Blog/What Are The Different Types of Birth Control?
11/13/2023 | 6 min read

What Are The Different Types of Birth Control?

The different methods, their effectiveness and what to expect

young black female holding a pack of birth control pills looking thoughtful

When it comes to family planning and reproductive health, the availability of birth control methods has revolutionized the choices available to women and their partners. However, there isn’t a one size fits all method. Depending on your physical, mental and reproductive health, the best birth control for you can be different from the women around you.  

In this blog, we will dive into the different types of birth control, their effectiveness, mechanisms, potential changes and side effects, and reasons why someone might choose a particular method over others. When you’re done reading this blog and have a better idea of what each birth control method entails, take our quick birth control quiz to find your ideal option!

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods of birth control work by creating a physical barrier between sperm and egg, preventing fertilization. The most common barrier methods are condoms (male and female), diaphragms and cervical caps. Male condoms are the most popular form of barrier protection, often coming in various sizes, thicknesses and textures for optimal protection and pleasure.

Effectiveness: Condoms, when used correctly, have a success rate of around 98%, making them one of the most effective non-hormonal methods. However, in the heat of the moment condoms can be used incorrectly (put on inside out or ripped), so the effectiveness often falls to around 87%. 

How they work: Condoms are an external (male condom) or internal (female condom) barrier designed to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Male condoms are worn over the penis, while female condoms are inserted into the vagina. This resource from the CDC shows how to properly insert a female condom.

Changes and side effects: Barrier methods have minimal hormonal impact, so they generally don't cause significant changes to a woman's body. Some individuals may experience latex allergies or irritation from condoms, so look for the other latex free alternatives available.

Reasons to choose: Barrier methods are a popular choice for those who want protection against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They are non-hormonal and readily available over the counter, making them a convenient option. Condoms also pair well with other birth control methods such as “the pill”, IUDs, the bar and the shot to protect against STIs.

Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods use synthetic hormones (progestin and estrogen) to regulate a woman's menstrual cycle, preventing pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation or altering the cervical mucus. These methods include birth control pills, patches, injections and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Effectiveness: Hormonal methods are highly effective, with success rates of around 91-99%. However, the effectiveness depends on the method chosen and the consistency of use.

How they work: Hormonal birth control methods release synthetic hormones, such as estrogen and progestin, to suppress ovulation, thicken cervical mucus and make the uterine lining less receptive to a fertilized egg.

Changes and side effects: It’s likely you’ve experienced or know someone who has experienced some side effects while taking hormonal birth control. Hormonal methods can cause various changes in a woman's body, including changes in menstrual flow, reduced menstrual cramps and improved or worsening acne. Some individuals may experience side effects like nausea, breast tenderness or mood swings as well. 

It’s important to make note of any changes or symptoms you’re experiencing when starting or changing to a new birth control. That way, when you go see your doctor, you can express any concerns and discuss whether or not this is the right birth control for you.

Reasons to choose: Hormonal birth control is a preferred option for many because it offers reliable contraception and provides additional benefits like regulated periods and reduced symptoms of conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women often choose these methods for their ease of use and the ability to customize the method to their specific needs (e.g., daily pills, monthly patches or long-acting IUDs).

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

Okay, now we’re going to break down and talk about each hormonal option more in depth. First up, IUDs. They are small, T-shaped devices inserted into the uterus by a medical professional to prevent pregnancy. There are hormonal IUDs, which release synthetic hormones, and non-hormonal copper IUDs.

Effectiveness: IUDs are among the most effective forms of birth control, with a success rate of around 99%. Once inserted, they are long-lasting and require minimal user intervention. IUDs can last anywhere from three to five to ten years depending on the type you get. 

How they work: Hormonal IUDs release progestin to thicken cervical mucus and inhibit sperm mobility, while the copper in the copper IUDs create an inhospitable environment for sperm and eggs.

Changes and side effects: Hormonal IUDs may cause irregular bleeding or amenorrhea (absence of periods). Copper IUDs can lead to heavier periods and increased cramping. Also, for some women, the initial insertion of the IUD into the uterus can be a painful experience, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any pain management options they offer. 

Reasons to choose: IUDs are suitable for women seeking long-term contraception without daily maintenance. Hormonal IUDs offer additional benefits like lighter periods, while copper IUDs are hormone-free and suitable for those who cannot or prefer not to use hormonal methods. 

Birth Control Implants

Birth control implants are small rods inserted under the skin of the upper arm, which release synthetic hormones over a few years. Similar to the IUDs, these can last longer or shorter depending on the type of implant you get. 

