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Birth Control: Medicines To Help You

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If you do not want to get pregnant, there are many birth control options to choose from. No one product is best for everyone. Some methods are more effective than others at preventing pregnancy. The only sure way to avoid pregnancy is not to have any sexual contact. This page lists FDA-approved and cleared methods for birth control. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best method for you.

Types of Medicines and Devices for Birth Control
Other Contraception
Some things to think about when you choose birth control:
  • Your health.

  • If you want to have children in the future.

  • How often you have sex.

  • How many sexual partners you have.

  • If you will need a prescription or if you can buy the method over-the-counter.

  • The number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use a method for one year. For comparison, about 85 out of 100 sexually active women who do not use any birth control can expect to become pregnant in a year.

  • This page lists pregnancy rates based on typical use. Typical use shows how effective the different methods are during actual use (including sometimes using a method in a way that is not correct or not consistent).

  • For more information on the chance of getting pregnant while using a method or on the risks of a specific product, please check the product label or Trussell,J. (2011)."Contraceptive failure in the United States." Contraception 83(5):397-404. disclaimer icon

     

Tell your doctor, healthcare provider, or pharmacist if you:
  • Smoke.

  • Have liver disease.

  • Have blood clots.

  • Have family members who have had blood clots.

  • Are taking any other medicines, like antibiotics or daily prescription medicines.

  • Are taking any herbal products, like St. John’s Wort.

  • Are breastfeeding.

  • Have been pregnant recently.

     

To avoid pregnancy:
  • No matter which method you choose, it is important to follow all of the directions carefully. If you don’t, you increase your chance of getting pregnant.

  • The best way to avoid pregnancy is to not have any sexual contact.


Sterilization Surgery for Women (also called trans-abdominal surgical sterilization)

 picture of surgical sterilization implant

What is it?

  • One way is by tying and cutting the tubes — this is called tubal ligation.

  • The fallopian tubes also can be sealed using an instrument with an electrical current.

  • They also can be closed with clips, clamps, or rings.

  • Sometimes, a small piece of the tube is removed.

     

How does it work?

  • The fallopian tubes are blocked so the egg and sperm can’t meet in the fallopian tube. This stops you from getting pregnant.

  • It is supposed to be permanent.

  • Sometimes it is possible to reverse the sterilization. Reversal involves another surgery that might not work.

How do I get it?

  • This is surgery.

  • You will need general anesthesia.

     

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, less than 1 may get pregnant.

     

Some Risks

  • Pain

  • Bleeding

  • Infection or other complications after surgery

     

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No. 

 


Sterilization Implant for Women (Transcervical Tubal Sterilization Implant)

 
picture of Transcervical Surgical Sterilization Implant

What is it?

  • Small flexible, metal (containing nickel) coil that is put into the fallopian tubes with a special catheter through the vagina.

     

How does it work?

  • The device works by causing scar tissue to form around the coil. This blocks the fallopian tubes and stops the sperm from reaching the eggs.

  • You need to use another birth control method during the first 3 months. You will need a special test to make sure the device is in the right place before you can stop your birth control.

  • It is permanent.

     

How do I get it?

  • The devices are placed into the tubes using a camera placed in the uterus.

  • You will probably need anesthesia.

  • Because it is inserted through the vagina, you do not need an incision (cutting).

     

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, less than 1 may get pregnant.

     

Some Risks

  • Pain/ cramping

  • Pelvic or back discomfort

  • Vaginal bleeding

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No

Learn more about the Sterilization Implant for Women.

 

Sterilization Surgery for Men (Vasectomy)

This method is for men who are sure they never want to have a child or do not want any more children. If you are thinking about reversal, vasectomy may not be right for you. Sometimes it is possible to reverse the operation, but the likelihood of reversal decreases the more time passes between vasectomy and reversal.  Reversal involves complicated surgery that might not work.

 
picture of vasectomy

What is it?

  • This is a surgery a man needs only once.

  • It is permanent.

     

How does it work?

  • The surgery blocks a man’s vas deferens (the tubes that carry sperm from the testes).

