Table of Contents
Birth Control Options
Birth control options for women include:
- Hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills, skin patch, vaginal ring
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- Barrier devices, such as condoms, diaphragm, and the cervical cap
- Fertility awareness methods
The condom is the only form of birth control that protects against sexually transmitted diseases.
In cases of unprotected sex, women can take emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraceptive pills, also called “morning-after” pills, are not a substitute for regular contraceptive methods and they are not the same as the “abortion pill.” Women who are pregnant should not take emergency contraception. There are now two types of “morning-after” pills:
- In 2010, the FDA approved ella, a new type of morning-after pill that contains the antiprogestin drug ulipristal acetate. Ella can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse and works just as well on the first day as the fifth day. Ella is available only by prescription.
- The original morning-after pill contains levonorgestral, which is a progestin used in some birth control pills. It is available either as a single-pill formulation, called Plan B One Step, or as two pills called Plan B (brand) or Next Choice (generic). These pills can be taken up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected intercourse but they work better the sooner they are taken. Levonorgestral morning-after pills can be purchased over-the counter (without a prescription) by women ages 17 years and older. Women younger than age 17 need a prescription.
- Side effects of these two types of emergency contraceptive pills are similar. They may include headache, nausea, lower abdominal pain, fatigue, and dizziness. A woman may notice a change in the timing or flow of her next menstrual period.
Review Date: 09/28/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.