Birth Control Types, Side Effects and Effectiveness—15 Options For Pregnancy Prevention

Posted by Medical Board on December 18, 2017 in Hormones Men Women
Birth Control Types, Side Effects and Effectiveness—15 Options For Pregnancy Prevention

As long as men and women have engaged in sexual intercourse, the quest to prevent pregnancy has always existed. Throughout history, birth control methods have bordered on the wacky and absurd, to the dangerous and sometimes deadly, in efforts to keep women from becoming pregnant. In ancient China for example, concubines used to drink a concoction of lead and mercury to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes brain damage, kidney failure, or death ensued. In the 10th-century, Persian women were instructed to jump backwards seven or nine times after sexual intercourse. Western societies were no exception to bizarre birth control practices.

Fortunately for men and women everywhere, mankind has evolved and safe, effective birth control is readily available.

Birth control methods in the United States vary, with over 60% of women engaging in some type of pregnancy prevention. As new products and methods become available, older forms of birth control may be used less frequently.

Birth Control Types[1]

In the U.S., five major types of birth control exist.

These include:

  • Hormonal methods[4]
  • Intrauterine devices
  • Barrier methods
  • Spermicides
  • Male/female sterility[2]

Hormonal Methods[3]

Birth Control Pill

Birth control pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin, which act on the body in specific ways to control the release of eggs from the ovaries.

“The pill” prevents this process from happening each month. It also helps to thicken cervical mucous and thin the uterine lining, further preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg.

The Mini Pill

The mini pill contains only progestin and may be prescribed for women who cannot tolerate estrogen for medical reasons.

How Birth Control Pills Are Used

The pill must be taken orally at the same time every day for maximum efficacy. Skipping pills or taking them at random times can lead to ovulation and possible pregnancy.

Side Effects

  • Spotting
  • Breast tenderness/swelling or sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Efficacy of Birth Control Pills

The pill is 99% effective if taken correctly. In reality it is about 92% effective for women who occasionally take the pill at the wrong time.[3]

Birth Control Shot

The birth control shot contains injectable progestin and prevents ovulation, as well as the sperm from reaching the egg.

How Birth Control Shots are Used

The shot is administered by a physician every three months.

Side Effects

  • Irregular periods
  • Spotting
  • Appetite change
  • Weight gain
  • Change in libido
  • Nausea
  • Sore breasts
  • Headache
  • Changes in mood

Efficacy of Birth Control Shots

The shot is 99.7% effective if delivered correctly in a timely manner.[3]

The Birth Control Ring

A ring, about 2 inches in diameter contains both progestin and estrogen.

How the Birth Control Ring Works

The flexible birth control ring releases hormones and is inserted into the vagina for a period of three weeks. During the week of menstruation, the ring is not used. Afterward a new ring is inserted.

Side Effects

  • Vaginal infections and irritation
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Breast pain/tenderness/swelling
  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Darkening of facial skin
  • Hair growth
  • Loss of scalp hair
  • Problems with contact lenses
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Decreased libido

Efficacy of the Birth Control Ring

The birth control ring is 92%-99% effective.[3]

The Patch

The patch releases progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream for a three-week period.

How the Patch Works

The birth control patch is placed on the lower abdomen or buttocks each week for three weeks. On the fourth week, menstruation occurs.

Side Effects

  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headache,
  • Anxiety
  • Mood changes
  • Skin irritation
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Spotting

Efficacy of the Birth Control Patch

The patch is 92%-99% effective. In women who weigh more than 198 pounds, the patch may not prevent pregnancy as well.[3]

The Implant for Birth Control

The implant is a small thin rod containing progestin, inserted into a woman’s upper arm.

How the Implant Works

The implant releases the hormone, progestin for three years.

Side Effects

  • Changes in menstruation
  • Spotting between your periods
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Headache
  • Acne
  • Depressed mood

Efficacy of the Implant

The implant is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.[3]

Intrauterine Device (IUD) for Birth Control

This T-shaped device is inserted into the vagina by a healthcare professional and remains there for 10 years.

How The IUD Works

The device releases progestin or, in the case of copper IUD’s, creates a “hostile environment” for sperm so that fertilization cannot occur.

Side Effects

  • Pain upon insertion
  • Cramping
  • Spotting
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavier periods

Efficacy of the IUD

The IUD is 99.8% effective and remains in place for 10 years.

Barrier Methods[2]

Male Condom for Birth Control

Males wear a film that prevents sperm from entering a woman’s body at the time of ejaculation. While latex or newer synthetic condoms help prevent HIV infection, as well as other sexually transmitted infections, “Natural” or “Lambskin” condoms may only prevent pregnancy.

How Male Condoms Work

Male condoms are placed on the penis before ejaculatory fluid is released, and only used once.

Side Effects

  • Latex allergy

Efficacy of Male Condoms

These are 85%-98% effective if worn correctly. Oil-based products that come into contact with a male condom can cause it to weaken and tear.

