Choosing the right birth control for your life and body isn’t always easy. There is a lot that nobody tells you about birth control, including possible negative impacts on your mood, weight and libido from the pill, for example, or vaginal irritation from vaginal rings. Many of us don’t even know exactly how we get pregnant.

Types of birth control and contraception

Birth control comes in four main forms: physical barrier methods, hormonal methods, IUDs and natural birth control. Condoms stop sexually transmitted infections as well as babies, but hormonal and IUD methods just protect you from an unwanted pregnancy. Natural birth control methods use the menstrual cycle and other interference to avoid pregnancy.

Another option is sterilisation (tubal ligation), also known as ‘having your tubes tied’. A tubal ligation means the fallopian tubes that would otherwise facilitate the egg and sperm meeting are closed off to block passage of both egg and sperm.

Physical barrier birth control

As the name suggests, a physical barrier creates a blockade between your fertile egg and the live sperm, during sex.

Condoms also stop most penis or semen-borne bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites from entering your vagina (or entering the penis, from your vagina), but diaphragms and sponges do not offer this protection.

Hormonal birth control

There are plenty of hormone-based pills, patches, rings and so on available from your doctor via prescription, with each preventing ovulation. No egg released means it’s impossible for fertilisation to occur, thus no babies.

Each hormonal birth control has its own unique formulation of hormones, since a pharmaceutical company cannot patent regular versions of hormones – only slightly molecularly different versions of hormones.

This is why some hormonal contraception will suit you better than others. While the core of that is about money, it also means that you can try different hormonal birth control with varying effects on your body – some will feel better than others.

Types of hormonal birth control

Intrauterine devices (IUD)

There are two types of IUD – hormonal and non-hormonal (also known as the copper IUD). The hormonal IUD releases hormones into the area around it in your uterus, which causes a reduction in your period blood volume.

You may not get any periods. The hormonal IUD is also smaller than the copper IUD, so can be better tolerated for many women. Both have their pros and cons, but which choice is best for you will depend on your body.

Natural birth control methods

What you classify as ‘natural’ will differ between you. Natural can mean using the withdrawal method, charting your cycles, or using only natural ingredients to prevent pregnancy.

The withdrawal method (also known as the pull-out method or coitus interruptus)

The withdrawal method is where the man pulls his penis out of the vagina before he ejaculates. This means the sperm doesn’t have a chance to make its way to the egg, and no pregnancy can occur.

This method of birth control has been in use since time began, and has been extremely controversial for one very good reason: it sometimes works and sometimes definitely does not work.

But how do you know if it will work for you or not?

Well, that’s not super easy to answer because it turns out that every individual man is either able to successfully pull out, or he is not (see precum study). Now, we don’t mean he is unable to pull his penis out before he ejaculates – let’s assume he’s got that covered – but it means the pre-ejaculate fluid of each man is either fertile or it is not.

While you are having sex, some pre-ejaculate fluid escapes the man’s penis, and enter the vagina. This is normal. Each man is either fertile in this stage, or he is infertile in this stage, and this remains constant throughout his life. This has as much to do with his plumbing as anything else, and there is nothing you can do to change his status as either a pre-ejaculate-fertile man or a pre-ejaculate-infertile man. That is, able to successfully avoid pregnancy using the pull-out method or not.

The only way to figure out a man’s status as a potentially successful puller-outerer is to either undergo testing (which is likely to cost a lot as part of fertility testing) or to take your chances. Many couples can successfully go their whole relationship without getting pregnant using this method alone. The pre-ejaculate fertility is the reason why.

Charting your cycles

Charting your cycles is a valid method of birth control, so long as you know exactly what you’re doing!

Usually the minute you learn when you ovulate – and the associated fun bits that go with it – you want to experience that all the time, while also enjoying sex without contraception when it’s safe to do so.

To keep your natural cycle, the only options available to you are a copper IUD, barrier methods, or natural birth control.

How to decide which birth control is right for you

First you need to figure out whether you need to be protected from bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, or just pregnancy. You can use more than one method of birth control, like be on the pill while also using condoms, or charting your cycles and using a condom during fertile times.

If no babies is the only goal, then you have all the options. If you need to be protected from infections, you need to get good at using condoms.

You should also be across how you can and can’t get pregnant!

Emergency contraception

There are options for stopping the process of pregnancy before it really gets very far, with emergency contraception available in many countries from pharmacies.

If you can’t get hold of emergency contraceptive pills, you can use regular ‘the pill’ pills – read the chart to figure out how many pills of the brand you have to take.

Pregnancy terminations/abortion

If you do get pregnant, you may be able to get an abortion, but how easy, safe, and cheap this is will depend very heavily on where you live.

Women on Waves provide online medical consultations and mail abortion drugs to women who can’t get an abortion from their own country or area. Contact them for confidential help.