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Common questions about birth control

Below are some of our most common questions about birth control. We have made every attempt to answer these questions with the most up-to-date and accurate information available. However, a website is no substitute for your health provider. We always recommend you contact your health provider or clinic with any questions you have.

Choosing the right birth control method can feel a bit overwhelming at first. Here are steps that will help you in this important decision-making process:

  1. View our Birth Control Gallery below
    This section will give you an idea of the variety of methods that are available. We recommend you take some time reading about the different methods. As you do, think about which methods will be the best fit for you.

  2. Visit your provider or clinic!
    Most providers are more than happy to sit down with you and discuss different birth control options. If you don't have a provider and would like to come to one of our clinics, choose the Public Health Family Planning clinic nearest you.

Yes, you will still be able to have kids! Depo Provera (sometimes called "the shot") is a reversible birth control method. That means it is NOT permanent, and when you stop using it, your ability to have children will return.

You may have heard someone say that it takes a long time to get pregnant after quitting Depo. The truth is that some women get pregnant right away after stopping Depo. For other women, it can take from 3 to 18 months for their ability to get pregnant to return. Research has shown that most women will become pregnant within a year of their last shot if they don't use any other birth control method.

So the good news is: you will be able to have children after stopping Depo, and depending on your body, it just may take a little time to get pregnant (from 0 - 18 months). If you know you don't want to be pregnant right away, then you'll need to start using another method of birth control.

Using body lotion or oil is NOT an effective method of birth control. In fact, it won't do anything to prevent a pregnancy. That's because body lotion or oil don't have ingredients that kill sperm. Only spermicides that you buy at a drugstore or get from your health provider or clinic have the ability to kill sperm.

We actually don't recommend that people use spermicides as their only method of birth control. This is because spermicides alone are not very effective at preventing pregnancy. However, when spermicides are used with a condom, they are much more effective.

You don't ever want to use oil or lotion with a condom! Oil and lotion break down the latex in a condom, and can cause it to tear or break. The only things that are safe to use with latex condoms are spermicides and water-based lubricants (like K-Y Jelly).

EC (also called emergency contraception pills) is a special dose of birth control pills that prevents pregnancy after you have had unprotected sex. Some people call EC the "morning after pill," but you actually have up to 5 days (120 hours) after sex to use EC. EC is not an abortion pill. If you want to learn more about EC, download a brochure below to learn more.

There is a lot of misinformation about withdrawal out there, and it can be challenging to figure out what is accurate information and what is not. The most up-to-date information tells us that withdrawal is about 96% effective when it is practiced correctly, and every time you have sex (this is called perfect use). That means if 100 couples use withdrawal perfectly for a year, about 4 of them will get pregnant. When withdrawal is not practiced consistently and correctly (this is called typical use), it is only about 73% effective. That means that out of 100 couples, about 27 women would get pregnant. That makes it about as effective as using a female condom.

Practicing withdrawal correctly can be challenging. A man needs to be able to tell when he's about to ejaculate ("come"). This is sometimes more difficult to do for younger men who have less experience with their bodies. It also takes a lot of self-control, since a man needs to pull out of his partner's vagina before he ejaculates. Finally, withdrawal will not protect you or your partner from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Only a condom will protect you! For these reasons, we generally don't recommend withdrawal to our clients, especially teens.

All of the birth control methods that we list on our website are safe to use. However, most birth control methods do have some side effects. The good news: most side effects are only temporary and go away after your body adjusts to a new birth control method.

You can find out about different birth control methods by viewing the Birth Control Gallery below.

And, you can also download brochures below about our most popular methods. These brochures have a lot of great information in them, including what to expect with side effects!