  • After this surgery, the semen (the fluid that comes out of a man’s penis) has no sperm in it.

  • It takes about three months to clear sperm out of a man’s system. You need to use another form of birth control until a test shows there are no longer any sperm in the seminal fluid.

     

How do I get it?

  • This is surgery.

  • Local anesthesia is used.

     

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women whose partner has had a vasectomy, less than 1 may get pregnant.

     

Some Risks
  • Pain

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

     

The success of reversal surgery depends on:

  • The length of time since the vasectomy was performed.

  • Whether or not antibodies to sperm have developed.

  • The method used for vasectomy

  • Length and location of the segments of vas deferens that were removed or blocked.

 

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No. 


Long-acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC)

These methods last for several years. If you want to get pregnant, you can stop using them at any time.

 

IUD or IUS (intrauterine device or system)

 

Copper IUD

Copper IUDWhat is it?

  • A T-shaped device containing copper that is put into the uterus by a healthcare provider.

How does it work?

  • The IUD prevents sperm from reaching the egg, from fertilizing the egg, and may prevent the egg from attaching (implanting) in the womb (uterus).

  • It does not stop the ovaries from making an egg (ovulating) each month.

  • The copper IUD can be used for up to 10 years.

  • After the IUD is taken out, it is possible to get pregnant.

How do I get it?

  • A doctor or other healthcare provider needs to put in the IUD.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, less than 1 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Cramps

  • Heavier, longer periods or spotting between periods.

Some Less Common Risks

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease

  • Ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside of the uterus) 

  • Uterine perforation

  • Expulsion - the IUD is no longer in the uterus and therefore there is no pregnancy protection

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


 IUD with progestin

IUD w/ progestinWhat is it?

  • A T-shaped device containing a progestin that is put into the uterus by a healthcare provider.

How does it work?

  • It may thicken the mucus of your cervix, which makes it harder for sperm to get to the egg, and also thins the lining of your uterus.

  • The IUD with progestin can be used for up to 3 to 5 years, depending on the type.

  • After the IUD is taken out, it is possible to get pregnant. 

How do I get it?

  • A healthcare provider needs to put in the IUD.

  • You may need local anesthesia.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, less than 1 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Irregular bleeding

  • No periods (amenorrhea)

  • Abdominal/pelvic pain

Some Less Common Risks

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease

  • Severe infection

  • Ectopic Pregnancy

  • Uterine perforation

  • Expulsion - the IUD is no longer in the uterus and therefore there is no pregnancy protection

  • Ovarian cysts 

 

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.
 


Implantable Rod

picture of birth control implantable rod

What is it?

  • A thin, matchstick-sized rod that contains a progestin hormone.

  • It is put under the skin on the inside of your upper arm.

How does it work?

  • It stops the ovaries from releasing eggs.

  • It thickens the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from getting to the egg.

  • It can be used for up to 3 years.

How do I get it?

  • After giving you local anesthesia, a healthcare provider will put it under the skin of your arm with a special needle.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, less than 1 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Changes in menstrual bleeding patterns

  • Weight gain

  • Headache

  • Acne

Some Less Common Risks

  • Complication of insertion and removing including pain, bleeding, scarring, infection or movement of the implant to another part of the body.

  • Ectopic pregnancy

  • Ovarian cysts

  • It is rare but some women will have blood clots, heart attacks or strokes.

     

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


 

Contraceptive Injection

This metod is given as a shot (injection) every 3 months. If you want to get pregnant, you can stop using this at any time.

Progestin Shot/Injection (Depo-Provera)

picture of birth control shot What is it?

  • A shot of a progestin hormone, either in the muscle or under the skin.

How does it work?

  • The shot stops the ovaries from releasing eggs

  • It also thickens the cervical mucus, which keeps the sperm from getting to the egg.

How do I get it?

  • You need one shot every 3 months from a healthcare provider.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, including women who don’t get the shot on time, up to 6 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Loss of bone density

  • Irregular bleeding or bleeding between periods

  • Headaches

  • Weight gain

  • Nervousness

  • Dizziness

  • Abdominal discomfort

     

Some Less Common Risks

  • Ectopic pregnancy

  • It is rare, but some women will have blood clots.

