomach, upper arm, butt or back.
- Vaginal Ring – The vaginal ring is 91% effective. The ring is small and flexible. You place it inside your vagina once a month. It’s important that you don’t forget to refill your prescription or put a new ring in on time. You can get the ring with a prescription from your clinic.
- External Condom – Condoms are 82% effective … with typical use. A new condom must be used every time you have sex. They are placed on a penis, and you can get them at a drugstore or clinic. You can also ask your health care provider for a prescription for condoms. Condoms are the ONLY form of protection against STIs.
- Internal Condom – Internal condoms are 79% effective. They must be used every time you have vaginal or anal sex to help protect you from pregnancy and STIs. The internal condom, or “female” condom, can be found in stores, online or at some health centers. You can also ask your health care provider for a prescription for internal condoms.
There’s also birth control for emergencies. Emergency contraception works by keeping the sperm from meeting the egg. Emergency birth control is not the same as the abortion pill. Here is a breakdown of the types of emergency birth control and how to get them.
- Copper IUD – Having a copper IUD or intrauterine device inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex reduces the risk of pregnancy by 99%. Plus, it can help keep you from getting pregnant for up to 10 years. The IUD must be inserted by a health care provider, so see your regular doctor or visit a clinic.
- ella – ella is a type of morning-after pill that lowers your chance of getting pregnant by 85% if you take it within 5 days after unprotected sex. You need a prescription from your health care provider, but once you have the pill, you take it by mouth like other medicines. This isn’t recommended to be used as a regular form of birth control. Check out other safer, more long-lasting options above.
- Plan B – Plan B is a type of morning-after pill and lowers your chance of getting pregnant by 75 to 89% if you take it within 3 days after unprotected sex. Plan B doesn’t require a prescription. You can get it at your local drugstore or pharmacy. You take the pill by mouth like other medicines. This isn’t recommended to be used as a regular form of birth control. See above for safer, more long-lasting options.
All of the birth control methods we’ve talked about here are completely reversible. That means you can get pregnant after you stop using them.
What are the benefits of birth control?
Birth control that releases hormones (chemicals) into your body, like an implant, IUD, pills or patch, have good side effects for females who take them other than keeping you from getting pregnant. It can help:
- Control your menstrual cycle (periods). Some types can help your period happen at the same time every month. If you have heavy bleeding, birth control can help make it lighter, too.
- Reduce cramping. Since hormonal birth control keeps you from ovulating (releasing an egg), many females who use it say their cramping isn’t as bad.
- Fight acne (zits and pimples). Some types of birth control help control your hormone levels, which cuts down on acne.
- Lower your risk for certain kinds of cancer. Females who take some types of birth control are less likely to get uterine or ovarian cancer. The uterus is a female reproductive organ and the ovaries are what release the egg during menstruation.
- Lessen symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Have you experienced mood swings, irritability, headaches or other annoying symptoms around the time of your period? Have you found yourself crying and don’t know why? That’s PMS – and some birth control methods can help with these mood swings.
Does it cost money to get birth control?
The cost of birth control depends on the type and your insurance coverage. Some places offer free or reduced cost birth control. Talk to your health care provider or visit a center to learn about your options.
How do I get birth control?
You can get some birth control options without hormones (like condoms) at a grocery or drugstore, or free from some centers. You can only get hormonal birth control (like the pill, patch or IUD) with a prescription from a doctor’s office or health center. Some emergency birth control requires a prescription, while other types are available at the drugstore without a prescription, but they cost about $50.
Most doctor’s offices and centers require your parent or guardian to sign paperwork (you might hear this called “parental consent”) to get birth control. Some doctor’s offices and centers provide birth control without parental consent. You can find a center here.
If your doctor or health care provider does require parental consent, we know it can be scary to talk to your parent or guardian about sex. A lot of parents are open to talking about it though, especially when you show them you are trying to be responsible. Remember, sex is healthy and normal, and your parents or guardians were young once, too!
If you’ve decided to participate in sexual activity, you should talk to your partner about birth control.
How do you put on an external condom?
First, condoms do expire, so check the expiration date on the wrapper or box first! Make sure there aren't holes in the packaging before opening a condom. You should be able to feel a little air bubble when you squeeze the wrapper, and that means no holes. Then:
- Open the packaging of the condom carefully. You don’t want to rip the condom.
- The rim of the condom should be on the outside so it can unroll easily. It will look like a little hat.
- If you want, you can put a few drops of water-based or silicone lubricant inside the tip of the condom before you put it on. Vaseline or lotion are not good lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can damage condoms, so be sure to use the right kind.
- Roll it on when the penis is erect (hard). The condom must be on completely BEFORE it touches your partner’s mouth or private areas.
- Pinch the condom tip (the top of the hat) and place it on the head of the penis. Leave a little bit of space at the top to collect semen (cum).
- Unroll the condom down the shaft of your penis, all the way to the base.
- After ejaculation (cum), hold the condom rim and pull the penis out. Carefully take off the condom. Do this away from your partner - you do not want to accidentally spill any fluids on them.
- Tie it in a knot and throw the condom away in the garbage. Do not flush a condom - it could clog the pipes.
Are two condoms better than one?
You might also be wondering, “If one condom is safe, wouldn’t using two at the same time be even safer?” It’s not. Don’t do it! Using two condoms at the same time can actually make the material weak and cause the condoms to break. Also, don’t reuse condoms. They are designed to be used once and thrown away. Use a different condom for each different sexual encounter.
Remember, condoms are just one form of birth control. While they are only about 85% effective at preventing pregnancy, they are the ONLY method that helps protects you from STIs. A condom should always be used in combination with another type of birth control . This is called dual protection.
What do you do if a condom breaks during sex?
If the condom breaks during sex, you might not realize it until after sex. If the condom breaks, stop having sex immediately and:
- Talk to your health care provider, or visit a center, to discuss emergency contraception options. If you are concerned about pregnancy, emergency contraception works by keeping the sperm from meeting the egg. Most emergency contraception options are most effective when used three to five days after unprotected sex, so consider talking to a health care provider about your options right away.
- Get tested- and get your partner tested- for STIs. You can get tested for an STI by going to your regular doctor, health care provider or a center.
What are the side effects of birth control?
Each type of birth control has its own side effects. And everyone is different, so your body may react differently than someone else to the same medicine. Talk to your health care provider before starting any form of birth control. Here are some more common symptoms you could experience:
- Nausea (upset stomach)
- Sore or swollen breasts
- Irregular periods or bleeding from the vagina
- Mood changes
If you are on birth control, can you still get pregnant?
Yes, you can still get pregnant when using birth control.
No form of birth control works 100% of the time except abstinence (not having sex).
Know how quickly your birth control kicks in, too. Some types of birth control (like the non-hormonal IUD) start working as soon as they are inserted. Most others (like the pill) take about a week before they start to work.
Make sure you talk to your health care provider about how long you should wait before having sex after starting birth control. Using two forms of birth control is safest, so always use a condom in addition to any other birth control you may be using. This prevents you from pregnancy AND STIs.