Download a comparison chart describing:

  • "Perfect use" of birth control which means a success rate is the highest amount of protection a person could expect from a birth control method. For the effectiveness to be this high, a couple would have to use their method correctly and consistently (e.g. taking every pill, using a condom every time, etc.) and,

  • "Typical use" which is a success rate of the amount of protection a typical person could expect from a birth control method. It includes everyone who may have made birth control mistakes (e.g. missing pills, forgetting to put the next patch on in time) or didn't use their method every time (e.g. not using condoms every time they had sex).

Birth control gallery and brochures

Images and detailed brochure available for some birth control methods below. Brochures describe how to get started, possible side effects, benefits and common questions about each. To order professionally printed hard copies of the brochures, complete the order form (PDF). Follow the instructions on the form to make your purchase. $35.00 for a package of 50 (minimum order.)


Condoms

Condoms are thin barriers made of latex, plastic, or natural membranes. They look like long, thin, deflated balloons. There are both male and female condoms. The male condom fits over a man's penis. The female condom fits inside a woman's vagina. Both male and female condoms work by preventing sperm from entering the vagina and reaching an egg.

Download a brochure on condoms
View image of condom samples


Contraceptive patch ("The Patch")

The contraceptive patch is a thin plastic patch -- about the size of a matchbook - that a woman wears on her skin to prevent pregnancy. The patch contains hormones just like the ones in most birth control pills. It releases these hormones through the skin and into the bloodstream. Instead of taking a pill every day, a woman sticks on a new patch each week. The patch works mainly by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg.

Download a brochure on the contraceptive patch
View image of the patch


Depo Provera ("The Shot")

Depo Provera is a shot that a woman gets 4 times a year (every 12 weeks) to prevent pregnancy. It contains medicine that is like progesterone - a hormone that is naturally present in a woman's body. The shot works mainly by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg.

Download a brochure on the Depo Provera shot available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese
View image of the Depo Provera injection calendar


Emergency contraception ("EC")

EC (sometimes called "the morning after pill") is a special dose of birth control pills that prevents pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The sooner EC is taken, the more effective it is. EC is very safe. It is not an abortion pill. EC works mainly by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg.

Download a brochure on Emergency Contraception available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese
View image of Emergency Contraception


Intrauterine device (IUD)

The IUD is a small, T-shaped piece of flexible plastic that fits inside a woman's uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are 2 types of IUD's: copper and progestin (a hormone found in birth control pills). The copper IUD lasts 10 years and the progestin IUD lasts 5 years. IUDs work mainly by preventing fertilization, and interfering with the sperm's ability to reach the egg.

Did you know IUDs are safe for teens?

IUDs are being recommended by leading medical professionals as a first-line birth control choice for adolescents*. They have been redesigned from those you may have known about in the past. They are safe and effective for women who have never been pregnant or given birth including teens.

Not only are the new IUDs extremely safe, they are the most effective method of birth control available. They do not impair future fertility, and they do not increase the risk of STDs and HIV.

  • So easy to use—no daily pill to remember or prescription to fill
  • They last for at least 7 years
  • They are over 99.5% effective

*American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee Opinion # 392, December 2007

Download a brochure on the IUD
View image of an IUD


Oral contraceptives ("The Pill")

Birth control pills, often called "The Pill", are pills that a woman takes daily to prevent pregnancy. They are made of hormones similar to those found naturally in a woman's body. The Pill works mainly by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg.

Download a brochure on the pill available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese
View image of oral contraceptives


Vaginal contraceptive ring ("The Ring")

The Ring is a small, flexible plastic ring - about 2 inches wide - that a woman places in her vagina each month to prevent pregnancy. The Ring contains hormones just like the ones in most birth control pills. It releases these hormones into a woman's body through her vagina. Instead of taking a pill every day, a woman puts in a new ring each month. The Ring works mainly by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg.

Download a brochure on the ring
View image of the ring


Abstinence

Abstinence means choosing not to have sex. Some people choose to abstain from sexual intercourse, but engage in other sexual activities. Some people choose to abstain from all sexual activity. When practiced correctly, abstinence is the only 100% sure method for preventing pregnancy.

