Birth Control Effectiveness and Comparison

Birth control is a way for women and men to prevent getting pregnant and plan the timing of pregnancy. There are many different birth control methods, including hormonal contraception and OTC methods. Birth control effectiveness is an important and common concern in your decision to choose a birth control method.

People have been using birth control for thousands of years. Today, we have many safe and effective birth control methods to choose between. Birth control effectiveness depends on different factors. As with any contraceptive, your chosen birth control method will be more effective if you use it consistently and correctly. This means that if you want high levels of birth control effectiveness, you can’t allow yourself to become careless with your contraception—you must always use it and make sure that you are using it the right way.

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When you are comparing birth control effectiveness, it is helpful that you understand what failure rates mean. This is where birth control comparison can become a little confusing. The birth control effectiveness rate is the opposite of its failure rate. So, let’s say that you are comparing the effectiveness of the birth control pill and the effectiveness of Depo Provera. You read that that the pill has an 8% failure rate and Depo Provera has a 6% failure rate. What does this tell you?

Well, failure rates refer to the number of pregnancies that take place when 100 women use that birth control method for one year. So in our birth control comparison, about 8 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they don't always use the pill correctly and about 6 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they don't always use Depo Provera as directed. Another way to look at this birth control comparison is that the pill is 92% effective at preventing pregnancy and Depo Provera is 94% effective. So the birth control effectiveness rate is the number you get when you subtract its failure rate from 100.

Birth Control Comparison Based on Typical Use

Birth control methods can be grouped into different categories and some methods are more effective than others:

  • Natural Methods (not including abstinence): birth control effectiveness for these methods range from 77%-95%.
  • OTC Methods: birth control effectiveness for these methods range from 72%-88%.
  • Prescription Methods: birth control effectiveness for these methods range between 86%-99.9%.
  • Hormonal Methods: birth control effectiveness for these methods range from 92%-99.9%.
  • Permanent Methods: birth control effectiveness for these methods range from 99.5%-99.9%.

Factors That Can Lower/Increase Birth Control Effectiveness

Except for abstinence (which is 100% effective), no birth control method is foolproof. So when it comes to comparing birth control effectiveness, remember that YOU become a big part of the equation. Believe it or not, there are certain steps that you can take that can lower or increase your birth control effectiveness:

  • Make sure you know how to correctly use your birth control method and that you can separate the truth about contraception from the myths. If you have misconceptions about your method, like the pill or condoms, you can compromise your birth control effectiveness because you believe the wrong information.
  • If you want to make sure that your birth control is effective, it is so important that you are using it the correct way. If you do not put on a condom properly, correctly insert the sponge or use a female condom, or not check your IUD strings, you could be lowering the effectiveness of these methods. You should also be aware of expiration dates, whether it's time for a new diaphragm, or what to do when switching to a new pill.
  • Birth control effectiveness could also be lowered if you do not know what to do if something goes wrong, like if your NuvaRing falls out or you forget to change your patch.
  • Certain medications and supplements can lower the effectiveness of hormonal birth control. It is important that you double-check that any medications you are using do not interfere with the progestin or estrogen in these methods.
  • Did you know that almost half of all unintended pregnancies happen to women who were using birth control when they got pregnant? One possible reason for this is that your weight may lower your birth control effectiveness. This is especially true for overweight and/or obese women who use the pill.
  • Another time that you are at risk for lowering your birth control effectiveness is when you travel. Don't let your birth control ruin your trip, so make sure you plan ahead when traveling.
  • How you store your contraception may also lower your birth control effectiveness. For example, it is very important that you are storing your condoms properly.

Make your contraception work for you. Birth control comparison is the first step in researching how effective each method is. Knowing about some of the mistakes people make while using contraception can give you the power to maximize your birth control effectiveness.

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2 Sources
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  1. Planned Parenthood. Birth Control.

  2. Mosher W, Jones J, Abma JC: Division of Vital Statistics. Intended and unintended births in the United States: 1982-2010. National Health Statistics Report. 2012;55.