The ABC’s of Birth Control Options

Birth control is any means used to prevent pregnancy. There are barrier options like condoms, hormonal and nonhormonal pills, implants, reversible and permanent surgical options, even emergency contraception choices.

It can be hard to know which birth control method will suit you, with so many options to consider. Women need to consider their health history, personal values, future plans, and even their current lifestyle. This process can become overwhelming and lead to even more questions.

Which method is most effective?

What are the possible side effects?

Do I need short-term or long-term family planning?

At McTammany Health Services, we are committed to providing our patients with expert information from trusted sources to ensure personalized care. We can help you better understand your options to make the right decision for you.

Barrier Method

Just as the name suggests, the barrier method prevents the sperm from reaching the egg by using a barrier like the condom, which is widely available with no prescription needed.

At about 80% effective in preventing pregnancy and also capable of preventing STDs, the female condom is a thin, plastic tube that is partially inserted into your vagina to create a barrier.

Male condoms are the most prevalent barrier method and can be up to 98% effective if used perfectly every time. They are available in a variety of sizes, materials, and other options and are typically the most reliable choice. 

A few other options in the barrier method are available to prevent pregnancy, but these do not provide any protection against STDs. A non-prescription option is the sponge, which is a piece of foam treated with spermicide that you insert high into your vagina before sex, can be between 68-84% effective. Spermicide comes in gels, creams, and foams and can be used alone or combined with other methods with about 70% effectiveness.

Rubber or silicone barrier methods you place high up in your vagina, like the diaphragm, cervical cap, and cervical shield, are about 90% effective but only available with a prescription.  

Hormonal Birth Control

This method of birth control uses hormones, similar to the ones in your body, to prevent the release of an egg and keep the sperm from being about to fertilize the egg. This option can come in pills, patches, shots, implants, and even insertable vaginal rings. 

The effectiveness of hormonal birth control depends significantly on how well you use it. Typically, it will be 90% effective and, with consistent use, it can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. 

These options are only available with a prescription, and be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects, how it will work with your personal health history, and how long it will take to become effective. You may need to use another form of protection until your hormonal option can become fully effective.

The ABC's of Birth Control Options


This method is a small, plastic device, called an Intrauterine Device (IUD),  that your doctor will place inside your uterus through your cervix. This procedure is done in the office, and while it is quick and straightforward, it can cause mild pain and discomfort. Once complete, this is considered a long-term option and comes in hormone and a hormone-free copper option.

With a hormonal IUD like Kyleena and Mirena, the t-shaped device releases a hormone called levonorgestrel that thickens your cervical mucus making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg, and some options can prevent you from releasing an egg at all. This method of birth control can cause a lighter period and even no period and is FDA approved. It is effective for 3-5 years and is removed by two small strings attached to the bottom of the t-shaped device. 

The non-hormonal implant, ParaGard, uses copper to prevent the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg and is also used to avoid the implantation of a fertilized egg. This IUD is most effective if implanted within 120 hours of unprotected sex and yields a 99.9% effective rate making it an excellent option for emergency contraception. Unlike its hormonal counterparts, many patients experience heavier periods that decline over time. The copper implant can remain in the uterus for up to 10 years. 

Another hormonal implant birth control option is Nexplanon, a small rod the size of a matchstick placed below the skin in the upper arm. This implant releases progestin to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg and thickens the cervical mucus to make it less likely for sperm to enter the uterus and reach an egg. Many patients reported experiencing irregular menstrual bleeding with Nexplanon. You can expect this method to be effective for about three years. 

Contraceptive Injection

Another alternative is to get a shot of synthetic progestin, called Depo-Provera, which stops the ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens the cervical mucus to make it harder for the sperm to enter the uterus. This method is injected into your arm or hip every three months, and consistency is important because it is most effective when administered between 11 and 13 weeks apart.

Emergency Birth Control

In some instances, such as following unprotected sex or if a condom breaks, it is possible to prevent pregnancy for up to 3-5 days, though the sooner, the better. These methods should not be considered for regular birth control but are effective when the situation arises.

As previously mentioned, the copper IUD implant is the most effective at preventing pregnancy when implanted by a professional within five days of unsafe sex and is only available with a prescription. However, there are a few over-the-counter emergency birth control pills you can purchase, such as Plan-B One Step, My Way, and Take Action, that use the hormone levonorgestrel, but for most, you have to be over 17 to get them. Some patients have also used hormonal birth control pills as emergency contraception, but you have to use more than one, and these typically require a prescription, as well. 

Permanent Sterilization

If you are sure you do not want to get pregnant at any point in the future, there are several options for you, from semi-permanent to completely effective.

For men, a vasectomy is an outpatient surgery in which the doctor will cut and seal the tubes that carry sperm into the semen. This procedure can sometimes be reversed effectively, as well. 

For women, tubal ligation is an outpatient procedure that blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents sperm from reaching the eggs. Recently, many doctors have been choosing to perform a tubal removal or salpingectomy, which completely removes the fallopian tubes and has been shown to reduce the risk of many reproductive cancers. Both of the procedures are considered fully effective and permanent.

The ABC's of Birth Control Options

A Personal Choice

Your personal health history, combined with your current lifestyle and future family plans, is very important to consider when choosing the proper birth control. Being over 35, having a history of high blood pressure or blood clots, and even being overweight can negatively affect the type of birth control you choose. 

These are good reasons why it is so important to consult your doctor before making your final decision. Our team at McTammany Health Service can help make it easy for you to get the personalized care you need when you need it. If you are looking for more information on birth control, let us help you find the perfect fit.