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Public Health - Seattle & King County

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.

I am starting a new relationship and want to get on birth control, but I don't know which method to choose. Can you help?

Choosing the right birth control method can feel a bit overwhelming at first. Here are 3 steps that will help you in this important decision-making process:

STEP 1: Visit our Birth Control Gallery
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.

STEP 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 Center nearest you.

I've been on the shot for the past 3 or 4 years. I want to know if I will still be able to have kids. And how long will I have to wait before I do?

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.

I heard that using body lotion or olive oil is just as effective as spermicides and it's more effective if you use the lotion or oil with a condom. My question is do you agree? Is body lotion or olive oil as effective as spermicides?

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).

What is Emergency Contraception? Is it the same thing as the "morning after pill"?

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 for free.

A friend of mine uses withdrawal with his girlfriend and swears by it, but Iove also heard that it's not a very good method of birth control. How effective is withdrawal?

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.

What are some side effects of birth control?

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 visiting our Birth Control Gallery

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