Every Method of Birth Control Out There, from A-Z

A comprehensive list.

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Cervical Cap + Spermicide (FEMCAP)

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How it works: A small silicone cup covered with spermicide. Insert into your vagina before sex to keep sperm away from the uterus (leave it in for six hours after sex). Must be fitted by a provider.

How effective it is (typical use vs. perfect use): 71%-86%

Cost: $0-$275

Pros: No hormones; cost- effective since the cap lasts for years; effective immediately.

Cons: Not for those allergic to silicone or spermicide; can be tricky to insert; may lead to more urinary infections.


Condoms (female)

How it works: A plastic or synthetic rubber pouch with an open and closed end that you insert into your vagina to catch sperm. You can also cover the closed end with spermicide.

How effective it is: 79%-95%

Cost: $2-$4 (per condom)

Pros: Protects against STIs; no hormones; no prescription needed.

Cons: May reduce sensation; can "interrupt the moment."


Condoms (male)

How it works: A latex, synthetic, or lambskin sheath that fits over your partner's penis to prevent sperm from entering you. Need to use a new one each time you have sex.

How effective it is: 82%-98%

Cost: about $1 per condom

Pros: Protects against STIs; easily available; no hormones; no prescription needed.

Cons: May reduce sensation; can break during sex; can "interrupt the moment."


Diaphragm + Spermicide

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How it works: A latex or silicone cup covered with spermicide. Insert into your vagina before sex to keep sperm away from the uterus (leave it in for six hours after sex). Must be fitted by a provider.

How effective it is: 88%-94%

Cost: $0-$40

Pros: No hormones; cost- effective since the diaphragm lasts for years; effective immediately.

Cons: Not for those allergic to silicone or spermicide; can be tricky to insert; may lead to urinary infections.


Fertility Awareness/ Natural Family Planning (Rhythm Method)

Most Popular

How it works: Involves closely tracking your periods, paying attention to your body's cues (like cervical secretions), and abstaining from sex on the days when you know you can get pregnant.

How effective it is: 76%-99%

Cost: FREE (but you'll need a thermometer)

Pros: No hormones; no prescription needed; no side effects; cost-effective.

Cons: Takes a lot of discipline; requires abstinence or a backup method.


Implant (Nexplanon)

How it works: A tiny rod inserted under the skin of your upper arm that delivers hormones to keep your ovaries from releasing eggs. Lasts up to three years.

How effective it is: more than99%

Cost: $0-$800

Pros: Can reduce acne and PMS; protects against certain cancers and cysts.

Cons: Can cause irregular bleeding, sore breasts, nausea, or decreased sex drive.


IUD (Mirena, Skyla, Paragard, Liletta)

How it works: A T-shaped piece of plastic (or plastic and copper) inserted into your uterus to keep sperm from fertilizing an egg. Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta IUDs release hormones. Lasts three to 12 years.

How effective it is: more than 99%

Cost: $0- $850

Pros: Invisible; low- maintenance; no hormones for ParaGard users.

Cons: Can cause spotting and cramps; can cause heavier flow for ParaGard users.


The Patch (Xulane)

How it works: A Band-Aid-like square that adheres to your skin and delivers hormones that prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs. Change every week.

How effective it is: 91%-99%

Cost: $0-$85 (per month)

Pros: Can reduce acne and PMS; protects against certain cancers and cysts.

Cons: Can cause irregular bleeding, sore breasts, nausea, or decreased sex drive.


The Pill (more than 100 brands including generics)

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How it works: Delivers hormones that both prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs and thicken cervical mucus to keep sperm out. Must be taken at the same time daily.

How effective it is: 91%-99%

Cost: $0-$90 (per month)

Pros: Predictable periods; can reduce acne and PMS; protects against certain cancers.

Cons: Need a prescription; can cause irregular bleeding, sore breasts, nausea, or decreased sex drive.


The Ring (NuvaRing)

Most Popular

How it works: A small ring inserted into your vagina that delivers hormones to prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs. Lasts three weeks.

How effective it is: 91%-99%

Cost: $0-$75 (per month)

Pros: Lower hormone dose than other hormonal methods; can reduce acne and PMS.

Cons: Need a prescription; can cause irregular bleeding, sore breasts, nausea, or decreased sex drive.


The Shot (Depo-Provera)

How it works: A progestin-only shot that prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs. Lasts three months.

How effective it is: 94%-99%

Cost: $0-$120 (per shot)

Pros: Invisible; low-maintenance; good for those who can't tolerate estrogen.

Cons: Can cause irregular bleeding, increased appetite, decreased sex drive, depression, or nausea.


Sponge

How it works:

A piece of white foam filled with spermicide inserted into your vagina before sex to block your uterus.

How effective it is: 71%-86%

Cost: $0-$15 (for pack of three)

Pros: No hormones; no prescription needed; can be inserted in advance.

Cons: Can be tough to insert; not for those allergic to sulfa drugs or polyurethane.


Sterilization (tubes tied)

How it works: Permanent blockage of your fallopian tubes, where your eggs meet sperm, done through surgery or a nonsurgical procedure called Essure that places inserts in your tubes.

How effective it is: more than 99%

Cost: $0-$5,000

Pros: The ultimate "set it and forget it."

Cons: You can't "untie" your fallopian tubes; possible complications can occur.


Withdrawal (pulling out)

How it works: Your partner withdraws before he ejaculates.

How effective it is: 78%-96% (rare)

Cost: Free

Pros: No hormones; no prescription needed; pairs well with other methods.

Cons: Super-risky. Not a "method" as much as "better than nothing."


(Pssst...Need help choosing? Head to bedsider.org for more information.)

This article is a part of a week-long series on birth control. See the rest here.

A version of this article appeared in the June issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands May 19 2015.

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