Pros and Cons of Popular Birth Control Methods

March 4, 2024

Deciding on a birth control method is more than just a practical consideration; it's a crucial step in managing your reproductive health and planning for your future. With an array of options available, each varying in effectiveness, convenience, and potential side effects, the choice can feel overwhelming. Yet, selecting the method that best aligns with your lifestyle, health needs, and reproductive goals is essential for ensuring your well-being and peace of mind. Whether you prioritize ease of use, reliability, or minimal side effects, understanding the nuances of each option can empower you to make an informed decision. This guide aims to navigate the complexities of popular birth control methods, shedding light on the pros and cons of each to help you find the most suitable choice for your unique circumstances.

Hormonal Birth Control Pills

Hormonal birth control pills have long been a popular choice for women seeking reliable contraception. These pills contain synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which work together to prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, and alter the uterine lining to prevent pregnancy. When used correctly, hormonal birth control pills offer a high level of efficacy and come with several benefits beyond birth control.


  • High Efficacy with Perfect Use: When taken exactly as directed, hormonal birth control pills are over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This high level of efficacy provides peace of mind for many women who prioritize reliability in their contraceptive method.
  • Regulates Menstrual Cycles: These pills can make menstrual cycles more predictable, lighter, and less painful. This regulation can be particularly beneficial for women who experience irregular, heavy, or painful periods.
  • Can Reduce Acne: The hormonal regulation provided by birth control pills can also lead to clearer skin. Many women find that taking these pills helps reduce or eliminate acne, thanks to the balancing effect they have on hormones that can contribute to breakouts.


  • Must Be Taken Daily: For birth control pills to be most effective, they must be taken at the same time every day. This requirement can be challenging for some, making it less ideal for those who have difficulty maintaining such a routine.
  • Potential Side Effects: Like all medications, hormonal birth control pills can have side effects. Some women may experience mood changes, nausea, breast tenderness, and weight gain. While these side effects are not dangerous, they can be bothersome and may lead some women to seek alternative methods of contraception.
  • Does Not Protect Against STDs: One significant limitation of hormonal birth control pills is that they offer no protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Those who use birth control pills should also use condoms during sexual activity to protect against STD transmission.

Hormonal birth control pills offer a highly effective and convenient method of contraception for many women. They provide the added benefits of regulating menstrual cycles and potentially improving acne. However, the requirement to take a pill daily and the possibility of experiencing side effects are considerations that might lead some to explore other contraceptive options. Additionally, the lack of STD protection emphasizes the need for condoms in conjunction with pills for comprehensive sexual health protection.


Condoms stand out as a unique contraceptive option, primarily due to their dual role in preventing both pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Available in various materials, sizes, and even flavors, condoms are widely accessible and offer several advantages as a birth control method.


  • Protection Against STDs: Condoms are the only birth control method that offers significant protection against STDs, including HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV. This makes them an essential part of safer sex practices, especially for individuals with multiple partners or those in non-monogamous relationships.
  • No Prescription Required: Unlike many other forms of birth control, condoms are available over the counter at pharmacies, supermarkets, and online. This easy accessibility ensures that individuals can obtain protection without the need to see a healthcare provider first.
  • Minimal Side Effects: Condoms are free from the hormonal side effects associated with many other contraceptive methods. They offer a hormone-free alternative for individuals who prefer to avoid or cannot use hormonal birth control due to health reasons.


  • Lower Efficacy: When it comes to preventing pregnancy, condoms have a lower efficacy rate compared to some other methods, especially with typical use. The effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy can be as high as 98% with perfect use but drops to around 85% with typical use, highlighting the importance of correct and consistent application.
  • Possible Latex Allergies: Some individuals may be allergic to latex, the material used in many condoms. While non-latex alternatives are available, latex allergies can limit options and may require individuals to seek out specific products that may not be as readily available.
  • Requires Proper Use Every Time: For condoms to be effective, they must be used correctly every single time sexual activity occurs. This includes using a new condom for each act of intercourse, ensuring it is put on correctly, and avoiding any damage to the condom. Improper use can significantly decrease their effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and STDs.
  • Expiration Dates: Condoms have expiration dates, so users must be cautious to check these dates to ensure effectiveness. Using an expired condom can significantly reduce its effectiveness, posing a risk of failure.

Condoms are a crucial component of sexual health, offering unparalleled protection against STDs and serving as an accessible, non-prescription method of birth control. While they may have a lower efficacy rate compared to some other contraceptive methods and require careful, consistent use, the benefits they provide in terms of STD prevention make them an indispensable option for many individuals. Those with latex allergies or concerns about correct use can explore non-latex options and seek guidance on proper application to maximize protection.

