6 Common Birth Control Options and How to Choose One

January 27, 2023

Health Hack

When it comes to an active sex life, safety comes first — and one of the most important aspects of safe sex is choosing a method of birth control. ZoomCare offers a wide variety of birth control methods, but to choose the best method for you, you’ll want to consider effectiveness, convenience, side effects, and personal preferences.

Your birth control options explained:

1. Birth control pills

Various forms of birth control pills have been available since 1960. Oral contraceptives typically constitute either progestin and estrogen or progestin alone, and are taken once a day to prevent pregnancy and regulate the menstrual cycle. 

The main benefit of a birth control pill is its convenience. There’s no procedure or injection necessary, and taking a pill is often considered much easier and safer than most other forms of birth control. When birth control pills are used as directed, they can be up to 99% effective. And even if you’re not sexually active, hormonal birth control pills can help with menstrual cramps, lighter periods, and allow you to alter the timing and frequency of your period altogether.

As with any medication, there are potential negative side effects of birth control pills. Most of these side effects tend to go away after the first few months of use as your body adjusts to the hormones in the pill. Common side effects include headaches, breast tenderness, and nausea. Combination pills may also cause changes in libido and depression, while progestin-only pills may result in irregular spotting and more frequent bleeding.

2. Birth control patch

The birth control patch uses the same hormones, progestin and estrogen, as birth control pills. Instead of ingesting the hormones in pill form, they’re infused in a small adhesive patch that you place on your arm, back, abdomen, or elsewhere. It’s also called a transdermal patch.

The effectiveness of the patch is very similar to that of the pill, with a little added convenience: if you don’t mind having the patch stuck to you, you don’t have to remember to take your pill every day. Typically, you’ll need to replace your patch once a week to maintain its effectiveness. One possible downside of the patch is that if you weigh more than 198 pounds, the patch may be less reliable.

3. Depo shot

The Depo shot is short for either Depo-Provera or Depo-SubQ and refers to medroxyprogesterone acetate, a contraceptive injection. While Depo-Provera gets injected deep into the muscle, Depo-SubQ Provera 104 is injected just beneath the skin. In either case, the injection is given every three months. 

The benefits of the depo shot are the same as those of any other hormonal birth control — reducing the risk of pregnancy while managing your menstrual cycle. You will need to go into a doctor’s office to get the injection, which might be a little annoying, but on the bright side, you only have to do it once every three months!

4. Intra-uterine device

An intra-uterine device, or IUD, is a little t-shaped device that’s implanted in the cervix. It’ll have to be inserted by a qualified gynecologist, and when you’re ready to start a family or it needs to be renewed, a gynecologist will have to take it back out, but in the meantime, you won’t need to take a pill, patch, or shot for anywhere from three to ten years!

Some IUDs contain progestin, the same hormone contained in other hormonal birth control methods. Others are non-hormonal and are simply wrapped in copper wire — the copper affects the ability of sperm to swim, preventing fertilization. Since there’s no hormone to run out of, a copper IUD can last up to 12 years!

The biggest downside of any IUD for most people is the insertion process, which requires a visit to a doctor’s office and can be uncomfortable. Otherwise, an IUD is an extremely reliable, effective form of birth control.

5. Nexplanon

Nexplanon is a brand name, progestin-only contraceptive in the form of a small plastic rod about the size of a matchstick. It works very similarly to an IUD, gradually releasing progestin into the bloodstream over the course of three years before it needs to be replaced.

Nexplanon is implanted surgically under the skin of the upper arm. A doctor will make a small incision, implant the device, and sew you back up. The process only takes a few minutes, and you’ll only need a bandage for a couple of days afterwards. Once the incision heals, Nexplanon is virtually undetectable — you might notice it if you run your fingers over it, but otherwise you’ll never notice.

Implantable birth control like Nexplanon is typically more expensive upfront than birth control pills or patches, but over the lifetime of the device, it’s significantly cheaper than three years worth of pills.

6. Barrier methods

Finally, there are barrier methods — condoms, dental dams, diaphragms, contraceptive sponges, and other similar devices. These prevent pregnancy not with hormones, but by physically blocking the sperm from making their way to the egg and thus preventing fertilization. 

The obvious benefit to these methods is that they’re cheap, easy to find, and easy to use. The downside is that they’re also easy to use incorrectly. While condoms have an effectiveness of about 98% when used correctly, people aren’t perfect — in actuality, condoms are only about 87% effective when used as someone’s sole method of birth control.

Choosing the best method for you

In many cases, the most prudent option is to combine birth control methods. Barrier methods like condoms are most effective at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, while hormonal methods are more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy. By combining the two, you can protect yourself and your sexual partners as effectively as possible.

Choosing a method of birth control is a personal decision, which is why it’s great that ZoomCare offers so many options to choose from! There are many options available, including hormonal and non-hormonal methods, long-acting and short-acting options, and it's important to find the one that works best for you. Talk to a ZoomCare Primary Care provider or Women’s Health specialist about your options and any concerns you may have, and don't be afraid to try out different methods until you find the one that feels right for you.

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