What's the right birth control option for me?

Mar 1, 2012 at 3:54 a.m. ET

Choosing birth control is a personal choice, and the right method may change based on your stage of life and what you want for the future. Here are four questions to consider when wondering, "What is the right birth control option for me?"

choosing birth control

How much "effort" do I want to put into contraception?

When used correctly, birth control methods prevent pregnancy. When used incorrectly, the chances that you'll get pregnant increase. If you are someone who has no issue remembering to take a pill at the same time each day, remembering to change a device or keeping stocked up on condoms, sponges, diaphragms and spermicide, there are a wide range of choices available. But if you know that you don't want the responsibility of constantly staying on top of your birth control method, there are lower maintenance, long-term options available -- like the birth control shot, cervical cap or IUD (short for intrauterine device). Depending on the method you choose, it may last for several months and in many cases, years, with little action required on your part.

What side effects am I willing to deal with?

Everybody responds differently to hormones, and some women have a hard time tolerating birth control methods that release hormones like progestin into the system to prevent pregnancy. While many of the side effects taper off over time, birth control methods like "the pill" and "the patch" often present breast tenderness, and possibly even nausea, when the body is adjusting to the medication. If you'd rather skip the side effects, talk to your doctor about birth control options that don't involve hormones -- like a copper-based IUD, birth control shot or condoms, caps and sponges used with spermicide.

Am I in a monogamous relationship?

If you (or your partner) are having sexual relations with another person, your birth control method should also provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases. The most protective method is a condom worn by the male, but so-called "female condoms" and diaphragms can also lower your risk of STD transmission.

How much risk am I willing to take?

The effectiveness of your birth control is a key point to consider when choosing your birth control method. If you are looking for maximum pregnancy prevention, then abstinence or sterilization are truly the only guaranteed ways to avoid pregnancy, but IUDs and birth control shots run a close second. When used correctly, less than one in 100 users of either method get pregnant each year. By contrast, using condoms or spermicide alone will carry one of the highest failure rates each year, according to the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

Expert Tip

Weight matters when it comes to birth control. Women who weigh more than 180 pounds may experience less effective protection from a birth control pill -- Marcy E. Holmes, Nurse Practitioner

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