You probably already know the basics. Use a condom, “the pill” exists, and there’s other forms of birth control out there. But, who knows what they are, how they work, and if they’re effective? I’m here to tell you the rest of the story. In this multi-part series, Birth Control 101, I’ll go over the most common and effective birth control methods and tell you everything you need to know, like how they work, the pros and cons, effectiveness, cost, and where to get them. After we’re done, you’ll basically be an expert, and you’ll definitely be able to make an informed decision about how to stay safe when you’re having sex. This segment covers the basics of birth control and a few things to consider before deciding on the method thats right for you. Check out our Birth Control 101 series for details on every birth control method.

Abstinence Blows

Your sex health teacher probably told you that not having sex is the only way to be 100% sure you won’t get pregnant. Okay, okay… this might be true, aside from getting your tubes tied. But this is also a scare tactic used to keep teens and young adults away from sex, rather than teaching them how to have sex responsibly. Abstinence-only education has one big flaw: You’re not prepared to have safe sex once you’re ready. That’s not what this site is about. We know you’re going to have sex, and LOTS of it. And, we know you want to learn about sex like a responsible adult, not a scared little kid. So, here’s the facts. First things first: There’s TONS of safe and effective birth control methods out there, and if you’re using them the right way, you can be 99.9% sure you’ll be good.

Birth Control vs. Barrier Methods

Birth control isn’t a one-and-done solution. It may prevent you from getting pregnant, but it does not prevent the spread of STDs and HIV. To have truly safe sex, condoms or another barrier method are absolutely necessary. Even if your partner says they’re clean, the only way to know is through a recent STD test. Women who are in serious relationships with a monogamous, STD negative partner may choose to use only birth control. But, in most cases, it’s important and expected to have a back-up method that prevents STDs. Condoms are probably the best contraceptive method because they’re easy to get (over the counter), easy to remember, easy to use, cheap, and they protect against pregnancy and STDs. Condoms may be uncomfortable or annoying. But, there are worse things in life than a little annoyance, like unwanted pregnancy or the spread of STI’s. Make sure you stock up to make sure you’re prepared anytime, anywhere.

Hormonal vs Non-Hormonal Methods

Once you’re set on using birth control, it’s time to decide whether you want to use a hormonal or non-hormonal method. Hormonal methods – which include options like the pill, ring, patch, and others – contain estrogen, progestin, or a combination of both. These hormones prevent pregnancy by tricking your body into thinking it’s already pregnant. This prevents the release of an egg, and if there’s no egg to get fertilized, you can’t get pregnant! It’s incredibly effective. But, since new hormones are being introduced to your body, some women may have side-effects like nausea or mood swings. Each method has a different combination of hormones, so you might have to try a few different options. until they find the right method for you. Despite the side effects, hormonal methods have tons of benefits, like cost, simplicity, and less painful periods, so it’s worth doing a little research, talking with your doctor, and giving it a try.

Some women may have illnesses or take medications that can’t mix or interfere with hormonal birth control methods. For these women, or those who simply do not want to change their body’s natural chemistry, non-hormonal methods of birth control are available. With the exception of the copper IUD, non-hormonal methods (especially barrier methods) tend to be less effective than hormonal methods because of user error. That means, if you don’t use or insert a barrier method correctly (which can be pretty tricky when trying to position something way up there) it doesn’t work as well, and you run the risk of getting pregnant.

Birth Control 101 Basics

Daily, Weekly, Monthly vs. Long Lasting Methods

When choosing the right birth control method, it’s important to consider not only which methods are most effective, but which would be most compatible with your lifestyle. If you work crazy hours, have a jam-packed schedule, or tend to be a bit forgetful, you may forget to take a birth control pill every day, put on a new patch every week, or replace a ring every month. If you don’t keep up with these methods regularly and on time, it decreases your birth control’s effectiveness, and you’re more likely to get pregnant. The solution? Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) methods. LARC methods, which include the shot, implant, and IUDs, are incredibly effective, user-friendly, and generally care-free options that offer all the protection without all the hassle and remembering. Often, these methods are the most effective, as there is little to no user error, and you don’t have to remember to replenish regularly. But, like all hormonal methods, there are still some side-effects, so keep reading to learn more about your options and make the best decision for your body and lifestyle.

Finding the Right Fit

Even if you’re already on birth control or use another contraception method, it is worth taking a second look at what’s available. Your current method may be ineffective, difficult to use, expensive, or have unpleasant side effects. There are tons of birth control options out there. Even within one method, like the pill, there are different brands and varieties to choose from. If your first try isn’t for you, don’t give up. Another birth control method may be a better fit for your body, lifestyle, and preferences. With some more information, and a little trial and error, you will find the birth control that is perfect for you.

Overview of Birth Control Methods

This table is a quick and dirty overview of all the birth control methods. For detailed information, read our in-depth articles in Birth Control 101.

Birth Control Methods 101 Chart 1

Birth Control Methods 101 Chart 2

Don’t stop there… learn more about the other methods so you can find the perfect fit! Check out these articles in our Birth Control 101 series.

Birth Control 101: The Basics of Birth Control
Birth Control 101: The Pill
Birth Control 101: The Patch
Birth Control 101: The Ring
Birth Control 101: The Shot 
Birth Control 101: The Implant 
Birth Control 101: Hormonal and Copper IUDs
Birth Control 101: Male Condoms 
Birth Control 101: Cervical Cap
Birth Control 101: Diaphragm
Birth Control 101: The Sponge
Birth Control 101: Spermicide
Birth Control 101: Pull Out Method
Birth Control 101: Emergency Contraception (Plan B)

Common Birth Control Myths


Have a question for the Sexpert? Write [email protected]. We use questions to choose topics for our Guides.

Birth Control Methods.Bedsider Birth Control Support Network. Bedsider, n.d. Web. 27 July 2013.
Birth Control Methods.Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2013. Web. 27 Jul. 2013.
Levin, Sammie. “The Pill, The Shot, IUD’s & More: How To Figure Out Which Type of Birth Control Is Right For You.Her Campus. Her Campus Media, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.
The Ultimate Guide to Safer Sex.Greatist, n.d. Web. 27 July 2013.
“Types of Contraception.” Advocates for Youth, 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.

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Bedsider Birth Control Methods