Comparison of Birth Control Methods

Benefits and Downfalls of the Various Birth Control Methods

Contraceptives are drugs and devices used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy when a couple engages in sex. There are a wide variety of effective birth control methods available to sexually active couples or individuals. All of the various birth control methods have advantages and disadvantage as well as degrees of effectiveness when it comes to avoiding pregnancy. While some are completely natural (abstinence, withdrawal, etc.), other forms are available only by a doctor's prescription (birth control pills, depo provera shots, IUDs, diaphragms, patches), readily available at pharmacies, department stores or online (condoms, spermicidal agents, "morning after" pills). There are many contraceptive options to carefully consider. Hence, a comparison of factors like effectiveness in preventing pregnancy (%), protection from STDs, advantages/disadvantages, and prescription/OTC availability may assist in making the ultimate decision concerning an effective birth control method much easier for individuals or couples.

Comparison of Birth Control MethodsSource: examiner.com

Ten Birth Control Methods

Contraceptives are drugs and devices used to avoid pregnancy. Today, there are a wide variety of effective birth control methods available to sexually active couples or individuals who want to reduce the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Every birth control method has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as relative degree of effectiveness. Some are completely natural, while other forms of contraception are available by prescription or purchased at pharmacies and department stores.

Abstinence

Total abstinence means not engaging in sexual activity of any kind.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

100% effective against pregnancy and STDs

Advantages

  • No side effects.
  • No costs involved.
  • Can increase intimacy between sexual partners.

Disadvantages

  • Requires a great deal of self-control.
  • It may be difficult to practice abstinence for prolonged periods.

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

IUDs are small, T-shaped devices inserted into the uterus as a proactive contraceptive method, then left in place for several years. They can be hormonal or non-hormonal (i.e., copper). Both types work by preventing sperm from fertilizing eggs released during ovulation.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • Hormonal IUD: 99.9% effective.
  • Non-hormonal IUD: 99.2% effective.
  • Do not protect against STDs

Advantages

  • Nothing to insert prior to sex.
  • Some decrease the severity of menstrual cramps, or lighten menstrual flow.
  • Can still be used as an effective birth control method while breastfeeding.
  • Stays in place for an extended period of time (at least five years).
  • Woman can achieve a planned pregnancy soon after her IUD is removed.

Disadvantages

  • High initial cost.
  • Side effects like tender breasts, mood swings, and headaches.

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • Available by prescription only.
  • An IUD must be inserted and removed by a licensed health-care provider.

Depo-Provera Injections

Depo provera is a progesterone-based injection that is injected into a female's buttocks or arm. One injection is administered every three months.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • 99.7% effective.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Convenience. One shot prevents pregnancy for three months.
  • Birth control effects begin immediately.
  • Reversible. Can get pregnant 12 to 18 months from last injection.
  • Does not affect breastfeeding.

Disadvantages

  • Possible adverse effects include irregular bleeding, weight gain, headaches, nervousness, stomach aches, dizziness, weakness, depression, and reduced sex drive. However, side effects eventually subside.
  • Can cause significant bone loss.

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • Prescription only.

Birth Control Pills

These estrogen- and progesterone-based oral contraceptives prevent a female's eggs from being expelled from her ovaries.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • 92–97% effective.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Very effective, if taken properly.
  • Tend to make menstrual periods more regular or lighter.
  • Reduce severity of menstrual cramps and skin conditions like acne.
  • Do not get in the way of sexual spontaneity.

Disadvantages

  • Need to be taken at the same time every day.
  • Some women cannot tolerate.
  • Occasional side effects include nausea, increased appetite/weight, headaches, and blood clots (rarely).

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • By prescription only.

Hormonal Patches

Used as alternative birth control methods to oral pills, hormone patches continuously release estrogens/progesterones through the skin for seven days.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • 92% effective.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Simple to use.
  • Small size.
  • Stays on the skin well.

Disadvantages

  • Possible skin reactions.

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • Only by prescription.

"Morning After" Pills

Emergency alternative birth control methods, like the "morning after" pill, help prevent pregnancy when a woman has engaged in sex without protection.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • 89% effective.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Risk of pregnancy is reduced by 89 percent, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.
  • Available over-the-counter to women, 17 years of age and over.

Disadvantages

  • Essential to take as soon as possible following unprotected sex.
  • Possible side effects include nausea/vomiting and/or irregular bleeding.

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • Over-the-counter.

Diaphragm

Made of latex or soft rubber, a diaphragm is a shallow, flexible cup-shaped device that is inserted into the vagina before intercourse.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • 88% effective when used with a spermicidal agent.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Convenient, fits into a pocket or purse.
  • OK to use if breastfeeding.
  • Cannot be felt by wearer and/or partner.
  • No adverse effects on natural hormone levels.
  • Effective contraception right way.
  • May be put in several hours before sex.

Disadvantages

  • Requires initial fitting and periodic refittings.
  • Need to use a spermicide as well, which can be messy.

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • Available by prescription only.

Male Condoms

A condom is athin, latex sheath that covers the male penis, collecting sperm and preventing it from entering the vagina.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • 84% effective.
  • Provides protection against STDs, if used correctly.

Advantages

  • Very easy to buy and carry.
  • Makes the male partner take an active role in birth control.
  • Aids in STD/STI prevention.

Disadvantages

  • Decreased sexual spontaneity.
  • Can break, especially if used incorrectly.

Prescription versus OTC Availability:

  • Widely available over the counter.

Withdrawal ("Pulling Out")

This method involves the male partner pulling his penis out of the vagina prior to ejaculation.

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • Low effectiveness: only 78%.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Free.
  • Natural method.
  • May be used in conjunction with other contraceptive methods.

Disadvantages

  • May not withdraw in time.
  • "Pre-ejaculate" may contain live sperm.
  • Relatively ineffective method of pregnancy prevention.

Spermicidal Creams/Gels

Vaginal spermicides kill sperm cells. They can be used alone or in combination with barrier type contraceptives (i.e., condoms, diaphragms, etc.).

Pregnancy Prevention (%) and Protection from STDs

  • Low effectiveness: only 74% when used alone.
  • No STD protection.

Advantages

  • Easy to use (available in creams, foams, gels, and suppositories).
  • Enhances lubrication of the vagina.

Disadvantages

  • Must be inserted into the vagina immediately before each sex act.
  • Messy and can leak from the vagina.

Prescription versus OTC Availability

  • Over-the-counter.

Resources

  • American Sexual Health Association (2013). Birth Control Comparison Chart. Retrieved from: http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/uploads/pdfs/ContraceptiveOptions.pdf
  • Planned Parenthood (2013). Comparing Effectiveness of Birth Control Methods. Retrieved from: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/birth-control-effectiveness-chart-22710.htm

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