Which Birth Control Is Right for You?

Quit playing reproductive roulette and own your sex life with MC's very own guide to birth control. To compare a list of pills and their effects, check out our Contraceptive Cheat Sheet.

Woman in tight outfit with patch on arm
(Image credit: LIZ VON HOENE)

As if outsmarting biology weren't tricky enough, the recession is the latest force of nature to hamper our reproductive health. In one survey released last fall, almost a quarter of women polled said paying for contraception was a struggle since the economy imploded. Scarier still, a full 18 percent copped to skimping on the Pill — skipping days, putting off prescriptions, or even going cold turkey — all to save a little cash.

Luckily, there's good news. President Obama has pledged $648 million to a global family-planning campaign, plus another $114 million to fight teen pregnancy in the U.S. The FDA recently approved a new single-dose version of Plan B, the morning-after pill, out this month (no prescription required for women 17 or older). And the number of women buying condoms is inching up, showing we're ready for action — but on our terms.

On the flip side, what if you are ready for baby-making but freaked by the thought of infertility? We got the scoop on the newest reproductive technologies out there from the doctor who performed the first-ever successful ovary transplant. So whether or not you've got babies on the brain, we've got your back.

So, which birth control is right for you?


TRIED AND TRUE: Condom. The female condom never quite found its, um, niche in the U.S. But condom companies now target women with everything from vibrating rings to increasingly lubed-up (male) rubbers. Trojan, whose latest "Ecstasy" line targets women with commercials featuring shag-happy gals, says women now buy 38 percent of condoms, up from 30 percent in 2001. Best of all, they're cheap — about $1 each, and cost less when bought in bulk.

RUNNERS-UP: Diaphragm, sponge, spermicide. Less than 0.2 percent of women use a diaphragm, and the sponge and spermicide are unpopular, too, according to the CDC. Another downer: Some guys report "bumping" into a diaphragm during sex.


TRIED AND TRUE: The Pill. Birth control pills are the most popular contraceptive among American women. And aside from being convenient, the new breed of pills, when prescribed off-label, helps with everything from acne to PMS. The vaginal ring, a newer hormonal contraceptive, works like the Pill and also has off-label benefits.

RUNNERS-UP: Shot, patch, IUD. Just 3.3 percent of women use Depo-Provera, a four-times-a-year shot that stops ovulation. A January 2010 study links the shot to bone loss, and smokers are at elevated risk, so ask your doctor about this option before getting it. While only 1.3 percent of women use IUDs, Mirena, an IUD from Bayer, was recently approved by the FDA to combat heavy menstrual bleeding. (A nonhormonal IUD, made of copper, also exists.)