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Your relationship with your birth control might be among the most important of your life. Maybe you are (or will be) intimate with a partner of the opposite sex and need to prevent pregnancy. Maybe your priority is avoiding sexually transmitted infections or regulating your period. Maybe you’re looking for a particularly discreet form of birth control. Regardless of your reasons for using birth control, everyone involved is responsible and needs to know the options.

Our expert

“Dr. K.” is Dr. Colleen Krajewski: practicing OB-GYN; assistant professor at the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, Pennsylvania; and medical advisor to Bedsider.org, an online birth control support network, operated by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Dr. Erika Feuerstein is a staff physician for the Bay Centre for Birth Control at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Ontario.

Thanks to Bedsider.org and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy for providing key information, text/image elements, and Dr. K.

Get the facts on STIs

Accurate, user-friendly info from SexandU.ca

4 prep steps for birth control decisions

1. Identify your priorities

  • Each method has pluses and minuses.
  • There isn’t one best method in the world for everyone.
  • Going into discussions about birth control with your partner and health care provider, know what your priorities are and where you’d be willing to compromise on. For example:
    • Is pregnancy prevention your #1 priority?
    • Do you care about regulating your period?

2. Be ready, whatever your relationship status

  • Even if you’re not in a long-term relationship, it can still make sense to think about long-term birth control.
  • Being protected and safe, and taking control of your body, is empowering.
  • IUC (intrauterine contraception) is a great long-term birth control option for many girls and women.
  • Keeping emergency contraception on hand can save you a whole lot of stress and inconvenience later.

3. Make conversation, not assumptions

  • Conversations with your partner, not assumptions, are key to healthy sexual and nonsexual relationships.
  • For example, if your partner observes a particular religion, you still need to talk about birth control, sexuality, boundaries, and other topics. Everyone is different.

4. Make sure you get the facts

  • There’s a lot of misleading info out there. Go to reliable sources, such as SexandU.ca and Bedsider.org.

Birth control is covered by most health insurance plans.
Health clinics such as Planned Parenthood offer free or reduced-cost birth control options.

I need…

Click on each image

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

IUD

  • Easy to use
  • Long-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Lightens period (hormonal devices)
  • Few or no side effects
  • Choice of products
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
99% Visit SexandU for more info

“Not right now” or abstinence

  • STI protection
  • Few or no side effects
  • No hormones
  • Harder to use
100%
if consistently done right

 

Other options

  • Withdrawal
  • The Patch
  • The Pill

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

IUC

  • Easy to use
  • Long-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Can lighten period
  • Few or no side effects
  • Choice of products
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
99% Visit SexandU for more info

The Pill

  • Lightens period
  • Hidden
  • Choice of products
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
91% Visit SexandU for more info

The Ring

  • Easy to use
  • Medium-term protection
  • Lightens period
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
91% Visit SexandU for more info

Other options

  • The Patch
  • The Shot

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

Male condom

  • STI protection (not 100%, but effective)
  • Widely available
  • No medical visit
  • Easy to use
  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • Multiple varieties and materials, including latex-free for those with allergies
  • Limited pregnancy prevention
  • Use one every time
  • Best with a backup method
82%  

Female condom

  • STI protection (not 100%, but effective)
  • No medical visit
  • More control for women
  • Easy to use
  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • Safe with latex allergies
  • Sexual pleasure for women
  • Limited pregnancy prevention
  • Use one every time
  • Not widely available
  • Best with a backup method
79%  

“Not right now” or abstinence

  • STI protection
  • Few or no side effects
  • No hormones
  • Harder to use
100%
if consistently done right
 

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

Male condom

  • STI protection (not 100%, but effective)
  • Widely available
  • No medical visit
  • Easy to use
  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • Multiple varieties and materials, including latex-free for those with allergies
  • Limited pregnancy prevention
  • Use one every time
  • Best with a backup method
82%  

Female condom

  • STI protection (not 100%, but effective)
  • No medical visit
  • More control for women
  • Easy to use
  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • Safe with latex allergies
  • Sexual pleasure for women
  • Limited pregnancy prevention
  • Use one every time
  • Not widely available
  • Best with a backup method
79%  

Sponge

  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • More control for women
  • Can be inserted in advanced
  • No STI protection
  • Limited protection against pregnancy
  • Not widely available
  • Harder to use
  • Possible side effects
76 - 88% Visit SexandU for more info

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

Copper IUD

  • Long-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Few or no side effects
  • Reversible
  • Very effective in emergencies
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
99% Visit SexandU for more info

Male condom

  • STI protection (not 100%, but effective)
  • Widely available
  • No medical visit
  • Easy to use
  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • Multiple varieties and materials, including latex-free for those with allergies
  • Limited pregnancy prevention
  • Use one every time
  • Best with a backup method
82%  

Female condom

  • STI protection (not 100%, but effective)
  • No medical visit
  • More control for women
  • Easy to use
  • No hormones
  • Few or no side effects
  • Safe with latex allergies
  • Sexual pleasure for women
  • Limited pregnancy prevention
  • Use one every time
  • Not widely available
  • Best with a backup method
79%  

Other options

  • Withdrawal
  • Spermicide
  • Sponge
  • Diaphragm

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

IUC

  • Easy to use
  • Long-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Lightens period (hormonal devices)
  • Few or no side effects
  • Choice of products
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
99% Visit SexandU for more info

The Shot

  • Easy to use
  • Medium-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Lightens period
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
94%
if consistently done right
Visit SexandU for more info

Other options

  • Sterilization

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

IUC

  • Easy to use
  • Long-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Lightens period (hormonal devices)
  • Few or no side effects
  • Choice of products
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
99% Visit SexandU for more info

The Ring

  • Easy to use
  • Medium-term protection
  • Lightens period
  • Reversible
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
91% Visit SexandU for more info

Other options

  • The Shot
  • The Patch

The options…

 

PROS

CONS

EFFECTIVENESS
at preventing pregnancy with typical use
 

Copper IUC

  • Long-term protection
  • Hidden
  • Few or no side effects
  • Reversible
  • Very effective in emergencies for women of all body types
  • Medical visit
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
99% Visit SexandU for more info

EC Pill (Ella)

  • Very effective in emergencies
  • Protection after the fact
  • Medical visit
  • Most pharmacies need to order it
  • Not effective as a regular method
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
  • Equally effective for those with higher body weight/BMI
95%
up to 5 days after sex
Visit SexandU for more info

EC Pills (Levonorgestrel-based)

  • Very effective in emergencies
  • Choice of products
  • Available over the counter or online without a prescription; brands include Plan B One-Step and Option 2
  • Can be purchased in advance to have on hand for possible future emergency
  • Protection after the fact
  • Not effective as a regular method
  • No STI protection
  • Possible side effects
  • Body weight/BMI may influence effectiveness
95%
first 24 hours then declines slightly
Visit SexandU for more info

Got questions?

New visual guides to each birth control method

  • Effectiveness
  • Pros & cons
  • Sexual health
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual consent
  • Pregnancy

Sex & U HERE

Need answers?

Personalized support via chat or text

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  • Best options for you
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  • Emergency contraception

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Article sources

Bedsider.org provided images and elements of the text.

Colleen Krajewski, MD, MPH, assistant professor at the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, Pennsylvania; medical advisor to Bedsider.org.

Joleen Nevers, MA Ed, CHES, AASECT Certified Secondary Education, sexuality educator, health education coordinator, University of Connecticut, Storrs.

P. Davis Smith, MD, director of health services, Westminster School, Simsbury, Connecticut.

Pierre-Paul Tellier, MD, director of student health services, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec.

Bedsider.org. (n.d.). [Website]. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from http://bedsider.org/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Reproductive health. Retrieved from
http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/unintendedpregnancy/contraception.htm

Guttmacher Institute. (2015, August 1). An overview of minor’s consent law. Retrieved from http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OMCL.pdfhttp://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OMCL.pdf

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). IUD. Retrieved from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/birth-control/iud

Planned Parenthood Ottawa. (2009). Contraception and safer sex. Retrieved from http://www.ppottawa.ca/contraception.aspx

Planned Parenthood Toronto. (2012). Birth control options. Retrieved from http://www.ppt.on.ca/ppt/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/BC-Options1.pdf

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. (2016). SexandU.ca Retrieved from http://sexandu.ca/

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Emily Ike, MS recently graduated from Teachers College-Columbia University in Community Health Education, with a focus in sexuality education and sexual health. She currently works in college health and wellness promotion.

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Jasmine Williams is a fourth-year Journalism student at Carleton University.