Birth Control

Fact checked

By SheCares Editorial Team | Updated: Jan 07, 2021

The choice of a birth control method is one arguably one of the most important decisions a woman will take throughout her reproductive years.

While there is no shortage of effective contraception, women are oftentimes flooded with questions regarding the methods worth relying on, doubts about the financial burden they would have, and concerns about the ways they could affect their health. Luckily, with a little diligence and reliable data, deciding on the best birth control is easier than it seems.

Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about birth control, including its types, effectiveness, most common side effects, and average cost.

Birth control

Types of Birth Control

Types of birth control

There are five general types of birth control from which a woman can choose, depending on her health status, sexual partners, and whether she plans to have children at all, soon, or in the future.

Female and Male Sterilization

These types of birth control, such as tubal ligation and male vasectomy, offer permanent protection from pregnancy. They involve making surgical changes in the reproductive organs, generally done on an outpatient basis.

Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives

Consisting of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants, these types of convenient and effective contraceptive methods provide protection from pregnancy over an extended period of time (three to 10 years, depending on the type).

Short-Acting Hormonal Contraceptives

These birth control methods must be taken on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. They include pills (containing progestin or progestin with estrogen), birth control patches, birth control shots, and vaginal rings.

Barrier Birth Control

These contraceptive options include condoms, diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps. In order to be effective, they have to be inserted in the vagina or put on a penis each time a couple has sexual intercourse.

Natural Rhythm Methods

These birth control methods do not involve the use of any devices or medications. They consist of various methods of natural family planning, such as fertility awareness methods (FAMS) or the pull-out method. They may also involve abstinence.

Birth Control Effectiveness

Birth control effectiveness

When it comes to birth control effectiveness, there are two terms that are key to understand: perfect use and typical use.

Perfect use of a birth control method is when it is used correctly every single time. Typical use, on the other hand, refers to how most people use a given birth control method, taking into account errors, such as forgetting a dose.

The following are birth control methods' effectiveness rates, ranging from the most to the least effective:1,2,3

  • Female sterilization methods are permanent contraceptive methods with more than 99% effectiveness.
  • Long-acting birth control methods are some of the most effective (more than 99%), reversible options.
  • Short-acting birth control methods' effectiveness ranges between 91 and 94%, depending on the type.
  • Barrier birth control methods vary in their effectiveness from 71 to 86% with typical use.  
  • Natural family planning are the least effective options with 75 to 78% effectiveness.

Birth Control Side Effects

Birth control is generally safe and does not cause serious side effects. However, some types may lead to the following abnormalities that need to be considered:

Menstrual Irregularities

Changes in the menstrual cycle are some of the most common side effects of birth control. Depending on their type, women may experience scanty periods with progestin-containing IUD, heavy periods with copper-containing IUD, or absent periods with the implants, among other period irregularities.4,5

Fertility Delays

The effects of various contraceptive methods on a woman's fertility and ability to conceive heavily depend on the type she uses. Short-term delays - ranging from one up to six months - are common with birth control pills and vaginal rings.6 However, it may take up to 10 months for a woman's cycles and fertility to return after stopping birth control shots.7

Hormonal Risks

Hormonal contraception, particularly one containing estrogen, has been associated with certain health risks, including blood clots with the pills or breast cancer in women younger than 35 with the shots.8,9 Estrogen-containing birth control is also not recommended for women with a history of breast or uterine cancers.

Birth Control Cost

The financial aspect of birth control depends on several factors, including a woman's budget, reproductive needs, and her insurance coverage.

Low Up-Front Cost

Birth control types such as condoms or sponges can be purchased for a few dollars without a doctor's prescription. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the total monthly costs can quickly escalate, depending on a woman's patterns and needs. 

The pills are also considered affordable. Yet since they require a prescription, there might be additional fees for doctor's visits. 

Medium Up-Front Cost

The out-of-pocket cost for patches is about $150 per month; $200 monthly for the rings; $150 every three months for the shots; and up to $275 every year or two for cervical caps and diaphragms.10,11,12 There might be extra fees for doctor's visits. 

High Up-Front Cost

Birth control methods like IUD and implants come with high up-front costs of about $1,300 per insertion.13,14 However, since they have to be inserted every several years, they offer long-term savings

Contraceptive methods that require more elaborate surgical intervention, such as tubal ligation and male vasectomy, are the most expensive options up front. However, being permanent, they require just a one-time expense.

Key Takeaways

Having solid knowledge of reliable and safe birth control is a must for all women of reproductive ages. Luckily, there are five general types of attractive and convenient types of birth control, varying in a number of factors, such as the length of protection they offer and frequency of use. They also vary in how effective they are, with sterilization methods and long-acting contraceptive methods being the most effective options and barrier types and natural family planning showing to be the least effective methods. While birth control is generally safe, some types may cause menstrual irregularities, fertility delays, and other hormonal risks. Another varying factor is the cost, which may range from low up-front cost options – like condoms – to more expensive methods, like IUDs. With such a rich arsenal of reliable alternatives, virtually all women can find the type that satisfies their reproductive and overall needs.