There are many methods of birth control. Some prevent pregnancy by stopping the egg from being released (ovulation). Others act as a barrier to prevent sperm from reaching and entering the egg.
Using more than 1 birth control method—such as hormonal birth control and condoms—gives the best protection against pregnancy. Emergency contraceptive pills (EC) can be used with all methods of birth control if you think that your first method has failed. Keep reading to learn more about the different kinds of birth control options.
A condom is a thin covering that fits over a hard (erect) penis. It decreases the risk of pregnancy by stopping sperm from getting to and entering the egg. It also decreases the risk of STIs and HIV by stopping semen, vaginal fluid, or blood from being passed between partners. Use a condom to prevent STIs and as a backup form of birth control.
There are many different types of condoms (styles, shapes, and sizes). Most condoms are latex, but there are non-latex ones. All condoms sold in Canada must meet government standards. To learn more, go here.
A vaginal condom is a soft, plastic (non-latex) sleeve with two flexible rings, one on each end. The closed, inner ring goes inside the vagina to cover the opening of the uterus. The outer ring stays outside the vagina to cover the genitals.
It decreases the risk of pregnancy by stopping the sperm from getting to or entering the egg. It reduces the risk of STIs by stopping semen, vaginal fluid, or blood from being passed between sexual partners. To learn more, go here.
Intrauterine device (IUD)
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, soft, T-shaped device with a nylon string attached to it. A health care provider has to put it in. There are 2 types of IUDs (copper and hormonal). Hormonal IUDs are sometimes called intrauterine systems (IUS). They work in different ways. Depending on the type of IUD, it can help prevent pregnancy for 3 to 10 years. New research suggests that long-acting methods of birth control such as IUDs work the best for preventing pregnancy over time. To learn more, go here.
Birth Control Pill
The pill is taken every day to prevent pregnancy. It contains hormones (estrogen and progestin) that are like a woman’s natural hormones. They stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. You can’t become pregnant if you don’t release an egg. To learn more, go here.
Birth Control Patch
The birth control patch is a thin, light brown patch that you wear on your skin. It has to be changed once a week. The sticky part contains hormones (estrogen and progestin) that are like a woman’s natural hormones. These hormones are absorbed through the skin. They stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. You can’t become pregnant if you don’t release an egg. To learn more, go here.
Vaginal Contraceptive Ring
The vaginal contraceptive ring is a soft, 5.5 cm (2 inch), clear, plastic (non-latex) ring that you put in your vagina once a month. It contains hormones (estrogen and progestin) that are like a woman’s natural hormones. They stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. You can’t become pregnant if you don’t release an egg. To learn more, go here.
Hormonal Birth Control – Extended and Continuous Use
Extended use is when you take your birth control product for 2 or more cycles without stopping, then take a planned, hormone-free break. You’ll have your period during this break. This method means that you’ll have fewer periods.
Continuous use is when you take your birth control product without stopping (without taking planned hormone-free breaks). You’ll have fewer or no periods.
To learn more, go here.
Progestin-Only Pill (POP)
Progestin-Only Pill (POP), also called the mini-pill, is a pill you take every day to prevent pregnancy. POP contains one hormone (progestin). It doesn’t contain estrogen. POP comes as a 28-day pack (there are hormones in all 28 pills). There are no hormone-free pills. POP prevents pregnancy by:
- decreasing the cervical mucous and making it thicker
making the lining of the uterus thin
- slowing down the egg in the fallopian tube
- sometimes stopping an egg from being released
To learn more, go here.
Birth Control Injection
The birth control injection contains a hormone (progestin) that is like a woman’s natural hormone. It doesn’t contain estrogen. The hormone stops your body from releasing an egg, makes the lining of the uterus thin, and makes cervical mucous thick. You need a prescription for the injection. It needs to be given every 10 to 12 weeks. To learn more, go here.
Vaginal spermicides are put in the vagina before sex to help prevent pregnancy. They contain an ingredient (nonoxynol 9) that kills sperm. When sperm comes in contact with a spermicide, the sperm dies and a woman can’t become pregnant. Spermicides come as film, foam, gel, cream, or suppositories. Some types of spermicides can be hard to find in Canada. To learn more about spermicides and how to use them, go here.
