Hooray for Choice! 10 Birth Control Options Besides “the Pill”

While “the pill”–which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year–has been an incredible boon for women who want a contraceptive, it’s not for everyone. Don’t forget there are a number of other birth control methods out there to consider:

1. How about the old-fashioned condom? They’re effective in preventing pregnancy (85 percent to 98 percent) and have the added benefit of reducing the transmission of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections (85 percent to 100 percent). For that protection alone, it’s a good idea to use a condom along with any other birth control method you use.

2. Intrauterine devices (IUD) are more than 99 percent effective. They are reliable, safe, long-lasting (five to 12 years, depending on type) and, best of all, reversible. But you do need to have an IUD inserted by a health-care professional.

3. The birth control implant provides long-term contraception (up to three years) and is about 99 percent effective. It also requires a health-care professional to surgically place the the flexible matchstick-sized rod under the skin of your arm.

4. The vaginal contraceptive ring is inserted in the vagina once a month, kept there for three weeks, and then a week after removal a new ring is inserted. It is 92 percent effective when used as directed.

5. The drug depo-provera is administered as an injection by a health-care provider. It is more than 99 percent effective and lasts for three months.

6. The transdermal patch is about 92 percent effective. Weekly patches are applied for three weeks, followed by a patch-free week.

7. The diaphragm is safe and effective 84 percent of the time. You need to be fitted for yours by a health-care provider.

8. The contraceptive sponge is not the most effective method–it fails between 16 percent and 32 percent of the time–but when working it provides 24 hours of protection. So, is he “sponge-worthy”? (Seinfeld fans, you know what I’m talking about.)

9. Surgical sterilization (tubal ligation for her, vasectomy for him) is almost 100 percent effective. While those surgeries are sometimes reversible, sterilization should be considered a permanent solution.

10. Natural family planning is effective 75 percent to 88 percent of the time if it’s practiced religiously (heh heh). It’s all about watching the calendar and charting your temperature in order to calculate when you ovulate. As a former Catholic, I and know of many babies conceived rather than prevented as a result of NFP, but it remains the preferred method for some people.

Do you have a favorite method I omitted? Do you have a story about any one method you found better or worse than another? And final question: If your contraception failed and you had an abortion, please share your story.

Above: image of contraceptive options from Flickr user Ryan Somma, under Creative Commons 3.0


  1. Thanks for such an informative piece. Because people are so different, it’s important to know all the different available options. From my experience, doubling up on birth control methods is the best way to go. I have living proof that condoms alone, even when used “correctly,” don’t always work 🙂

  2. I couldn’t be happier with my copper IUD. There’s nothing to forget for 10 YEARS! 🙂

  3. Natural Family Planning also known as the “Fertility Awareness Method” is not the same as the rhythm method; and it’s not just about charting your temperature and watching the calendar. Get your facts straight.

    Here’s more from Toni Weschler’s TCOYF.com:


    “The Fertility Awareness Method is NOT the Rhythm Method. The Rhythm Method is nothing more than an obsolete, ineffective guessing game that uses past cycles to predict future fertility. The Fertility Awareness Method, on the other hand, is a scientifically-validated, effective, and natural method that involves charting three primary fertility signs on a daily basis, so that a woman’s fertility can be accurately determined.
    “The three primary fertility signs are waking temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical position. The method is based upon the functioning of estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and the corpus luteum. Unlike the Rhythm Method, whose contraceptive effectiveness cannot be taken seriously, the Fertility Awareness Method, when used properly, is 98% effective.”

  4. aknapoli says:

    The description you gave for Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) was biased and, depending on the method, incorrect. First of all there are several different ways to practice each and each have their own efficacy rates.

    Below are several pages of information regarding the failure rates of different types of contraception including FAM:


  5. artsynomad says:

    I tried Paragard and Mirena IUDs. Both fell out in under two months. My gynecologist said something like 15% of women have their IUDs fall out, especially if they haven’t given birth (cervix changes shape). Just an FYI for anyone considering an IUD! I’m on Implanon now and couldn’t be happier. No way the implant can fall out of my arm!

