Choosing the right contraceptive can be difficult, and is best done in consultation with your primary physician. However, if you know what to consider, you can help your physician to help you to make exactly the right choice. There are a number of factors that should go into your decision.
1. What is the effectiveness of your chosen method?
This is probably the most significant factor. Different contraceptive methods have different rates of effectiveness, and you need to be aware of those rates. Effectiveness rates are based on perfect use, which is not necessarily the same as typical use – so consider whether or not you are capable of using the method perfectly correctly on a constant basis. Male condoms are 98% effective with perfect use, but only 85% effective with typical use, which is a huge difference.
For a handy chart showing effectiveness rates with both typical use and perfect use, see here:
2. What are the potential side effects of your chosen method?
Different birth control methods have different side effects. For example, Depo-Provera, which is injected, is highly effective but also has a high number of potential (and potentially harmful) side effects. The potential side effects are a major reason why contraceptive decisions should be discussed at length with a doctor who knows your medical history. You will want to do some research on your preferred methods before you speak with your doctor; women sometimes report that their doctors are not up-to-date on developments in contraceptives.
You should also be aware of any potential drug interactions if and when you take medication.
If you choose one of the options that requires surgery, you need to be prepared to take some time to recover, and to be aware of the risks involved with surgery.
3. How permanent do you want your birth control to be?
Tubal ligation and vasectomy are highly effective options, but they are generally considered to be permanent solutions. This is great if you are childfree or have decided that you do not wish to conceive again, but not ideal if you suspect you may wish to conceive at some point in the future. Other possibilities include the Mirena IUD, which can prevent pregnancy for up to five years. This may be a good option for the childfree or people who have no immediate plans to conceive. If you do plan to conceive within a relatively short period of time but just aren’t quite ready yet, other options may be more appealing.
4. Do you also need to protect against sexually transmitted infections?
Many contraceptive methods are solely used as contraceptives – they do not protect against HIV or other STIs. If your partner has an STI or if you can’t always trust that your partners are free of STIs, you will want to use condoms. You may opt to double up on your birth control if you have concerns about the effectiveness of condoms, but you definitely do not want to eschew them entirely.
Your choices regarding contraception can have a major impact on your sexual health and on your life in general. The decision should not be made lightly, so consider the above factors and do your research before making any choices.