What are the types of birth control?
There is more access and choice than ever before to different types of birth control
By Dr. Elizabeth Lucal, System Vice Chair of Women’s Health Services
You’ve probably heard the news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first over-the-counter birth control pill — making it the first hormonal birth control method available without a prescription. If you’re considering birth control, you may be wondering which one might be right for you with so many options available now.
Keep reading to learn more about birth control options. And remember, it is important to speak with your doctor about what methods may be right for you.
What types of birth control are available?
Barrier birth control
Currently, the most accessible options you have are barrier birth control methods and emergency contraception.
Barrier methods work by physically preventing sperm from reaching an egg. These options include condoms for men and diaphragms for women and are usually available in pharmacies and grocery stores.
Emergency contraception, also known as the "morning-after pill," is a type of birth control used after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. It works by delaying or preventing ovulation. Some emergency contraception are available via prescriptions, but many are easily obtained over the counter.
Hormonal birth control
Hormonal birth control methods contain synthetic hormones that regulate your reproductive system to prevent pregnancy. These methods include birth control pills, injectable contraceptives, and patches. Hormonal birth control methods are mainly available via prescription. This new FDA approval is the first hormone based birth control available via prescription.
Procedural birth control
There are minimally invasive procedures that you or your partner can have done to prevent pregnancy.
Hormonal or non-hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) are one of these options. They are small T-shaped devices inserted into your uterus. Non-hormonal IUDs work by creating an inhospitable environment for sperm, while hormonal IUDs release synthetic hormones locally. These are both temporary and reversible forms of birth control.
Sterilization is another option that involves a permanent birth control method for individuals or couples who have decided not to have children. Tubal ligation for females or vasectomy for males are sterilization birth control methods.
What are the possible benefits of birth control?
Beyond the prevention of pregnancy, birth control can have the following health benefits. Birth control can possibly help control or avoid a number of problems, including:
- Clear or prevent acne: You may experience hormone-related outbreaks of acne. Birth control methods containing estrogen can help clear or even prevent acne from forming. In fact, some doctors have prescribed birth control for this very purpose.
- Reduce period cramps: You may experience aches and cramps during your period. Birth control can help by blocking both estrogen and progestin, which is why doctors sometimes initially prescribe it to help decrease pain.
- Reduce heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle: You may experience heavy menstrual bleeding during your period or if you have fibroids. That heavy bleeding may lead to anemia or fatigue. Heavy bleeding can also lead to an iron deficiency. Hormonal birth control can help reduce this bleeding as well and possibly help shrink fibroids. IUDs can also reduce heavy menstrual bleeding.
Related content: Many women have fibroids, but what should you do about them?
- Reduce your risk for endometriosis: Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when tissue similar to the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus. This results in pelvic pain and an irregular menstrual cycle.
Birth control that eliminates menstruation can slow the growth of endometrial cells and reduce symptoms, delaying or preventing the need for surgery and possibly preserving a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
- Reduce the risk of some cancers: There are methods of birth control that have proven to reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Doctors have found that IUDs correlate directly to reducing the risk of HPV or human papillomavirus-associated cancers. IUDs may destroy precancerous lesions that occur with HPV, which can slow down or even stop the progression of cervical cancer.
Birth control such as sterilization can eliminate the risk for cancer as well. Sterilization in women involves removing the fallopian tubes. By removing the fallopian tubes, ovarian cancer cannot develop.
Related content: Seven important facts to know about the HPV vaccine
What are possible side effects of birth control?
While birth control may help prevent unintended pregnancies and possibly even help you regulate and reduce the risk of other health issues, they aren’t without side effects.
Barrier methods of birth control may cause an increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) or allergic reactions to the chemicals or materials used in these methods.
Injectable contraceptives may lead to weight gain, lower bone density, abdominal pain and allergic reactions.
Oral birth control pills that contain estrogen may increase a woman’s risk for stroke, but more so in women with other risk factors for stroke including smoking.
Patches may cause side effects including abdominal pain, dizziness, and an increased risk of blood-clotting problem.
It is important to be aware that other than some barrier methods, birth control does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
The bottom line: There is even a wider range of birth control options now that a non-prescriptive oral contraceptive is available. Birth control options include barrier methods, hormonal methods, IUDs, emergency contraception and sterilization. Birth control may help reduce unintended pregnancies, have some health benefits and possible side effects. It’s important to speak with your doctor about what type of birth control may be right for you.