Effectiveness: Birth control implants are more than 99% effective and do not require regular attention. It’s another set it and forget it type of birth control, but make sure to check its placement every so often. If you can no longer feel it, be sure to call your doctor.

How they work: These implants release progestin to inhibit ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, and create a hostile uterine environment for fertilization.

Changes and side effects: Implants may lead to irregular periods, spotting or amenorrhea. Some individuals might experience weight gain, mood swings or breast tenderness as well.

Reasons to choose: Birth control implants offer long-lasting contraception and require minimal attention once inserted. They are an excellent choice for those who want reliable, hormone-based birth control without the need for daily or monthly management. Some individuals may choose the implant over an IUD for its slightly less invasive nature.

Birth Control Pills

The OG hormonal birth control method. Birth control pills, often known simply as "the pill," are oral medications containing synthetic hormones. They can come in a variety of variations from the combination pill (progestin and estrogen) and the mini pill (progestin only).  

Effectiveness: Birth control pills have a success rate of around 91-99%, with effectiveness depending on consistent and correct use. You MUST take your pill at the same time every day to have that 99% effectiveness rate. If you skip a pill, take it as soon as you remember or take two if you don’t realize until it’s time to take the next pill. In either case, be sure to use alternative protection like a condom or refrain from sex for the next two days.  

How they work: The pill works by suppressing ovulation, thickening cervical mucus and making the uterine lining less receptive to implantation.

Changes and side effects: Birth control pills can regulate periods, reduce menstrual cramps and improve or worsen acne. However, they may also cause side effects like nausea, mood swings and breast tenderness. It’s also important to remember that the combination birth control pill can increase your chances of blood clots. Those with high blood pressure, hypertension or women who just gave birth in the last 6 months or are breastfeeding should NOT take birth control containing estrogen. Talk to your doctor about progestin only methods like the mini pill, IUD, implant or shot.

Reasons to choose: Birth control pills are a popular choice due to their ease of use and effectiveness. They are customizable, allowing women to choose from various formulations, including combination pills (containing estrogen and progestin) or progestin-only pills. The flexibility and control over menstrual cycles are reasons many women opt for this method.

Depo-Provera (Birth Control Injection)

Depo-Provera is a birth control injection administered every three months, containing synthetic progestin. It’s important to note that if you’re looking for a long term birth control method, this may not be for you. 

Effectiveness: The birth control injection is highly effective, with a success rate of about 94-99%.

How it works: Depo-Provera is an injection that you will get every three months to prevent pregnancy. It inhibits ovulation, thickens cervical mucus and changes the uterine lining to reduce the chances of implantation.

Changes and side effects: Users may experience irregular bleeding, weight gain and potential bone density loss with long-term use (the FDA recommends no longer than 2 years). Fertility can take some time to return after discontinuation. 

Reasons to choose: The birth control injection offers the convenience of quarterly administration, making it suitable for individuals who may have difficulty adhering to daily, weekly or monthly methods. It is a popular choice for those who prefer not to use estrogen-based contraception. Be sure to discuss this option with your doctor to make sure it is the best choice for you.

Non-Hormonal Methods

Hormones can be a pain for many women and non-hormonal methods are becoming more popular. These methods do not use synthetic hormones and include options like fertility awareness-based methods, withdrawal (pull-out method) and the copper IUD.

Effectiveness: The effectiveness of non-hormonal methods can vary widely. Fertility awareness methods, for instance, can have success rates as low as 76%, while the copper IUD is highly effective at over 99%. However, it can cause increased bleeding and cramping.

How they work: Non-hormonal methods rely on diligently tracking menstrual cycles, avoiding intercourse during fertile windows, or creating a barrier, like the copper IUD, to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.

Changes and side effects: Non-hormonal methods generally have fewer side effects compared to hormonal options. However, they may require more diligence and awareness of one's menstrual cycle and fertility as their room for error is much higher. 

Reasons to choose: Some women prefer non-hormonal methods for religious or personal reasons. These methods offer an alternative to hormonal contraception while providing effective birth control when used correctly.

Agile can help you with your birth control journey

Navigating all the birth control options can be intimidating. How do you know which one is right for you given your medical history and contraceptive needs? Our network of certified clinicians are ready to answer any questions you may have about your reproductive health, offer clinical recommendations and help you start your birth control journey. 

At Agile, our unwavering commitment to your health drives us forward. Through our intuitive platforms, we’re dedicated to delivering personalized, top-tier healthcare that transcends the confines of traditional in-person visits. 

To tap into fast, cost-effective care now by scheduling a consultation with one of our licensed clinicians today!