Questions to Consider When Choosing Birth Control

Having sex is about making choices. You choose when you're ready to have sex, when to wait, and you feel comfortable doing, and who will be your partner. Finally, you can choose to have sex in the safest way.


Types of Birth Control

Which Birth Control Method Is Right for You?

Not getting pregnant requires you to weigh the pros and cons of all birth control methods and to choose an effective birth control that you find comfortable, can use correctly, and will use consistently each time you have sex. With so many options, choosing birth control methods may be hard. Here are the top questions to ask yourself when making this decision.


How Important Is Ease of Use and Convenience?

A woman putting on a contraceptive patch

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Some birth control methods are more convenient to use than others. Likewise, some methods are also easier to understand. In total, there are several options for birth control, including the barrier method used episodically, taking a pill daily, a patch used weekly, a ring used monthly, a shot received quarterly, an implant received every 3 years, or an IUD placed every 5-10 years or permanent sterilization, which happens just once.

For example, The Patch (which only needs to be changed once a week) is more convenient than a ​diaphragm (which needs to be with you and inserted before sex).

On the same note, receiving a Depo-Provera injection every three months is easier to figure out than using a natural family planning method like Standard Days or the Billings Method.

You should honestly evaluate how important these factors are to you and how your birth control method will fit into your lifestyle.


How Comfortable Would You Be Using a Particular Birth Control Method?

Vaginal ring, intra-uterine device, contraceptive implant and pills

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Consider your comfort level when choosing a birth control method. If you are not at ease with an option, or might not consistently use it, that method is unlikely to be reliable for you in the long run.

  • Decide whether or not a particular method may cause irritation or discomfort for you or your partner.
  • Consider how comfortable you are with touching your body. For people with vaginas/front holes, some methods like a diaphragm or NuvaRing require inserting them and taking them out. For those with penises, using a condom requires rolling it onto your penis. There are also hormonal options available. There are also adhesive options that could be possibly visible. Internal condoms, diaphragms, and sponges are placed inside the vagina/front hole. You should also consider if you are needle phobic or procedure phobic.

It's important to be honest about your feelings regarding these issues.


Will the Contraceptive Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

Midsection Of Man Holding Condom
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Condoms (both external and internal) are the only birth control method that reduces your risk of catching sexually transmitted infections as well as HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).

Remember that, unless you know for sure that your partner has no other sex partners and is free of sexually transmitted diseases, you are at risk of catching an infection.

To protect yourself, use a condom in addition to any other birth control method if you fall under this risk category.

Keep in mind that an external condoms should never be used at the same time as an internal condom. Also, there is no advantage to wearing two condoms rather than just using one to prevent pregnancy.

Nonoxynol 9 spermicide actually increases risk of HIV, so avoid this. Remember, a condom should never be reused, and natural lambskin condoms not effective for STI prevention (latex and polyurethane are effective).


Do You Want to Have a Biological Child in the Future?

Serious doctor talks with young adult patient
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You need to decide if you want a permanent or temporary birth control method. Whether or not you wish to conceive any (or more) children can help in this decision.

If you are unsure about the future, consider a temporary method. When choosing one, think about how quickly you can become pregnant after stopping a particular method.

Also, keep in mind that you may regret choosing a permanent method if you are young, if you have few or no children, if you are choosing this method because your partner wants you to, if you think it will solve money issues, or if you believe this option will fix relationship problems.


How Effective Do You Want Your Birth Control Method to Be?

Teenage girl discussing birth control pills with gynecologist

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Although some birth control methods are more reliable than others, no birth control method is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy except for abstinence. In general, permanent methods and long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as an IUD or the contraceptive implant Nexplanon tend to be the most reliable.

Effectiveness rates are usually provided as a typical use rate and a perfect use rate. Normally, methods that require less for you to do tend to have lower failure rates.

Carefully consider how effective you want your birth control method to be and at what rate you will feel most comfortable.


How Would an Unplanned Pregnancy Affect Your Life?

Woman holding home pregnancy test and looking worried

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Your answer to this question also can help to point you in the right direction when choosing birth control methods.

It is recommended that you choose a highly effective birth control method:

  • If you would perceive an unplanned pregnancy as a potentially devastating event
  • If an unintended pregnancy would seriously impact your plans for the future

You might feel comfortable using less reliable birth control methods if you are in a stable relationship, have a reliable source of income, or are planning to have children in the future but would embrace a pregnancy should it happen now.


Do You Have Health Factors That Might Limit Your Choice of Contraceptive?

Woman holding birth control pills
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If you have certain health problems or other risk factors, some birth control methods might not be the safest option for you. Although there could be health issues that might prevent you from using a certain method, these are usually rare.

To be safe, before beginning any contraceptive, always talk with your healthcare provider first.

Another health factor to consider is whether or not you currently have or potentially could have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. These situations also could help determine the safest option for you to choose. Educate yourself about potential health factors and how STDs might factor into your decision.


What Are Your Religious and Moral Values?

Dctor examining pregnant patient's belly

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If you are morally, spiritually, or religiously opposed to using certain birth control methods, there are natural family planning methods that can be used successfully, given that both partners are motivated with this choice.

Couples report that these methods can be a truly rewarding experience once you figure out the technique that best suits you and become accustomed to it. These methods usually receive less attention, but do not rule them out until you have done some research.

Although considered a natural method, please note that withdrawal is not a very effective birth control choice.


How Much Will the Birth Control Method Cost?

Man in the pharmacy about to deliver a prescription

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Various costs are associated with each type of contraceptive. When choosing birth control methods, keep in mind the following costs (in addition to the actual contraceptive):

  • Routine check-ups required for prescription methods
  • The insertion and removal of devices like ParaGard IUD and Implanon
  • Treatment for possible complications
  • The cost of emergency contraception if your method fails you. Emergency contraception is not reliable for regular use for contraception.

It is helpful to consider the possibility that some of the higher, one-time costs of certain methods may, over time, be less than the continued costs of buying pills, patches, or condoms. Additional cost considerations are often overlooked.


Are You Looking for a Contraceptive That Offers Additional Benefits?

gloved hand holding an IUD


Birth control prevents unwanted pregnancies. The medical risks of pregnancy and delivery are generally much higher than the risks of using any contraceptive. Some birth control methods provide health benefits in addition to ​preventing pregnancy. Examples include:

  • The Pill: It can reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers, can improve acne and lessen premenstrual symptoms. However, it may increase the risks of breast, cervical, and liver cancer.
  • Latex Condoms: They can protect against STIs and HIV.
  • Progestin-Only Methods: Options like Mirena IUD, Depo Provera Injection, and Progestin-Only Pills (the Mini Pill) can relieve cramping and menstrual bleeding. Periods can be less frequent or stop altogether, which lowers the risk for anemia.
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By Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC
Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC, is a published author, college professor, and mental health consultant with over 15 years of counseling experience.