In addition to pregnancy prevention, birth control presents many other benefits. Still, certain types of birth control can promote unwanted side effects for some folks.
With so many different methods out there, how can you know which birth control method is best for your physical and mental health?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about
- female sterilization
- oral contraceptives (“the pill”)
- male condom
- long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs)
Birth control comes in many forms — temporary and permanent, and hormonal and nonhormonal. Some types of birth control include:
- oral contraceptives
- external condoms (e.g., dental dams or penile condoms)
- LARCs (e.g., shot, implant, or intrauterine devices, or IUDs)
- sterilization (e.g., vasectomy or tubal ligation)
- the calendar method (tracking your cycle)
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the most effective forms of birth control include the implant, IUD, and sterilization. These methods result in fewer than one pregnancy per 100 women annually. Injection, the pill, patch, and vaginal ring are among the next most effective.
“Individuals who may use hormonal birth control [include people with ovaries] who don’t desire pregnancy [or have] polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or acne,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, who is double board-certified in OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine and is associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine.
She says people with ovaries who have thrombophilia, liver disease, or smoke may want to opt out of hormonal birth control methods containing estrogen.
Dr. Sara C. Flowers, vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says it’s also a personal preference (to be discussed with a healthcare professional) depending on many factors, including:
- sexual practices
- lifestyle factors
- medical issues
- potential side effects
There are many potential perks. Flowers says birth control can:
- regulate your period
- help clear your skin if you have acne
- reduces your risks of certain cancers, such as endometrial or ovarian
- help with symptoms of certain conditions (e.g., endometriosis, PCOS)
- ease period pain and make periods lighter or stop altogether while using the method
- improve some mood-related and physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
“It’s important to remember that condoms, when used correctly, are the only birth control method that protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs),” adds Flowers.
Birth control offers mental health benefits as well. “Getting relief from painful symptoms can help you feel better and improve your overall mood,” she says. “[It also] helps prevent unintended pregnancy, giving you peace of mind and the ability to actually enjoy sex, which in and of itself is a big benefit.”
Birth control is also effective at preventing pregnancy for cisgender and transgender folks. It can also help non-binary individuals and transgender men to stop menstruating, which can promote gender euphoria.
Effects may vary depending on the person’s anatomy and intent of use. A trans-friendly, inclusive reproductive healthcare professional can help you create the most effective, gender-affirming contraception plan for you.
According to Gaither, potential (hormonal) birth control side effects may include:
- mood changes
- sore breasts
- weight gain
- liver tumors
For folks who use or want to use hormonal contraceptives, Flowers recommends tracking your mood daily or weekly to help you spot potential changes or patterns.
“This information can help you and [a] doctor or nurse figure out how your birth control affects your mental health, if it does at all,” she says.
“Non-hormonal birth control is a good option for pregnancy prevention and won’t directly affect your mood or mental health since it doesn’t add any hormones to your body,” she adds.
Another downside is that birth control typically doesn’t protect partners from passing STIs or HIV. When used correctly, external condoms are the only option that offers STI protection.
If you have a latex allergy, don’t worry. You can still have safer, pleasurable sex with latex-free condoms.
“Polyurethane, polyisoprene, and nitrile condoms (made of plastic or rubber) are just as good at preventing STIs and pregnancy as latex condoms. And you can find them in many of the same places you’ll find latex condoms,” says Flowers.
Weight gain can be another unwanted side effect. “Some people find that they gain weight when using certain types of hormonal birth control (the shot and the implant, in particular), while others don’t notice weight changes at all,” she says.
It’s important to note that birth control can sometimes exacerbate symptoms of certain conditions. For example, although it may help relieve symptoms for some people with PCOS, a 2020 study indicates that birth control may cause increased inflammation and worsen symptoms in some.
“Keep in mind that everybody — and every body — is different, so some birth control methods may cause fewer side effects for you than others might,” says Flowers.
If you experience unwanted side effects from one form of birth control, consider trying another method.
What factors should people weigh when considering which type of birth control to use? Flowers recommends asking yourself the following questions:
Why will you be using birth control?
Determine your goal and intention. “Is your priority pregnancy prevention, STI prevention, regulating your menstrual cycle, treating a health issue, or something else altogether?” she asks.
What’s your lifestyle like, and how “hands-on” or “hands-off” do you want to be?
How important are convenience and ease of use to you? Do you want to take a pill every day or receive an IUD that can remain untouched for years?
What are your personal habits and medical history?
For example, “if you’re over a certain age and smoke, or you have a history of blood clots, birth control with estrogen isn’t as safe for you,” Flowers says.
She says a doctor or nurse can help you determine if you have any habits or conditions that could impact certain methods’ safety or efficacy rate.
Do you want to get pregnant? If so, when?
“If you want to wait a while (a few or several years), or if you never want to get pregnant, a longer-acting method — like an IUD or the implant — might be more appealing,” says Flowers.
After removing a LARC at any time for any reason, she notes that your fertility will go back to what it was before you started using it.
What are your personal preferences?
Does one option sound better to you than the rest? If so, weigh the pros and cons and figure out which type of birth control might be best for you.
“Your preferences are valid because you want to be comfortable with the birth control method you choose,” says Flowers.
Ultimately, speaking with a healthcare professional to determine which birth control method is best for you. “A physician needs to do a complete history and physical to ensure there are no underlying morbidities to certain types of contraception,” Gaither says.
Don’t have immediate access to a healthcare team? No problem. “Our health educators are also available via Chat/Text to help you think through your birth control options,” adds Flowers.
There are several types of birth control to choose from, including hormonal or nonhormonal and temporary and permanent. Some include oral contraceptives, the vaginal ring, a patch, IUDs, condoms, and sterilization.
Certain birth control methods may offer physical and mental health benefits, like regular periods, improved mood, reduced acne, and relief from certain health conditions. Some may have unwanted side effects, like mood changes (e.g., irritability or depression), weight gain, and a lack of STI protection.
Every person is unique. So are their birth control needs and experiences.
Consulting a reproductive healthcare professional can help you decide which form of contraception is best for you. Depending on your habits, preferences, needs, and medical history, they can also help you figure out which type of birth control may be best for you.
Morgan Mandriota is a New York-based writer who is passionate about exploring the intersection of pleasure, healing, and holistic well-being. She currently works as a staff writer with Psych Central where she specializes in creating content about sex, relationships, mental health, and alternative approaches to wellness. Her work has been published in notable publications, including Betches, Bumble, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Health, mindbodygreen, Shape, Tinder, Verywell Mind, and Well+Good. In her free time, she enjoys chasing sunsets, playing video games, spending time in nature, swimming in a sea of CBD salve, trying different therapy practices, and working on her passion project Highly Untamed. Connect with Morgan on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website here to learn more.