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Sometimes a woman may not use birth control, or her method may fail. If this happens to you, you may still be able to prevent pregnancy if you act quickly. For more information, see the topic Emergency Contraception.
What is birth control?
Birth control is any method used to prevent pregnancy. Another word for birth control is contraception (say "kon-truh-SEP-shun").
The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. But finding a good method of birth control you can use every time can help you avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
What are the types of birth control?
There are many different kinds of birth control. Each has pros and cons. Learning about all the methods will help you find one that is right for you.
For hormonal or barrier methods to work best, you have to use them exactly the way your doctor or the package instructions say. Even then, accidents can happen. So it is a good idea to keep emergency birth control on hand as backup protection. You can buy "morning-after pills," such as Plan B, in most drugstores if you are 17 or older.
How do you choose the best method?
The best method of birth control is one that protects you every time you have sex. And with many types of birth control, that depends on how well you use it. To find a method that will work for you every time, some things to think about include:
If you are using a method now that you are not happy with, talk to your doctor about other choices.
What health issues might limit your choices?
Some birth control methods may not be safe for you, depending on your health. To make sure a method is right for you, your doctor will need to know if you:
How can you get birth control?
You can buy:
You need to see a doctor or other health professional to:
Frequently Asked Questions
Teens and Birth Control
Whether you are male or female, your life can suddenly be changed forever by pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) . Think for a moment what this would be like for you.
The most dependable way to prevent pregnancy and STI infection is not to have sexual intercourse. This is called abstinence.
If you do not choose abstinence and are sexually active, always be prepared. To protect yourself and your future, think ahead about birth control methods and STI protection. Never have sex without protection. Using condoms will reduce your risk of getting an STI.
Even a single act of sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy or an STI infection.
Take charge of your health and your future
Even if you plan not to have sex until you're older, take a little time to learn and decide about:
It may not be easy to talk about sexual activity and birth control, but it is important that you know how to practice safer sex. Hopefully, you have a parent, school or church counselor, or health professional that you feel comfortable talking to. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood are private, confidential resources for learning how to be both sexual and responsible. See the Planned Parenthood website for teens at www.teenwire.com, or check your telephone listings for the Planned Parenthood office near you.
The best birth control methods for you are those that are easy for you to use (or are already in effect) each time you have intercourse. Follow up regularly with a health professional to make sure that your birth control method is working effectively for you. And if you have any side effects that are making it hard for you to use the method as directed, choose a different method.
If you have a long-term (chronic) illness or a disability, talk to a health professional about which birth control choices are best for you.
For teen boys and girls
Protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
For teen girls
Some teenage girls are worried about visiting a health professional for birth control.
Before choosing and using a birth control method, be honest with yourself. If it failed and you started a pregnancy, what would you do? Are you ready to raise a child? Is an abortion an acceptable option for you? Answering these questions can help you know how committed you are to preventing a pregnancy. For most sexually active teens, it is worth it to use the most effective birth control methods possible.
When choosing a birth control method, also consider protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms give the most effective STI protection for both partners, no matter what other birth control method you are using. But as birth control, condoms used alone are not highly dependable.
Emergency contraception can be used if you have had unprotected sex or you think your birth control method may have failed. The pills can prevent a pregnancy when taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex, although they are most effective when used within 72 hours. A copper IUD is sometimes used as emergency contraception and can prevent pregnancy if it is inserted within 5 to 7 days after you have had unprotected sex.
If you have had unprotected sexual intercourse or you think your birth control method may have failed, emergency contraception is a backup to prevent a pregnancy.
It's a good idea to have emergency contraception on hand or a prescription for emergency contraception in case you ever need it. Talk to your health professional or a family planning clinic about this.
If you do use emergency contraception, be sure to follow up with your health professional to find an effective, ongoing method of birth control.
For more information, see the Emergency Contraception website at http://ec.princeton.edu/.
Birth Control Methods
There are many methods of birth control. Learn about the different kinds of birth control to help you choose the best one for you. When making your choice, also consider that only a condom will help protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . To protect yourself and your partner against STIs, use a condom (along with your chosen birth control method) every time you have sex.
Hormonal methods are very reliable means of birth control. Hormonal methods use two basic formulas:
Combination and progestin-only methods are prescribed for women for different reasons. Each type of method has its pros and cons.
Intrauterine device (IUD)
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small device that is placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two main types of IUDs: copper IUDs (such as ParaGard) and hormonal IUDs (such as Mirena). When an IUD is in place, it can provide birth control for 5 to 10 years, depending on the type. Unlike IUDs that were used in the 1970s, present-day IUDs are small, safe, and highly effective.
The hormonal IUD typically reduces menstrual flow and cramping over time. On the other hand, the copper IUD can cause longer and heavier periods. But the hormonal IUD can have other side effects, including spotting, mood swings, and breast tenderness. These side effects occur less frequently than with other progestin-only methods.
