According to Planned Parenthood, 99 percent of sexually active women have used birth control in their lifetime. Studies have shown that the use of birth control improves both the health of women and of families as a whole. But birth control has not always been easy to obtain and alternatives have not always been plentiful. As recently as 1960, the only options were abstinence, the rhythm method (which is unpredictable and unreliable), and the birth control pill. But as science and society progress, we are, today, presented with an ever-increasing number of options.

So the delightful question we are now able to ask ourselves, is which method of birth control is best? Each option has its own pros and cons, and a decision about which option is best is best discussed with a physician who knows your full health history, both physical and psychiatric (hormones can have profound effects on mood and neurotransmitter balance as those who suffer from Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Order can attest). Ultimately, however, you are your own best advocate and going in to see a health professional while armed with information and questions will ensure your needs are met.

Here is a brief outline of the main types of birth control methods now available:

BARRIER

Types: condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicidal foam and film, sponge
How they work: Prevent sperm from passing through the vagina and into the uterus, thereby preventing fertilization
Pros: Many are over-the-counter (diaphragm and cervical cap must be fitted by physician), easy to use, cost less than medical options, have no effect on women’s hormones, and can be easily reversed, plus condoms can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections
Cons: Some can cause allergic reactions; not all prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections when used alone (diaphragm, cervical cap, foam, film, sponge do NOT); some can cause toxic shock syndrome (sponge, cap); all must be inserted and removed each time you have sex; some can become displaced or tear during sex

For more information: Visit acog.org

MEDICAL

Combined Hormonal Birth Control
Types: pill, ring, patch
How they work: Prevent ovaries from releasing eggs, increase cervical mucus, thin uterine wall
Pros: Result in lighter periods, reduce cramps, decrease risk of uterine and ovarian cancer, may reduce acne and unwanted hair growth, can be used to treat pain associated with endometriosis and fibroids
Cons: Inconvenience (birth control pills need to be taken daily at roughly the same time, the rings needs to be replaced every 21 days—with a seven-day break between rings, patches are replaced weekly with a break on week 4; the risk of side effects—including headache, nausea, breast tenderness, and/or breakthrough bleeding; cannot be used by women who experience migraine with aura; the risk of blood clots in legs (this risk increases with age, smoking, diabetes, and heart disease); not recommended for use by breastfeeding women prior to the fifth postpartum week; and does not protect from sexually transmitted diseases

For more information: Visit acog.org

Long-Acting Contraceptive Methods
Types: copper IUD, hormone-containing IUD, implant
How they work: Thickens cervical mucus to create environment inhospitable to sperm
Pros: Good for 3 (implant) to 10 (copper IUD) years depending on type, low failure rates, low maintenance, often lessen severity of or completely eliminates monthly periods, pose minimal risk of complication, are easily reversible, appropriate for ages adolescent and older (depending on health history and needs)
Cons: Insertion can cause some bleeding, other risks include perforation, expulsion (body rejecting the device), weight gain (with hormone-containing implants), do not protect from sexually transmitted infections

For more information: Visit acog.org

Depo-Provera
Type: injection
How it works: Prevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucus
Pros: Injection only needed once every three months, may lighten periods, may help prevent uterine cancer, easily reversible
Cons: Doctor’s appointment needed every three months for the injection; does not protect from sexually transmitted infections; breakthrough bleeding; possible nausea, weight gain, hair loss or more hair on face, depression; may take up to 10 months to conceive after discontinuing

For more information: Visit plannedparenthood.org

SURGICAL

Types: tubal ligation (women), vasectomy (men)

Tubal Ligation
How it works: The tubes from the egg-producing ovaries to the uterus are blocked or cut, which prevents eggs from being released and prevents sperm from reaching the eggs
Pros: No maintenance, no need for additional contraception (except for first post-surgical month), very effective, permanent (also a con for some people)
Cons: Permanent (also a pro for some people), major surgical procedure (often done during c-section or another abdominal surgery), risk of damage to other abdominal organs, poor healing, does not prevent STDs.

For more information: Visit mayoclinic.org

Vasectomy
How it works: The tubes that carry sperm to the penis are blocked or cut, which prevents fertilization
Pros: No other birth control required to prevent pregnancy (except in first three months post-surgery), minor in-office procedure, quick recovery, 99 percent effective, permanent (also a con for some)
Cons: Permanent (can be reversed in some cases but not reliably, also a pro for some), back-up birth control should be used during first three months after procedure, does not prevent STDs.

For more information: Visit plannedparenthood.org