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) are a form of long-term, reversible contraception that has gained popularity for its efficacy and convenience. These small, T-shaped devices are inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider and come in two main types: hormonal and copper. Both types offer distinct advantages and some drawbacks, making them a preferred choice for many but not suitable for all.


  • Long-lasting: One of the most significant advantages of IUDs is their longevity. Depending on the type, an IUD can last anywhere from 5 to 10 years. This extended duration makes IUDs a hassle-free option for individuals seeking long-term birth control without the need for daily, weekly, or monthly attention.
  • Highly Effective: IUDs are among the most effective forms of birth control available today. With a failure rate of less than 1%, they provide near-total assurance against pregnancy, rivaling the effectiveness of permanent sterilization methods.
  • Low Maintenance: Once an IUD is inserted, there's very little maintenance required. Other than occasional self-checks to ensure the device is still in place (by feeling for the strings), users can essentially forget about their IUD until it's time for removal or replacement.


  • Initial Discomfort: The insertion of an IUD can be uncomfortable, and some individuals may experience heavy bleeding or cramping in the days or weeks following the procedure. While these symptoms typically diminish over time, they can be significant enough to cause discomfort and inconvenience.
  • Procedure for Insertion and Removal: Unlike other forms of contraception that can be started or stopped at home, IUDs require a medical procedure for both insertion and removal. This necessity means that users must visit a healthcare provider for these services, which can be a barrier for some.
  • Potential for Expulsion: Although rare, there is a risk that the body may expel an IUD. Expulsion is most likely to occur within the first year after insertion and can reduce the effectiveness of the device as a form of birth control. Users are advised to check the strings periodically and consult their healthcare provider if they suspect their IUD has moved or been expelled.

IUDs offer a reliable, long-term solution for contraception with a set-it-and-forget-it convenience that appeals to many. However, the initial discomfort and the need for a medical procedure for insertion and removal are important considerations. Those thinking about an IUD should discuss these factors with their healthcare provider to ensure it's the right choice for their needs and lifestyle.


Contraceptive implants are a form of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) that have become increasingly popular due to their efficacy and convenience. These small, flexible rods, about the size of a matchstick, are inserted under the skin of the upper arm by a healthcare professional. They release a steady dose of progestin, a hormone that prevents ovulation, thereby offering prolonged protection against pregnancy.


  • Long-term Protection: One of the most compelling advantages of contraceptive implants is their duration of effectiveness. Capable of providing protection for up to 3 years, implants offer a long-term solution for individuals seeking an extended period of contraception without the need for regular attention.
  • More Than 99% Effective: Implants are among the most effective contraceptive methods available, boasting a greater than 99% success rate in preventing pregnancy. This high level of effectiveness is largely due to the minimal user error; once the implant is in place, there's no daily pill to remember or application error to worry about.
  • Convenient After Insertion: After the initial procedure to insert the implant, there's very little for the user to do except periodically check the area for any changes. This set-it-and-forget-it aspect makes implants an attractive option for those seeking hassle-free contraception.


  • Possible Side Effects: While many individuals experience minimal or no side effects, some may encounter adverse reactions, such as irregular bleeding. Periods may become lighter, heavier, or more sporadic, and in some cases, may stop altogether. Other potential side effects include mood swings, weight gain, and acne, though these vary widely among users.
  • Requires Minor Surgery for Insertion and Removal: Unlike pills or condoms that can be easily started or stopped at home, contraceptive implants require a minor surgical procedure for both insertion and removal. Performed under local anesthesia, these procedures are quick and generally low-risk but do necessitate a visit to a healthcare provider.

Contraceptive implants offer a highly effective, long-term solution for individuals seeking reliable birth control without the daily hassle. The procedure-required insertion and removal, along with the potential for side effects such as irregular bleeding, are important considerations for anyone thinking about this method. Discussing these factors with a healthcare provider can help determine if an implant is the right choice for your contraceptive needs.

Injectable Contraceptives (Depo-Provera)

Injectable contraceptives, notably Depo-Provera, provide an alternative form of birth control for those seeking an option that does not require daily administration. Administered via injection by a healthcare professional, Depo-Provera contains the hormone progestin, which prevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucus, and thins the uterine lining to prevent pregnancy. This method is known for its efficacy and convenience, offering several benefits along with considerations to keep in mind.