 

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


SHORT ACTING HORMONAL METHODS

Prevent pregnancy by interfering with ovulation and possibly fertilization of the egg. If you want to get pregnant, you can stop using them at any time.

 

Combination Oral Contraceptives
“The Pill”

picture of birth control pills What is it?

  • A pill that has two hormones (estrogen and a progestin) to stop the ovaries from releasing eggs

  • It also thickens the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from getting to the egg.

How do I use it?

  • You should swallow the pill at the same time every day, whether or not you have sex.

  • If you miss one or more pills, or start a pill pack too late, you may need to use another method of birth control, like a condom and spermicide  

How do I get it?

  • You need a prescription from a healthcare provider.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 9 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Spotting or bleeding between periods

  • Nausea

  • Breast tenderness

  • Headache

Less Common Serious Side Effects

  • It is not common, but some women who take the pill develop high blood pressure.

  • It is rare, but some women will have blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes.

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.
 


Oral Contraceptives (Progestin-only)

“The Mini Pill”

picture of birth control pillsWhat is it?

  • A pill that has only one hormone, a progestin.

  • It thickens the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from getting to the egg.

  • Less often, it stops the ovaries from releasing eggs.

How do I use it?

  • You should swallow the pill at the same time every day, whether or not you have sex.

  • You may need to use another method of birth control, like a condom and spermicide if:

  • you are several hours late taking your pill

  • you miss one or more pills

  • you start a pack too late

 

How do I get it?

  • You need a prescription from a healthcare provider.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 9 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Irregular bleeding

  • Nausea

  • Breast tenderness

  • Headache

Some Less Common Risks

  • It is not common, but some women who take the pill develop high blood pressure.

     

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.
 


Patch

picture of birth control patchWhat is it?

  • This is a skin patch you can wear on the lower abdomen, buttocks, upper arm or upper back.

  • It has two hormones (estrogen and progestin) that stop the ovaries from releasing eggs.

  • It also thickens the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from getting to the egg. 

How do I use it?

  • You put on a new patch and take off the old patch once a week for 3 weeks (21 total days).

  • Don’t put on a patch during the fourth week. Your menstrual period should start during this patch-free week.

  • If the patch comes loose or falls off, you may need to use another method of birth control, like a condom and spermicide.

How do I get it?

  • You need a prescription from a healthcare provider.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 9 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Spotting or bleeding between periods

  • Nausea, stomach pain

  • Breast tenderness

  • Headache

  • Skin irritation

Some Risks

  • It will expose you to higher levels of estrogen compared to most combined oral contraceptives.

  • There may be an increased risk of blood clots among women who use the patch as compared to women who use certain combined oral contraceptives.

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


Vaginal Contraceptive Ring

 

birth control ringWhat is it?

  • It is a flexible ring that is about 2 inches around.

  • It releases two hormones (progestin and estrogen) to stop the ovaries from releasing eggs.

  • It also thickens the cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from getting to the egg.

How do I use it?

  • You put the ring into your vagina.

  • Keep the ring in your vagina for 3 weeks and then take it out for 1 week. Your menstrual period should start during this ring-free week.

  • If the ring falls out and stays out for more than 3 hours, replace it but use another method of birth control, like a condom and spermicide, until the ring has been in place for 7 days in a row.

 

How do I get it?

  • You need a prescription from a healthcare provider.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 9 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects and Risks

  • Vaginal discharge, discomfort in the vagina, and mild irritation.

  • Headache

  • Mood changes

  • Nausea

  • Breast tenderness

Some Less Common Risks

  • It is not common, but some women who take the pill develop high blood pressure.

  • It is rare, but some women will have blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes.

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


BARRIER METHODS:

Block sperm from reaching the egg.

 

Diaphragm with Spermicide
Spermicides containing N9 (nonoxynol-9) can irritate the vagina and rectum. It may increase the risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) from an infected partner.

picture of Diaphragm
 

What is it?

  • A dome-shaped flexible disk with a flexible rim.

  • Made from silicone.

  • It covers the cervix.

How do I use it?

  • You need to put a spermicidal jelly, cream or foam on the inside of the diaphragm before putting it into the vagina.

  • You must put the diaphragm into the vagina before having sex.

  • You must leave the diaphragm in place at least 6 hours after having sex.

  • It can be left in place for up to 24 hours. You need to use additional spermicide every time you have sex.

How do I get it?

  • You need a prescription.

  • A healthcare provider will need to do an exam to find the right size diaphragm for you.

  • You should have the diaphragm checked after childbirth or if you lose more than 15 pounds because you might need a different size.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 12 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Irritation

  • Allergic reactions

  • Urinary tract infection

Some Less Common Risks

  • If you keep it in place longer than 24 hours, there is a risk of toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but serious infection.

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


Sponge with Spermicide

Spermicides containing N9 (nonoxynol-9) can irritate the vagina and rectum. It may increase the risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) from an infected partner.

 picture of contraceptive sponge

What is it?

  • A disk-shaped polyurethane sponge-like device with the spermicide N9 (nonoxynol-9) in it.

How do I use it?

  • Put it into the vagina before you have sex.

  • Protects for up to 24 hours.

  • You do not need to use more spermicide each time you have sex.

  • You must leave the sponge in place for at least 6 hours after last having sex.

  • You must take the sponge out within 30 hours after you put it in. Throw it away after you use it.

How do I get it?

  • You do not need a prescription.

  • You can buy it over-the-counter.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, 12 may get pregnant.

  • It may not work as well for women who have given birth. Childbirth stretches the vagina and cervix and the sponge may not fit as well. Out of 100 women who use this method who gave birth, 24 may get pregnant.

Some Side Effects

  • Irritation

     

Some Less Common Risks

  • If you keep it in place longer than 24-30 hours, there is a risk of toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but serious infection.

     

 

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


Cervical Cap with Spermicide
Spermicides containing N9 (nonoxynol-9) can irritate the vagina and rectum. It may increase the risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) from an infected partner.

 
 picture of cervical cap

What is it?

  • A soft latex or silicone cup with a round rim, which fits snugly around the cervix.

How do I use it?

  • You need to put spermicide inside the cap before you use it.

  • You must put the cap in the vagina before you have sex.

  • You must leave the cap in place for at least 6 hours after having sex.

  • You may leave the cap in for up to 48 hours.

  • You do NOT need to use more spermicide each time you have sex.

How do I get it?

  • First, a healthcare provider needs to determine the correct cervical cap size for you. Then you need a prescription for the device.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 17 to 23 may get pregnant.

  • It may not work as well for women who have given birth. Childbirth stretches the vagina and cervix and the cap may not fit as well.

Some Side Effects and Risks

  • Irritation

  • Allergic reactions

  • Aabnormal Pap test

Some Less Common Risks

  • If you keep it in place longer than 48 hours, there is a risk of toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but serious infection.

     

 

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


Male Condom

picture of a male condomWhat is it?

  • A thin film sheath placed over the erect penis.

How do I use it?

  • Put it on the erect penis right before sex.

  • Pull out before the penis softens.

  • Hold the condom against the base of the penis before pulling out.

  • Use it only once and then throw it away.

How do I get it?

  • You do not need a prescription.

  • You can buy it over-the-counter or online.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women whose partners’ use this method, 18 may get pregnant.

  • The most important thing is that you use a condom every time you have sex.

  • It can be used with other barrier methods to decrease your chances of becoming pregnant.

Some Risks

  • Irritation

  • Allergic reactions (If you are allergic to latex, you can try condoms made of polyurethane).

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

  • Yes. Consistent and correct use of the male latex condom reduces the risk of STIs. The condom cannot provide absolute protection against STIs.

     


Female Condom

 

picture of female condomWhat is it?

  • A thin, lubricated pouch that is put into the vagina. It consists of a nitrile (non-latex) sheath, a flexible larger outer ring, and a polyurethane inner ring to place in the vagina. Nitrile is also commonly used to make surgical gloves.

How do I use it?

  • Put the female condom into the vagina before sex.

