How Effective Is Birth Control? A Comparison
Not having sex is the only absolute way to prevent pregnancy, but physical and chemical birth control methods offer an effective alternative if you use them correctly. How effective your birth control is depends on the type of birth control you use and whether you’re using it correctly and consistently (e.g., taking your pill at the same time every day and never skipping a dose, applying and removing condoms properly, etc.).
This article will explore the most common types of birth control, how effective each is, and other things you should know about preventing pregnancy.
Birth Control to Prevent Pregnancy: How Effective Is It?
Each form of birth control has a unique success rate, even when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. Below is a list of some types of birth control and how effective they are when used correctly.
Implants like intrauterine devices (IUDs) usually contain a small piece of metal that’s inserted into the uterus. There are also options that use a tiny rod inserted into the arm (Nexplanon). Both varieties release small amounts of the hormone progestin each day to prevent pregnancy and can be left in place for three to eight years, depending on the type. These devices are between 99.6% and 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly.
Oral contraceptives, or “the pill,” come in many forms. They might be made up of progestin or a combination of the reproductive hormones progestin and estrogen. These pills are usually taken daily and should be taken around the same time each day.
Skipping doses, taking your pill at a different time each day, or combining your birth control with other medications like antibiotics can reduce pregnancy protection. Overall, birth control pills are about 93% effective in preventing pregnancy.
If you have trouble remembering to take a daily pill for birth control, injections may be a more effective alternative. Birth control injections use a shot of progestin in the buttocks or arm. These shots are given by your healthcare provider once every three months and are about 96% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Barrier methods are physical or chemical devices that block sperm from coming into contact with a fertile egg. Condoms are the barrier method that usually comes to mind first, but there are other types. Spermicidal creams, diaphragms, and female condoms offer additional options. How well they work varies by type.
Fertility awareness (also called fertility timing) is another way to try to prevent pregnancy, but it is not usually recommended due to the high rates of human error involved. Fertility awareness uses calculations of fertility timing based on the menstrual cycle and can be about 77% to 98% effective when used correctly.
The “Pull-Out” Method
The pull-out method involves withdrawing the penis just before ejaculation. Pulling out is difficult in practice and results in pregnancy for about 1 in 5 people who attempt it. Although this method can be combined with other forms of birth control, it isn’t considered very effective as a primary tool.
This method also doesn’t protect against any lingering sperm from prior sexual encounters that might still be present in the urethra and pass through pre-cum.
Other Uses for Birth Control
Preventing pregnancy isn’t the only use for hormonal contraceptives. They also help manage a wide range of health challenges and conditions that rely on a specific balance of hormones, including the following:
- Uterine fibroids
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
How Soon Does Each Type of Birth Control Start Working?
Barrier methods of birth control, like condoms, work right away, but only when you use them. Hormonal forms of birth control take some time to become effective—usually around one week. The exception is IUDs, which are effective within hours of insertion.
How Effective Is Birth Control With a Condom?
Condoms are pretty effective for preventing pregnancy, but it depends on how you use them. Improper placement, the use of creams or lotions, and the quality of the condom you use can all affect how well they work. Using a condom with another form of birth control can increase protection against pregnancy.
Additionally, condoms may offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Reminders to Improve Birth Control Effectiveness
How well your birth control works depends on how accurately and regularly you use it. Implanted devices and injections deliver small doses of hormones released over time, leaving little room for human error.
Pills require you to remember to do something every day at the same time. Many apps and calendars can help you keep track of your menstrual cycle and the timing or frequency of your contraceptive doses.
Barrier methods can be very effective at preventing pregnancy, but there is much room for error in how they are used.
The proper use of an external condom requires the following:
- Using a new condom every time you have sex, for the entire duration
- Pinching the tip to create space for semen to collect after ejaculation
- Withdrawing the condom carefully after sex
- Being able to tell if the condom rips or breaks
- Making sure there is adequate lubrication for condom use
- Knowing what types of lubricants are compatible with condoms (no oil-based lubricants)
When Birth Control Fails
Birth control failure isn’t always immediately obvious, but when it is, emergency contraceptives are available. These medications are used immediately after sex to prevent ovulation. They do not induce abortions or prevent the transmission of STIs.
Emergency contraception availability can vary based on where you live due to controversy over their use. You may need a prescription for emergency contraceptives, and they are only effective when used within five days of unprotected sex.
How well birth control works depends on how accurately you use it. Most forms of contraception are around 90% effective or more, but there is always room for human error in timing, application, or frequency of use.
Barrier methods like condoms offer the added benefit of sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, but hormonal contraception provides regular protection that can help take the guesswork out of contraception. Talk to your healthcare provider about your sexual practices and health to find the right contraceptive tool.
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