  • Effective for Three Months: One of the primary advantages of Depo-Provera is its duration of effectiveness. A single injection provides protection against pregnancy for up to three months, making it a suitable option for those seeking a medium-term contraceptive solution without daily upkeep.
  • Doesn’t Require Daily Attention: Unlike oral contraceptives that must be taken at the same time every day, Depo-Provera eliminates the need for daily reminders, providing a hassle-free approach to birth control for those with busy lifestyles or difficulty adhering to a daily medication schedule.
  • Can Decrease Menstrual Cramps and Anemia: Many users of Depo-Provera report a reduction in menstrual cramps over time. Additionally, because menstrual flow may decrease or stop altogether while using this method, it can help prevent anemia—a condition characterized by a lower than normal count of red blood cells, often due to heavy periods.


  • Can Cause Weight Gain: Some users of Depo-Provera experience weight gain, which can be a concern for those sensitive to changes in their body weight. While the degree of weight gain varies among individuals, it is a potential side effect to consider when choosing this contraceptive method.
  • Bone Density Loss with Long-Term Use: Prolonged use of Depo-Provera has been associated with a decrease in bone mineral density, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. This effect is thought to be reversible after discontinuation, but it warrants caution and discussion with a healthcare provider, particularly for those already at risk for bone density issues.
  • Delay in Fertility After Stopping: Another consideration for those planning future pregnancies is that fertility may not return immediately after stopping Depo-Provera. There can be a delay of several months to a year before ovulation resumes, which may impact timing for those wishing to conceive soon after discontinuing use.

Injectable contraceptives like Depo-Provera offer a convenient and effective option for preventing pregnancy, suited to those looking for a low-maintenance method. However, potential side effects such as weight gain, bone density loss, and delayed return to fertility are important factors to discuss with a healthcare provider, ensuring that this method aligns with your health needs and future family planning goals.

Emergency Contraception (Plan B)

Emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B, serves as a critical backup in preventing unintended pregnancy after unprotected sex or birth control failure. Accessible and straightforward to use, Plan B can be a valuable resource in a time-sensitive situation. While it offers immediate, short-term protection, it's important to consider both its advantages and limitations.


  • Available Without a Prescription: One of the most significant benefits of Plan B is its accessibility. It can be purchased over the counter at pharmacies, drugstores, and even online, without the need for a doctor’s prescription. This easy access ensures that individuals can quickly obtain emergency contraception when time is of the essence.
  • Can Be Used After Unprotected Sex or Birth Control Failure: Plan B is designed to be used as emergency contraception within 72 hours (preferably sooner) after unprotected intercourse or when a primary contraceptive method fails (e.g., a condom breaks). It provides a crucial window of opportunity to prevent pregnancy after an unexpected risk has occurred.


  • Less Effective Than Other Methods: While Plan B is effective in reducing the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex, it is less effective than regular contraceptive methods, such as oral contraceptives or IUDs. Its effectiveness decreases the longer it is taken after intercourse, underscoring the importance of using it as soon as possible.
  • Not a Long-Term Solution: Emergency contraception is intended for occasional use only and should not be relied upon as a regular method of birth control. Repeated use can lead to menstrual irregularities and is not as effective in managing long-term fertility as other contraceptive methods.
  • Potential Side Effects: Like all medications, Plan B can have side effects. The most common include nausea, fatigue, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness, and changes in menstrual bleeding. While these side effects are generally mild and temporary, they can be uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Emergency contraception like Plan B offers a critical safety net for preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Its accessibility without a prescription and its utility in time-sensitive situations make it an important option. However, its lower effectiveness compared to other contraceptive methods and potential side effects highlight that it should be used judiciously, as a backup rather than a primary form of birth control. For ongoing contraceptive needs, consulting with a healthcare provider about more reliable, long-term methods is advisable.

Natural Family Planning

Natural Family Planning (NFP), also known as fertility awareness-based methods, involves tracking natural signs of fertility throughout a menstrual cycle to prevent pregnancy. This approach to contraception is distinct in that it requires no pharmacological or physical devices, aligning well with those seeking a natural method. However, its effectiveness and practicality heavily depend on diligent application and understanding.


  • No Drugs or Devices Used: NFP stands out for its lack of reliance on hormonal interventions or barrier methods. This can be particularly appealing for individuals looking for a contraception method that doesn't involve potential side effects from drugs or discomfort from devices.
  • Can Be Effective with Precise Use: When practiced correctly and consistently, NFP can be an effective way to prevent pregnancy. Success rates improve with meticulous observation of fertility signs, such as basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and menstrual cycle tracking, allowing individuals to identify fertile and infertile phases of the cycle.