No image or brochure available for this topic.


Cervical cap

The cervical cap is a small latex cup that a woman inserts into her vagina before sexual intercourse. The cervical cap fits snugly over the woman's cervix. It is smaller than the diaphragm and is used with spermicidal cream or jelly. The cervical cap works by blocking sperm from entering the uterus.

No brochure available for this topic.
View image of a cervical cap and tube of spermicidal cream


Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a soft latex dome that a woman inserts into her vagina before sexual intercourse. It fits over her cervix and is held in place by her vaginal muscles. It always needs to be used with spermicidal cream or jelly. The diaphragm works by blocking the opening to the uterus so that sperm cannot enter.

No brochure available for this topic.
View image of a diaphragm and tube of spermicidal cream


Female sterilization (tubal ligation)

Female sterilization is a form of permanent birth control. This means it is not reversible. A tubal ligation is a minor operation that blocks a woman's fallopian tubes (the tubes that carry the egg to the uterus). Female sterilization works by blocking the egg from reaching sperm.

Male sterilization (vasectomy)

Male sterilization is a form of permanent birth control. This means it is not reversible. A vasectomy is a simple operation that blocks the tubes that carry sperm from a man's testes to his penis. Male sterilization works by blocking the sperm from leaving the man's body.

No image available for this topic.
Download a brochure on sterilization


Fertility awareness

These are really a group of methods. What they all have in common is using the body's signs to figure out the most likely times to get pregnant, and then using another birth control method or not having vaginal sex during that time. A woman can learn how to predict with reasonable accuracy when she is going to ovulate based on the timing of her periods and changes in her body such as waking temperature, cervical fluid and the position of the cervix. She charts the changes in her body, often with the help of a class or in consultation with a health care provider.

Ovulation test kits (to determine when she releases an egg) can be purchased in drug stores, but she would have to abstain for a week or so before she ovulated in order to avoid a pregnancy, so it's important to learn to predict it based on physical changes if she wants to use it as birth control. Like other birth control methods, fertility awareness can be challenging. Is fertility awareness a real method? Absolutely. Are there other more effective methods? Sure. We don't have great studies of "typical use" but experts guess that about 25 women in 100 using Fertility Awareness become pregnant in a year. That's about as effective as withdrawal or a female condom. With perfect (careful, consistent) use, between 1 and 9 women per 100 using Fertility Awareness would get pregnant in a year. It does not prevent transmission of STDs.

No image or brochure available for this topic.


Spermicides*

Spermicide is a chemical that kills sperm. It comes in different forms: foams, film, creams, jellies and suppositories. A woman inserts spermicide deep into her vagina just before having sexual intercourse. Spermicides provide some pregnancy protection when used alone, but they are much more effective when used with another method, like the condom, diaphragm or cervical cap.

No brochure available for this topic.
View image of types of spermicides


Withdrawal ("pulling out")

When couples use withdrawal, the man pulls his penis out of his partner's vagina before ejaculation ("coming"). This prevents sperm from entering the woman's body. To practice withdrawal correctly, a man needs to have self-control. He needs to know when he is about to ejaculate ("come"), and he needs to make sure that none of his semen ("cum") touches or enters his partner's vagina. It was once thought that a man's pre-ejaculate contained sperm; it doesn't. Instead, there may be semen present in a man's urethra (which ends with the opening at the tip of the penis) from a previous ejaculation. More likely, a man may not withdraw completely before ejaculating or if he does, he may not ejaculate far enough away from the woman's vagina to be effective. Like abstinence and fertility awareness, withdrawal can be challenging. Is withdrawal a real method? Absolutely. Are there other more effective methods? Sure. With typical use, nineteen women in 100 would become pregnant in one year. With perfect use, four women in 100 would get pregnant in one year. That's similar to the effectiveness of the female condom. Withdrawal does not prevent transmission of STDs.

No image or brochure available for this topic.