  • Follow the directions on the package to be sure the penis stays within the condom during sex and does not move outside the condom.

  • Use it only once and then throw it away.

How do I get it?

  • You do not need a prescription.

  • You can buy it over-the-counter or online.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 21 may get pregnant.

  • The most important thing is that you use a condom every time you have sex.

Some Risks

  • Discomfort or pain during insertion or sex.

  • Burning sensation, rash or itching.

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

  • Yes. When used in the vagina, the female condom reduces the risks of STIs. The condom cannot provide absolute protection against STIs.

 


Spermicide Alone
Spermicides containing N9 (nonoxynol-9) can irritate the vagina and rectum. It may increase the risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) from an infected partner.

picture of spermicide
 

What is it?

  • A foam, cream, jelly, film, or tablet that you put into the vagina.

How do I use it?

  • You need to put spermicide into the vagina 5 to 90 minutes before you have sex.

  • You usually need to leave it in place at least 6 to 8 hours after sex; do not douche or rinse the vagina for at least 6 hours after sex.

  • Instructions can be different for each type of spermicide. Read the label carefully before you use a spermicide.

  • For better pregnancy protection, a spermicide may be used with a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap.

How do I get it?

  • You do not need a prescription.

  • You can buy it over-the-counter.

Chance of getting pregnant with typical use (Number of pregnancies expected per 100 women who use this method for one year)

  • Out of 100 women who use this method, about 28 may get pregnant.

  • Different studies show different rates of effectiveness.

Some Risks

  • Irritation

  • Allergic reactions

  • Urinary tract infection

  • If you are also using a medicine for a vaginal yeast infection, the spermicide might not work as well.

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.


Other Contraception

 

Energency Contraception (EC): May be used if you did not use birth control or if your regular birth control fails (such as a condom breaks). It should not be used as a regular form of birth control.

 

Levonorgestrel 1.5 MG (1 pill) or Levonorgestrel .75 MG (2 pills) 

 picture of emergency contraception pill

What is it?

  • These are pills with a progestin hormone.

  • They help prevent pregnancy after a birth control failure or unprotected sex.

How does it work?

  • It works mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with the egg) or by preventing attachment (implantation) to the womb (uterus).

  • For the best chance for it to work, you should start taking the pill as soon as possible within 72 hours after unprotected sex or birth control failure.

How do I get it?

  • 1-pill version: You can buy it over-the-counter. You do not need a prescription.

  • 2-pill version: You can buy it over-the-counter if you are 17 or older. If you are younger than 17, you will need a prescription.

  • Both the 1-pill and 2-pill options are equally safe and effective.

Chance of getting pregnant

  • One large study showed 7 out of every 8 women who would have gotten pregnant did not become pregnant after taking emergency contraception; other studies have resulted in lower pregnancy prevention rates.

Some Side Effects

  • Menstrual changes

  • Headache, nausea, vomiting, dizzines

  • Lower stomach (abdominal) pain

  • Breast pain

  • Tiredness

     

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.   
 


 

Ulipristal Acetate

 
 

EllaWhat is it?

  • A pill that blocks the hormone progesterone.

  • It helps prevent pregnancy after a birth control failure or unprotected sex.

  • It works mainly by stopping or delaying the ovaries from releasing an egg. It may also work by changing the lining of the womb (uterus) that may affect attachment (implantation).

How do I use it?

  • For the best chance for it to work, you should take the pill as soon as possible within 120 hours after unprotected sex.

How do I get it?

  • You need a prescription from a healthcare provider.

Chance of getting pregnant

  • In two large studies, 60 to 66% of expected pregnancies were prevented with correct use of ulipristal acetate.

Most Common Side Effects 

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Menstrual pain

  • Tiredness

  • Dizziness

Does it protect me from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? No.

 
 

This page should not be used in place of talking to your healthcare provider and reading the label for your product. This page is not intended to guide clinical practice. The product and risk information may change. See the product label and talk with your healthcare provider for more information on the risks of a specific product or on the chance of getting pregnant while using a method. 

Page Last Updated: 08/19/2016
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