  6. Megan Lalonde says:

    This is in response to Option #10. Natural Family Planning is NOT the Rhythm Method. The Rhythm Method uses past cycle length to try to predict future fertility. Because it is normal for cycles to vary in length and time of fertility, it is not a particularly effective way to avoid pregnancy.

    Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness are scientifically-validated systems for observing and interpreting signs of fertility, primarily changes in cervical mucus, along with basal body temperature and cervical position. NFP and FA are practiced from different philosophical standpoints. When properly taught and practiced, they are highly effective – upwards of 98-99% effective.

    It’s disappointing that an article purporting to inform women of birth control options is perpetuating the continued confusion between NFP and FA and the Rhythm Method. Conflating these methods doesn’t provide women with accurate information about their options and their effectiveness.

  7. The pill was terrible for me, and made me sick, but doctors still pushed it on me. Finally I got a diaphragm, and it was a GODSEND. Still happily using it with condoms and withdrawl (which is quite effective)! Hooray for choice indeed!

  8. I’m surprised to see nfp, but not withdrawal listed. Per the below overview, withdrawal is about as effective as condoms: http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2009/05/15/index.html

  9. My favorite – in my 20+ years of using birth control – was Norplant. Insertion and removal were both easy peasy. I had it removed when I wanted to get pregnant and had no problems getting pregnant. I used Toni Weschler’s book and website to chart my cycles and temps and all that went with it. From that I used the copper IUD with no problems for 2 1/2 years before wanting to try getting pregnant again. I had another copper IUD inserted after my 2nd child was born. Aside from heavier periods, I was still happy with the IUD until getting pregnant after having it in for 3 years. Yep. I was the 1%. I miscarried and for the past 4 years, my husband and I have used condoms along with my IUD. Overkill? Perhaps. But worth it to me.

  10. I’ve chosen to use the Depo Provera shot for over 3 years and I love it. It also stops my period, which I really like.

  11. I know this post is old, and a few people have already stepped up to defend NFP and FAM but no one has addressed what I find to be the (and sorry if this comes off as offensive) most ignorant part of your description of it.
    "As a former Catholic, I and know of many babies conceived rather than prevented as a result of NFP, but it remains the preferred method for some people."
    Natural Family Planning and the Fertility Awareness Method are not strictly methods of birth control. They are also VERY useful for trying to conceive. Being aware of your fertility goes both ways, and that statement would be fine, except that you say "but" as if conceiving a child on NFP or FAM is always an unintended consequence.

  12. MsGoody2Shoes says:

    Women need to know about other methods of birth control INSTEAD of using abortion as a method of birth control. I believe all humans in the womb have a right to life. So, if women use birth control maybe we can reduce the number of murdered babies.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Ugh, the hormonal methods were awful for me. The pill made me sick and the patch left horrible marks. Depo provera seemed great at first but then I sunk into a raging depression that destroyed my life for nearly a year. No-thank-you. Condoms for me all the way. They’re right there when I need them and I stay STD free.

  14. I like that you gave more choices than just “the pill.” I’m always amazed at the women who only know about birth control pills and condoms. As a side note, both condoms and the pill often aren’t used correctly, which cuts down on their efficacy.

    As for #10, Natural Family Planning and the Rhythm Method are two very different things. I have the unfortunate experience of being a former Catholic, and have attended many lectures on NFP.

    There are many problems with NFP, though. First of all, if a woman takes medication that could effect her hormone levels or has an illness that effects them, NFP doesn’t work. For instance, I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and take an androgen-binding medication. It is not birth control, but it affects my hormone levels, with are already skewed from having PCOS. If I used NFP, not only would I have an increased failure rate because of the medication I’m on, but also because of having PCOS. My medication would also cause severe birth defects if I got pregnant when I didn’t intend to, because I was depending on NFP with an increased failure rate. It is important to remember, that no matter how committed a couple is to it, NFP WILL NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE.

    If a couple isn’t 100% committed and know what they are doing, then the failure rate of NFP is also increased. While biased Catholic sources give NFP a 1-2% failure rate, non-biased sources give average use of NFP a 25% failure rate.



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