Birth control

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Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Using a birth control method (contraception) means having the power to decide when or if you want to get pregnant. You and your partner have many choices to prevent pregnancy. If you don't want to have a baby right now, choose a birth control method that's right for you.

Whether you're a young adult or almost in menopause, there are many safe, reliable types of birth control including:

Barrier Methods
You can buy some kinds of barrier birth control without a prescription, such as male and female condoms or contraceptive sponges. Diaphragms and cervical caps are also barrier methods, but they must be fitted by a health care provider. Condoms are the only method to help you avoid sexually transmitted infections. Barrier methods are not as effective (18% to 24% unintended pregnancy rate) in preventing pregnancy as hormonal methods or long-acting reversible contraception.

Hormonal Methods
Oral contraceptive pills (“the pill”), patches, vaginal rings, and the Depo-Provera injection all contain hormones and are prescribed by a health care provider. These are all very effective methods (6 to 10 out of 100 women get pregnant) as long as you use them consistently and correctly.

Oral contraceptives, patches, and vaginal rings are reliable forms of birth control and, in addition to preventing unwanted pregnancy, they can be used to treat menstrual irregularity, acne, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), endometriosis, and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. They do not, however, protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms are the best available protection against STIs.

Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC)
LARC is the most effective form of reversible birth control (less than 1 out of 100 women get pregnant) and can last from 3 to 10 years. These include the copper IUD (ParaGard), the progestin IUD (Mirena, Skyla, Liletta) and the progestin implant (Nexplanon). A health care provider will place and remove these devices so you have little or nothing to do or remember after having one placed. The progestin IUD and the progestin implant can also be used to treat menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, and the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.

Once you have an LARC removed, you can get pregnant.

Permanent Methods
Permanent birth control methods are very effective (less than 1 out of 100 women get pregnant) and include vasectomy (surgery for men) and tubal ligation, tubal occlusion, or implant surgeries for women. Tubal ligation and tubal implants (for women) and vasectomy (for men) provide permanent protection against pregnancy, but you should consider them only if you and your partner (if you have one) are absolutely sure that you don't want any (or any more) children.

Emergency Contraception
If you had intercourse and did not use birth control, or if a condom broke, or if you are a victim of rape, you can buy the “morning-after pill” (for example Plan B One-Step). In the U.S., the morning-after pill is available over the counter without age restrictions, although some types of the morning-after pill require a prescription. It works best if you take it within 3 days of unprotected sex but can be used up to 5 days. You can also get the highly effective copper IUD placed by your health care provider as another type of emergency contraception.

You don't have to wait until you have a period to start a birth control method. Talk with your practitioner to find out if "quick starting" birth control is a good option for you.

If you're already pregnant, emergency contraception can't end the pregnancy.

Backup birth control

Emergency contraception (Plan B) can be used to prevent a pregnancy if taken properly within 5 days after:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Your birth control fails (the condom breaks, you've forgotten to take your birth control pills, etc.)
  • You are a victim of rape

The sooner you take emergency contraceptive pills, the more effective they are, so you may find it helpful to have some on hand, just in case you need them. Call your doctor, pharmacist, or the 24-hour advice line listed in our location finder for information on getting a supply. You can also talk to someone about emergency contraception by calling the toll-free Emergency Contraception Hotline: 1-888-NOT2LATE (1-888-668-2528).

Permanent protection

Tubal ligation and tubal implants (for women) and vasectomy (for men) provide permanent protection against pregnancy, but you should only consider them if you and your partner (if you have one) are absolutely sure that you don't want any (or any more) children.

Have questions? Concerns?

Schedule an appointment with your practitioner to talk about your questions or concerns about birth control. Your practitioner may not recommend certain types of birth control methods if you have certain health risks such as migraines, heart disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, or diabetes. For example, combination (estrogen and progestin) pills, patches, or rings aren't recommended for women over 35 who smoke.

If you take birth control, you can refill your prescription online.

Reviewed by: Juanita Watts, MD, April 2016

Additional Kaiser Permanente Reviewers

© 2016 Kaiser Permanente

Reviewed by: Jennifer Seidel, MD, and Asma Saraj, MD, December 2018