Navigating Birth Control Options Can Be Confusing


Written by: Marissa Thompson


Anytime someone engages in vaginal sex with another person, there is a risk of unintended pregnancy. While it's a fact that abstinence is the only 100% sure way to prevent pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), there are methods for active people to reduce their risks. By using a form of birth control, one can greatly lower their chances of an unintended pregnancy.


The good news about birth control (also known as contraception) is that it’s available in a wide variety of methods, and they each have different effectiveness rates and strategies for usage. However, with so many options, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. It's best to talk to a healthcare provider before starting any kind of birth control, however this article will offer a basic breakdown of birth control methods and how they work so one can make the best decision for their body and personal needs.


There are two main forms of birth control: hormonal and barrier methods.


Hormonal Birth Control:

These methods release a specific amount of hormones (something our bodies make on their own). This prevents ovulation (releasing an egg for fertilization). If no egg is released, pregnancy can not occur. Hormonal methods generally make it less likely to release an egg, that an embryo will form, or that an embryo will be implanted (Everydayhealth.com). It’s important to note that these methods do NOT protect against STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes.

Some examples of hormonal birth control include: the shot, the pill, the patch, the ring and the plastic IUD. Since these methods use hormones that change how the body ovulates, a medical professional will need to prescribe or administer these methods.


Honorable mention: Copper IUDs are non-hormonal and have to be inserted by a medical professional, similarly to the plastic IUD. Copper IUDs work as a sperm-repellant, and creates an environment that makes it difficult for sperm to reach the egg.



Barrier Methods:

Barrier methods work by acting as a wall to keep the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg. One benefit of using a barrier method is that they are able to greatly lower the risk of contracting an STI, as barriers prevent the transfer of fluids. Since barrier methods do not change the body’s hormones, they also do not need to be prescribed or administered by a doctor. Additionally, most barrier methods can be purchased at a drugstore without a prescription, meaning they are accessible to people of all ages. Barrier methods include external (sometimes referred to as “male”) condoms and internal condoms (sometimes referred to as “female” condoms). Condoms are available in latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene material.


Note: Lambskin condoms are porous and do not protect against viral STIs, however, they do protect against pregnancy.


Honorable mention: Dental dams act as a barrier between someone’s mouth and another person’s genitals to prevent STIs. However, dental dams cannot be used as a method of birth control.


Emergency Contraception:

Emergencies happen. It’s important to note that Emergency Contraception (EC) methods are for emergency situations only and should not be used as a regular form of birth control. Emergency Contraception includes the Copper IUD and pills that are commonly referred to as the “Morning After Pill” or “Plan B”. The Copper IUD repels sperm from fertilizing the egg while EC pills help prevent ovulation. These forms of emergency contraception are time sensitive and work up to 72 hours after intercourse but work best when taken as soon as possible.There are other factors that play into the effectiveness of an emergency contraceptive, learn more here:

Emergency Contraception Basics


Birth Control is an excellent option for sexually active individuals who aren’t ready to become pregnant. It’s best practice to speak with a healthcare professional about the different options so the best choice can be selected. No matter where someone goes or who they see, the choice is always theirs. Explore safely and happily!



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Funding provided in whole or in part to the Kenneth Young Center by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH).