Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Every Type of Birth Control

Amanda Montell
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Original illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

So you don't want to get pregnant. Understandable. But what next? "There are so many options for women today when it comes to birth control," says gynecologist and SweetSpot Labs expert Jessica Shepherd, MD. "And they can be taken many ways—by mouth, inserted into the vagina, placed in the uterine cavity, injected, and more." 

According to Shepherd, all birth control methods work by doing one of two things: Either by "medically altering the ovulation pattern" or by "mechanically preventing sperm from entering the uterus." Some forms of birth control are super temporary (like condoms), some are less temporary (like the pill), and some are long-term (like the IUD). The later are called "short-acting" and "long-acting" reversible contraception (LARC), respectively. These are the methods we're focusing on today. 

For the record, there are a few other kinds of birth control, which we won't be covering at length here: These include permanent methods, like sterilization, where a doctor surgically closes a woman's fallopian tubes. There are also Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FAMs), which have you track your ovulation to avoid having sex during your most fertile days. For those who don't mind the obvious risks, there's also withdrawal (or the pull-out method). And then there's always abstinence. 

But this guide is dedicated to immediate, short-acting, and long-term birth control. To make the best choice in your personal quest for pregnancy-free sex, you'll want to consult your doctor. But in the meantime, we spoke to three great women's health experts: Shepherd; Sara Twogood, MD, an ob-gyn at USC; and Trish McMorrow, MSN, board-certified family nurse practitioner and clinical educator at Progyny. Whether you're already on birth control and want to make a switch, or are considering it for the first time, keep reading to figure out which birth control method is right for you.

Next up, read one editor's story about the real reason she's never been on birth control.

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