Frequently Asked Questions About Birth Control

Was this helpful?
Holding hands, caucasian couple in love

Women have many choices when it comes to birth control methods. Some women use condoms or birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Women who no longer want to have children might choose sterilization. Other options exist, too. Sometimes it’s hard to know what's best and which option to go with. Here are answers to some common birth control questions.

Which type of birth control is most effective?

Hormone implants, IUDs (an intrauterine device), and permanent birth control (sterilization) are the most effective. Over the course of a year, fewer than 1 in 100 women using these methods gets pregnant. Pills, injections, patches, and rings also are effective. Only 6 to 9 of every 100 women get pregnant with these methods. Barrier methods, such as condoms and spermicide, are next most effective. After one year of consistently correct use, about 12 to 24 of every 100 women get pregnant using a barrier device.

Are birth control pills safe for women 35 and older?

For the most part, birth control pills are safe for women older than 35. Older research studies found that birth control pills might pose risks to women older than 35. But newer research shows this is no longer the case. The exceptions are women older than 35 who smoke or have a history of blood clots, heart problems, or cancer. They may want to choose a different type of birth control, such as an IUD.

What are the risks of birth control?

Some of the hormone-based methods of birth control pose risks. These include pills, patches, and rings. They can raise the risk of blood clots, cancer, and other health problems in women who smoke or have had heart problems or cancer. Also, birth control injections can cause a loss of bone density if used for more than two years in a row. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor before starting any type of birth control.

What is emergency birth control?

Emergency birth control is a method to prevent pregnancy after sex has occurred. It is sometimes called the "morning-after pill." It involves taking one or two pills. This method of birth control is most effective when taken within 72 hours after sex.

What are the options for permanent birth control?

Women can have surgery to cut and tie the fallopian tubes. This prevents eggs from traveling to the uterus. Men can have a vasectomy. This procedure prevents sperm from entering the man’s ejaculate.

Can birth control prevent disease?

To date, the male condom is the only birth control method that has proven effective at preventing the spread of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Research on the effectiveness of the female condom is underway. Other birth control methods do not stop the spread of STDs.

Which birth control option is best for me?

It can seem difficult to make a choice on birth control. There are several key factors to consider, including whether you have one sexual partner or many, your health history, and your stage in life—whether you are planning on having children in the near future, you are in between pregnancies, or you are not planning on having more children.

There are also practical considerations, such as remembering to take a pill every day if you choose birth control pills. Some women experience side effects from some types of birth control, such as birth control pills. This can point them toward one option over another.

Look at your life situation and future plans and, together with your partner and your doctor, you can narrow your options and make a decision.

If you and your partner are only sexually active with each other, then a choice like birth control pills, a patch, a ring, or an injection might be best. If you have multiple partners, you may want to choose a hormone-based method and a male condom to also prevent sexually transmitted STDs.

If you know you don’t want children for a long time, an implantable device can be a good choice because your doctor can remove it later. Or, if you are sure that your family is complete, you can choose a permanent type of birth control.

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Birth control methods fact sheet. Office on Women’s Health.
  2. Rebecca H. Allen, Carrie A. Cwiak, Andrew M. Kaunitz. Contraception in women over 40 years of age. CMAJ. 2013 Apr 16; 185(7): 565–573. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.121280 PMCID: PMC3626808
  3. Stenchever MA. Risks of oral contraceptive use in women over 35. J Reprod Med. 1993 Dec;38(12 Suppl):1030-5.
  4. Seibert C, et al. Prescribing Contraceptives for Women over 35 Years of Age. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(3):547-548.