Female Condom for Birth Control

Female condoms prevent sperm from entering a woman’s body and may be effective for the prevention of some sexually transmitted infections.

How Female Condoms Work

The female condom is inserted into a woman’s vagina up to eight hours before intercourse.

Side Effects

  • Skin irritation

Efficacy of Female Condoms

Female condoms are 79%-95% effective if used correctly.

Diaphragm (with spermicide) for Birth Control

Diaphragms are made of flexible rubber that is placed over the female’s cervix before intercourse. Shaped like a cup, spermicide is also applied to the rim to prevent sperm from entering a woman’s body.

How a Diaphragm Works

A diaphragm can be inserted into the vagina up to six hours before intercourse.

Side Effects

  • Irritation of vagina or penis
  • Vaginal lesions

Efficacy of the Diaphragm

The diaphragm is 84% to 94% effective at preventing pregnancy.[2]

Cervical Cap for Birth Control

A cervical cap is a small rubber device much like a diaphragm that covers a woman’s cervix. Spermicide is applied to the cap for extra protection.

How a Cervical Cap Works

A cervical cap is inserted into the vagina prior to sexual intercourse. It can be left in the body for up to 24 hours without spermicide.

Side Effects

  • Vaginal irritation

Efficacy of Cervical Cap for Birth Control

The cervical cap is 84%-91% effective in women who have never given birth. In all others, the cervical cap is 68% to 74% effective.

Spermicides for Birth Control

Spermicides kill male sperm and are delivered through foam, cream, film, suppository, or tablet.

How Spermicides Work

Spermicides must be placed in the vagina no more than one hour before intercourse and left in six to eight hours following sex. These may be used in addition to female condoms, diaphragms or the cervical cap.

Side Effects (In women)

  • Cloudy/bloody urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Bladder pain
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal irritation

Efficacy of Spermicides

Spermicides are 71% to 80% effective if used alone.

The Sponge for Birth Control

The sponge is a soft, disposable foam product about 2 inches in diameter. It covers the female cervix and contains spermicide.

How the Sponge Works

The sponge is inserted into the vagina prior to sexual intercourse and must be left in for a period of time afterward.

Side Effects

  • Vaginal irritation
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Vaginal infection
  • Risk of contracting STI’s
  • Toxic shock syndrome

Efficacy of the Sponge

The sponge is 88% effective, however it works best to prevent pregnancy in women who have never given birth.[2]

Emergency Contraception

This birth control method is used after unprotected sexual intercourse. Two types exist including, Emergency Contraception Pills (ECP) and Copper T IUD’s.

How EC is used

ECP’s taken within days of unprotected sex work to inhibit ovulation, or irritate the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

Side Effects

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Breast tenderness
  • Spotting
  • Cramps

The Copper T IUD is inserted within five days of unprotected sex and affects sperm movement.

Side Effects

  • Spotting
  • Cramping
  • Heavier than usual periodsEfficacy of Emergency Contraception

This is 95% to 99% effective if administered within 24 hours of intercourse.

Permanent Methods of Birth Control

Female Sterilization

Tubal Ligation or “Tying Tubes”

A woman may have her fallopian tubes surgically closed to prevent conception.

How a Tubal Ligation Works

A tubal ligation is performed in a hospital or at an outpatient clinic. The procedure effectively closes or “ties” tubes permanently and prevents conception immediately.

Side Effects


A tubal ligation is over 99% effective.

Transcervical Sterilization

A tiny device is threaded through a thin tube into each fallopian tube of a female.

How Transcervical Sterilization Works

This causes scarring and irritation that permanently blocks the tube.

Side Effects

In rare cases the wrong placement could cause perforation of the uterus.

Efficacy of Transcervical Sterilization

This method is over 99% effective however; a temporary form of birth control should be used for at least three months after the procedure. This is to allow sufficient time for scarring to occur.

Male Sterilization-Vasectomy

This procedure is used to prevent a man’s sperm from entering seminal fluid.

How Male Sterilization Works

A vasectomy is performed at a doctor’s office or outpatient surgery center where a physician cuts or otherwise blocks the tubes (vas deferens) that carry sperm to mix with seminal fluid.

Side Effects

  • Bruising

Efficacy of Male Sterilization

This operation is nearly 100% effective. Alternative birth control should be used before the 12-week follow-up appointment that ensures sperm count has been reduced to zero.
While more than 60% of women use birth control in the United States, it is critical to find the method that best fits your individual needs for comfort, convenience, and future pregnancy plans. Discuss with your doctor, possible complications or side effects associated with any form of contraception before making a decision.

1Affairs, Office of Population. “Pregnancy Prevention.”, US Department of Health and Human Services, 19 July 2016,
2Affairs, Office of Population. “Non-Hormonal Methods.”, US Department of Health and Human Services, 25 Aug. 2016,
3Affairs, Office of Population. “Hormonal Methods.”, US Department of Health and Human Services, 25 Aug. 2016,
4“Marshall University.” Womens Center,

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