A diaphragm is disc-shaped, made of latex, silicone or nylon, and has a flexible rim. It’s inserted into the vagina before you have sex. It covers the cervix and stops sperm from entering the uterus. A diaphragm is intended to be used with a gel that kills sperm (spermicidal gel). There are no Health Canada approved spermicidal gels containing nonoxynol-9 available in Canada. People who use a diaphragm should use an acid buffering gel (e.g. Contragel®, Caya Gel ®) which forms a barrier in front of the cervix, lowers pH of vaginal fluid which slows down sperm. To learn more, go here.
The sponge is a one-size, disposable piece of polyurethane foam that’s put in the vagina to cover the opening to the uterus (cervix). The sponge is filled with nonoxynol-9, which is a chemical that kills sperm (spermicide). It helps prevent pregnancy by killing sperm and preventing sperm from entering the uterus. To learn more, go here.
Fertility Awareness-Based (FAB) Methods
Fertility Awareness-Based (FAB) methods, sometimes called natural family planning, identifies the days of the month when the egg is ready to be fertilized and becoming pregnant is most likely (fertile time). This can be used to:
- prevent pregnancy—don’t have vaginal intercourse or use another method of birth control during a woman’s fertile time
- become pregnant—have vaginal intercourse during a woman’s fertile time
To learn more, go here.
Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM) (used after the birth of a baby)
LAM is a way for breastfeeding to temporarily help prevent pregnancy. It must be used correctly to
work. Lactation means your body is making breastmilk and amenorrhea means you aren’t having
a monthly period. Breastfeeding hormones may stop your body from releasing eggs. You can’t get
pregnant if you don’t release an egg. LAM only works if your:
- baby is under 6 months old and
- baby is fully breastfed (baby gets no other liquid or food, not even water) or nearly-fully
breastfed (baby gets vitamins, water, or other fluids or nutrients once in a while and they do not
disrupt the frequency of feedings) and
- period has not returned. This means you have not had vaginal bleeding for 2 or more days in a row (not counting bleeding during the first 2 months after giving birth)
LAM does not work if you don’t have all 3 things above. To learn more, go here.
Emergency Contraception (EC)
You can use emergency contraception (EC) if you aren’t sure if you’re protected from pregnancy (e.g., condom breaks, forgot birth control), or if you’ve had unprotected sex. EC doesn’t protect against STIs and HIV. It needs to be used right away, but can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. The two methods of EC are emergency contraception pills (ECPs), and the copper intrauterine device (IUD).
The two types of ECP’s are Levonorgesterol ECP (e.g. Plan B®, NorLevo®, Next Choice®, Option 2®) or Ulipristal Acetate ECP (e.g. Ella®).
The copper intrauterine device (IUD) requires a prescription and it is put in by your health care provider.
To learn more, go here.
A tubal ligation is a permanent method of birth control. Surgery is done to close the fallopian tubes (the tubes that the egg travels through). This stops the egg and sperm from meeting. If the sperm can’t reach and enter the egg, you can’t become pregnant. To learn more, go here.
A vasectomy is a permanent form of birth control. The tubes (vas deferens) that carry the sperm from the testicles into the semen are cut and sealed. This means there’s no sperm in the semen, so no sperm to reach and enter the egg. To learn more, go here.
Withdrawal (Pulling Out)
Withdrawal is used during vaginal intercourse to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Withdrawal is when the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation. Ejaculation can’t happen near the partner’s vagina. If semen is near the opening of the vagina, sperm can reach and enter the egg. To learn more, go here.
Abstinence means different things to different people. Some people make the decision not to do these types of sexual activities. Abstinence to prevent STIs or pregnancy means that you don’t:
- directly touch your partner’s genitals
- have vaginal sex (penis to vagina)
- have anal sex (penis to anus)
- have oral sex (mouth to penis or mouth to vagina)
If you choose not to have sex, it means that you don’t need to use other forms of birth control and that you’re protected from STIs and HIV. To learn more, go here.