Birth Control Methods

The effectiveness of birth control methods is critically important for reducing the risk of unintended pregnancy. Effectiveness can be measured during “perfect use,” when the method is used correctly and consistently as directed, or during “typical use,” which is how effective the method is during actual use (including inconsistent and incorrect use).The best way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy among women who are sexually active is to use effective birth control correctly and consistently.

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Copper T intrauterine device (IUD) Typical use failure rate: 0.8%.

Levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG IUD) Typical use failure rate: 0.2%

Copper T intrauterine device (IUD) —This IUD is a small device that is shaped in the form of a “T.”

Levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG IUD)—The LNG IUD is a small T-shaped device like the Copper T IUD. It releases a small amount of progestin each day to keep you from getting pregnant.

Copper T intrauterine device (IUD) Your doctor places it inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy. It can stay in your uterus for up to 10 years.

Levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG IUD) It is placed inside the uterus by a doctor.The LNG IUD stays in your uterus for up to 5 years.


Typical use failure rate: 0.2%

The rod contains a progestin that is released into the body over 3 years.

The implant is a single, thin rod that is inserted under the skin of a women’s upper arm.

Male Sterilization

CDC research has estimated there is a probability of 11 failures per 1,000 procedures over 2 years.

This operation is done to keep a man’s sperm from going to his penis, so his ejaculate never has any sperm in it that can fertilize an egg.

The procedure is done at an outpatient surgical center. The man can go home the same day. Recovery time is less than one week. After the operation, a man visits his doctor for tests to count his sperm and to make sure the sperm count has dropped to zero; this takes about 12 weeks.

Female Sterilization

This method is effective immediately.

Tubal ligation or “tying tubes”

Woman can have her fallopian tubes tied (or closed) so that sperm and eggs cannot meet for fertilization. The procedure can be done in a hospital or in an outpatient surgical center.


Typical use failure rate: 6%.

Women get shots of the hormone progestin in the buttocks or arm every three months from their doctor.

The Pill

Typical use failure rate: 9%.

Combined oral contraceptives—Also called “the pill,” combined oral contraceptives contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. It is prescribed by a doctor.

Progestin only pill—Unlike the combined pill, the progestin-only pill (sometimes called the mini-pill) only has one hormone, progestin, instead of both estrogen and progestin. It may be a good option for women who can’t take estrogen.

Combined oral contraceptives— A pill is taken at the same time each day. If you are older than 35 years and smoke, have a history of blood clots or breast cancer, your doctor may advise you not to take the pill.

Progestin only pill— It is taken at the same time each day.

The Patch

Typical use failure rate: 9%, but may be higher in women who weigh more than 198 pounds.

This method is prescribed by a doctor. It releases hormones progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream.

This skin patch is worn on the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body (but not on the breasts). You put on a new patch once a week for three weeks. During the fourth week, you do not wear a patch, so you can have a menstrual period.

The Ring

Typical use failure rate: 9%.

Hormonal vaginal contraceptive ring—The ring releases the hormones progestin and estrogen.

You place the ring inside your vagina. You wear the ring for three weeks, take it out for the week you have your period, and then put in a new ring.


Typical use failure rate: 28%.

These products work by killing sperm and come in several forms—foam, gel, cream, film, suppository, or tablet.

It is placed in the vagina no more than one hour before intercourse. You leave them in place at least six to eight hours after intercourse. You can use a spermicide in addition to a male condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap. They can be purchased at drug stores.

Male Condom

Typical use failure rate: 18%.

Worn by the man, a male condom keeps sperm from getting into a woman’s body. Latex condoms, the most common type, help prevent pregnancy, and HIV and other STDs, as do the newer synthetic condoms. “Natural” or “lambskin” condoms also help prevent pregnancy, but may not provide protection against STDs, including HIV.

Condoms can only be used once. You can buy condoms, KY jelly, or water-based lubricants at a drug store. Do not use oil-based lubricants such as massage oils, baby oil, lotions, or petroleum jelly with latex condoms. They will weaken the condom, causing it to tear or break.

Female Condom

Typical use failure rate: 21%, and also may help prevent STDs.

Worn by the woman, the female condom helps keeps sperm from getting into her body. It is packaged with a lubricant and is available at drug stores.

It can be inserted up to eight hours before sexual intercourse. Typical use failure rate: 21%, and also may help prevent STDs.


100% Effective

This means not having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) at any time. It is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.


Overall, typical use failure rate: 24%.

Natural family planning or fertility awareness—Understanding your monthly fertility pattern can help you plan to get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant. Your fertility pattern is the number of days in the month when you are fertile (able to get pregnant), days when you are infertile, and days when fertility is unlikely, but possible. If you have a regular menstrual cycle, you have about nine or more fertile days each month.

If you do not want to get pregnant, you do not have sex on the days you are fertile, or you use a barrier method of birth control on those days. Failure rates vary across these methods.