Barrier methods (including the diaphragm; cervical cap; cervical shield; male condom; female condom; and spermicidal foam, sponge, gel, suppository, or film) prevent sperm from entering the uterus and reaching the egg. Typically, barrier methods are not highly effective, but they generally have fewer side effects than hormonal methods or IUDs. Spermicides and condoms should be used together or along with another method to increase their effectiveness. Barrier methods can interrupt sex, because they must be used every time you have sex.
Fertility awareness (periodic abstinence or natural family planning)
Fertility awareness requires that a couple chart the time during a woman's menstrual cycle when she is most likely to become pregnant and avoid intercourse or use a barrier method during that time. Fertility awareness is not a good choice if you need a highly effective form of birth control.
Breast-feeding may work as a form of birth control in the first 6 months after giving birth if you follow specific guidelines. For this method to work, you must breast-feed your baby every time. You can't use formula or other supplements. This is called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
Permanent birth control (sterilization)
Sterilization is a surgical procedure done for men or women who decide that they do not want to have any (or more) children. Sterilization is one of the most effective forms of birth control. Sterilization is intended to be permanent, and although you can try to reverse it with another surgery, reversal is not always successful.
Female sterilization is more complicated, has higher risks of problems after surgery, and is more expensive than male sterilization.
Contraception following pregnancy
Birth control is an important consideration after you have had a child. Your ability to become pregnant again may return within 3 to 6 weeks after childbirth. Think about what type of birth control you will be using, and make a plan during your pregnancy. Most methods of birth control are safe and effective after delivery. But in the first couple of weeks after delivery or if you are breast-feeding, it's best to use a method that doesn't contain estrogen. Talk to your doctor about which type is best for you.
Choosing a Birth Control Method
With so many methods available and so many factors to consider, choosing birth control can be difficult. You may be able to decide on a method by asking yourself the following questions:
Might I want to have a biological child in the future?
One of your first considerations might be to determine whether you want permanent or temporary birth control. In other words, you should consider whether you want to conceive any (or more) children. This is a decision that will affect the rest of your life and can be made only after thinking it through carefully.
If you are not sure about the future even though you know how you feel now, a temporary method is a better choice. If you are young, have few or no children, are choosing sterilization because your partner wants it, or think it will solve money or relationship problems, you may regret your decision later.
How would an unplanned pregnancy affect my life?
If an unplanned pregnancy would seriously impact your plans for the future, choose a birth control method that is highly effective. Or if you have a stable relationship and income and plan to have children in the future anyway, you may feel comfortable using a less reliable method.
How effective are different types of birth control?
Consider how important it is to you to avoid pregnancy, and then look at how well each birth control method works. Hormonal methods and IUDs work very well. Barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, and spermicides are only moderately effective. Fertility awareness is even less effective.
Be honest about how much effort you are willing to put into birth control. To be effective, birth control pills require you to take a pill every day. Barrier methods have to be used before sex. Fertility awareness requires that you watch your temperature and other signs closely. You must also avoid sex on days when you could get pregnant. If you are not willing to put in the effort, choose another method of birth control.
Consider how comfortable you feel about using a particular method of birth control. If you are not comfortable with or might not consistently use a birth control method for any reason, that method is not likely to be reliable for you in the long run.
How can I prevent sexually transmitted infections?
Unless you know that your partner has no other sex partners and is free of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) , you are at risk for STI infection. If you are at risk, protect yourself from infection every time you have sex. Use a condom in addition to any other birth control method you choose.
You can choose between a male or female condom to reduce your risk for HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, genital warts, herpes, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and other infections.
What health factors could limit my choice of birth control?
If you have health problems or other risk factors, some birth control methods may not be right for you.
Other health problems that might keep you from using a particular birth control method are relatively rare, especially in young women. But before using any method, talk with your health professional to see if it is safe for you.
What are some other considerations in choosing a birth control method?
Other things to consider when choosing a method of birth control include:
Thinking about the pros and cons of hormonal birth control methods may help you choose the one that is best for you.
After you have looked at the facts about the different methods and thought about your own values and needs, you can choose the method that will work best for you. Using condoms with any method may increase its reliability and helps to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) .
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. Personal stories may help you decide.
You can use emergency contraception if a condom breaks, you've forgotten a pill, you are taking other medicines that may affect contraception medicines, or you have had unprotected sex. Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections .
For more information, see the topic Emergency Contraception.
When to Call a Doctor
For many methods of birth control, you'll need to see your doctor to get a prescription. If you want to start birth control, talk with your doctor about options that are right for you. And if you have problems with a birth control method, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend another birth control method or help you solve the problem you are having.
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: May 3, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
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