  • Requires Daily Monitoring of Fertility Signs: The efficacy of NFP hinges on the daily, diligent observation of fertility indicators. This process can be time-consuming and requires a high level of commitment and attention to detail.
  • Lower Efficacy: Compared to other contraceptive methods, NFP generally has a lower efficacy rate. According to Planned Parenthood, about 24 out of 100 couples who use fertility awareness-based methods each year will have a pregnancy if they don't always use the method correctly or consistently. Proper education and strict adherence can improve its effectiveness, but there's still an inherent risk of unintended pregnancy.
  • Significant Commitment and Education Needed: Successfully practicing NFP requires thorough education on the method and one's own menstrual cycle. It also demands a significant commitment to monitoring and recording fertility signs regularly. Couples must be willing to either abstain from sexual intercourse or use barrier methods during the fertile window, which can last several days each cycle.

Natural Family Planning offers an alternative for those seeking a contraception method free from drugs and devices, emphasizing a deep engagement with one's bodily rhythms. While it presents an option aligned with certain lifestyle or personal preferences, its lower efficacy and the extensive commitment required for accurate tracking highlight the importance of thorough education and disciplined practice. Individuals considering NFP should seek comprehensive training from a qualified instructor and discuss the method with their healthcare provider to ensure it aligns with their contraceptive needs and lifestyle.

Barrier Methods (Diaphragms, Cervical Caps)

Barrier methods, such as diaphragms and cervical caps, offer a non-hormonal approach to contraception. By physically blocking sperm from entering the uterus, these devices work to prevent pregnancy. Suitable for those who prefer or require an alternative to hormonal methods, diaphragms and cervical caps have distinct advantages and drawbacks that are important to consider.


  • No Systemic Side Effects: Unlike hormonal contraceptives that can affect the entire body, diaphragms and cervical caps have no systemic side effects. This makes them an appealing option for individuals sensitive to hormones or those who wish to avoid hormonal contraception for personal or health reasons.
  • Can Be Inserted Ahead of Time: Both diaphragms and cervical caps can be inserted several hours before sexual activity, offering convenience and spontaneity. This feature allows users to prepare in advance without interrupting intimate moments.


  • Must Be Used with Spermicide: For these barrier methods to be effective, they must be used in conjunction with spermicide, a chemical that immobilizes or kills sperm. This requirement can be seen as an inconvenience and may cause irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals.
  • Requires Fitting by a Healthcare Provider: To ensure effectiveness, diaphragms and cervical caps must be properly fitted by a healthcare provider. This fitting process can be a barrier for some, as it requires a healthcare visit and may need to be repeated if a woman's weight significantly changes or after childbirth.
  • Lower Efficacy than Some Other Methods: While diaphragms and cervical caps are effective when used correctly and consistently, their overall efficacy is generally lower than that of more modern contraceptive methods like IUDs or hormonal implants. The effectiveness of barrier methods can be significantly reduced by incorrect use, displacement during intercourse, or failure to use spermicide.

Diaphragms and cervical caps represent valuable options for those seeking a non-hormonal form of contraception without systemic side effects. Their ability to be inserted ahead of time offers users convenience and control over their contraceptive choices. However, the requirement to use spermicide, the necessity of a professional fitting, and their relatively lower efficacy rate compared to other methods are important factors to consider. Individuals interested in using these barrier methods should consult with a healthcare provider to ensure proper fit and usage, thereby maximizing their contraceptive effectiveness.

Choosing the right birth control method is a deeply personal decision that should align with your lifestyle, health conditions, and plans for the future, including considerations for fertility. Each method, from hormonal pills and IUDs to barrier methods and natural family planning, comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. Understanding these can help you navigate the vast landscape of contraception options to find the one that best suits your needs. Remember, what works perfectly for one person might not be the right choice for another due to differences in health, convenience, efficacy preferences, and comfort levels with potential side effects.

The decision-making process can be complex, with many factors to consider, including how each method aligns with your health and reproductive goals. Therefore, it's crucial to have open and honest discussions with a healthcare provider who can offer guidance tailored to your individual circumstances. They can provide valuable insights into the nuances of each option, helping you make an informed choice that reflects your preferences and health needs.

Additionally, if you're considering a new birth control method or have questions about your current one, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. Professional advice can demystify the process and ensure you choose the safest and most effective method for your lifestyle and health. Remember, taking control of your reproductive health is a powerful step toward maintaining overall well-being.

Learn More
Learn More
Learn More