Today, millions of women are able to take control of their sexual freedom and their bodies with the help of various types of safe contraceptives. Many women think of the pill when you mention birth control, but there are many other methods on the market besides the iconic option—it's certainly not a "one size fits all" solution. It's important to remember that although many products can prevent pregnancy, only condoms prevent the spread of STDs, and it's best to always use more than one type of prevention when possible.
1. The Sponge
The sponge is made of foam and contains spermicide—a.k.a. sperm-killing medicine—and is inserted far into the vagina before intercourse. According to Constance A. Young, MD at Columbia University Medical Center, it's not as effective as hormonal contraceptives due to its non-hormonal nature, though that can be an upside for some (read, no hormone-induced emotional ups and downs or acne). Breastfeeding mothers can safely use the sponge and it requires no fitting or prescription. On the downside, the sponge can be a bit messy, can't be used during menstruation, and some women may experience irritation from the spermicide.
2. The Diaphragm
The diaphragm is a hormone-free, shallow silicone cup coated in spermicide that, like the sponge, is placed deep into the vagina to prevent pregnancy. It must be inserted before sex in order to be fully effective, but it is not a very popular option among Young's patients. The diaphragm has many of the same pros and cons as the sponge, but it does require a physician fitting, and women should be refitted after a 10-pound weight loss or gain. You'll also need to keep the diaphragm in place for six hours after sex and reapply spermicide before each act of intercourse.
3. Contraceptive Implant
According to Nerys Benfield, MD MPH at Montefiore Health System, contraceptive implants are among the most effective forms of hormonal birth control she prescribes to her patients. These small, bar-like devices are inserted into a woman's forearm via a tiny incision, and can last up to three years before requiring removal by a medical professional. With added benefits such as lighter periods and no daily maintenance, this method is quickly becoming quite popular, but it may take a while for your body to adjust to the device. Some side effects include acne, dizziness and discomfort at the insertion site. (Related: 5 Surprising Side Effects of Going off Birth Control)
4. Male Condom
The male condom is perhaps the most accessible birth control out there; go to your local drugstore and you'll see dozens of varieties lining the shelves. Raquel Dardik, MD at NYU's Langone Medical Center, says condoms are "the most common non-hormonal birth control method" on the market. No matter your stage in life, Alyssa Dweck, Assistant Clinical Professor, OBGYN, recommends proper condom usage to all of her patients. Make sure to use a condom every time you have intercourse to ensure full effectiveness, and store them safely!
5. The Combined Pill
The combined pill contains hormones—estrogen and progestin—that work together to curb ovulation. Benfield says there are "over 75 varieties of the pill available" in the U.S. alone, so it can take some time to find the right dosage for each woman. In both Dardik's and Young's practices, the combined pill is still the most commonly prescribed contraception due to its effectiveness rate and ease of use. It's crucial to take your pill around the same time each day to maximize its potency, and it's also quite common to face some side effects such as weight loss, weight gain and mood swings while adjusting to various types.
6. The Mini Pill
Unlike the combined pill, the mini pill contains only progestin, but it still suppresses ovulation and can change cervical mucus. It's a great option for women who are sensitive to estrogen or have a history of blood clots, but Benfield says you must be "very diligent about taking it every day" for it to be fully effective, and Young and Dweck rarely prescribe it unless a woman has particular health risks. Some women experience irregular bleeding and bloating while on the mini pill.
7. The Patch
If you prefer not to take daily pills, the patch is a hormonal alternative. Using the same estrogen doses found in the pill, you only have to wear one patch for one week to have three weeks fully protected. According to Dweck, this method is generally not suitable for women who are overweight, or who don't like how the patch looks (to themselves or others). For women who do opt for the patch, Benfield tells her patients they can use a patch for the fourth week and completely skip periods. If the patch ever does become detached, it must be replaced with a new one to ensure maximum potency.
8. Depo Shot
This once-every-three-months hormonal injection is ideal for women who want full pregnancy prevention with minimal fuss, says Dweck. The shot must be administered by a medical professional, but you only need four doses a year. It may not be your ideal method if you cannot tolerate estrogen, and weight gain and irregular periods are common side effects.
9. Vaginal Rings
Benfield frequently recommends vaginal rings to her patients who need a steady stream of hormones to balance out mood swings. This hormonal contraceptive is used for three weeks and then removed for the fourth if the user wants a period, but over time, many women experience lighter periods or none at all. Dweck stresses women must be comfortable with vaginal insertion for this method to be a viable option, and some women experience nausea and weight fluctuation with the ring.
10. IUD (Intrauterine Devices)
This small, T-shaped device is inserted into the vagina and releases a combination of spermicide and hormones depending on the device type. IUDs boast an impressive 99 percent effectiveness rate, and Young, Benfield, Dweck and Dardik frequently recommend both the hormonal and non-hormonal varieties. Once an IUD is removed, you instantly become fertile again, so it's easy to manage your reproductive desires. Some women do experience irregular bleeding and headaches while on an IUD. (Related: Building Better Birth Control: IUDs Are on the Up-and-Up)
It's extremely important to have an in-depth and honest conversation with your provider about the contraceptive options available to you. Be sure to consult with your physician or gynecologist before starting any type of contraceptive, and keep these types of birth control in mind when making your decision.