Contraception: How to Choose

pharmacist holding various boxes

If you're a woman of reproductive age, you have probably already made some decisions about contraception. Now more than ever, there are a wide variety of birth control options that meet different needs and personal preferences.

Maria Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., is an obstetrician and gynecologist at the OHSU Center for Women's Health with a special interest in contraception. "My goal is for patients to fulfill their reproductive life plans. I help them prioritize contraception methods based on their health and goals," she says.

Contraception is a personal decision, but one that's important not to put off. If you're in a heterosexual relationship and sexually active but not using birth control, "you're highly likely to get pregnant within a year," says Dr. Rodriguez.

So which option is right for you? Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you explore your options.

Your health. Your provider can help you take into account how health issues or medications you take may interact with different types of contraception. For example, women with seizure disorders may not be able to use certain methods. Women with high blood pressure or who smoke should steer away from methods containing estrogen.

Your goals. Some women are seeking the most effective method possible for the long-term while others are seeking easily-reversible options. Some women want to continue to have a period each month, while others don't.

Hormones. Dr. Rodriguez emphasizes that for most women the low dose of hormones in contraception (pills, patches and shots, for example) is not a problem. In fact, it has benefits. "For many women, hormonal contraception use means lighter periods and less cramping," she says.

Ease of use. For some women, remembering to take a pill every day or making sure to have a barrier method on hand (like condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps) can be problematic. Long-acting reversible methods (LARCs) like IUDs or shots require less frequent attention.

See this table comparing birth control methods based on effectiveness.

To learn more about the options available, there are also a variety of online tools that can help. Dr. Rodriguez recommends Bedsider's method explorer, a visual tool that lets you sort and read up on birth control methods according to your preferences.

Ultimately, you and your health care provider are the best team for making a decision. "Share any questions or concerns you have with your provider," says Dr. Rodriguez. "Information you hear from friends or find online can be useful, but isn't always accurate."