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Available Prescription Birth Control

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Updated May 17, 2012

Prescription methods of birth control include medically prescribed hormones, barriers, or devices. There are several prescription birth control options available to women, and most contain some form of hormone (either estrogen and progestion or just progestin). Several hormonal choices even offer alternative delivery systems (either through mouth, skin, injection, etc.). All medically prescribed contraceptives require a female to visit a healthcare provider. Typically, prescription birth control options tend to be more effective and require some degree of medical supervision. Other advantages of these methods are that they typically are convenient and easy to use as well as reversible, so you can become pregnant after stopping them.

1. The Pill

Photo © 2007 Dawn Stacey

The pill is the common name for oral contraception. It's one of the safest, most effective, and popular methods of birth control. The pill is made up of synthetic forms of hormones that naturally occur in a female's body - progestin and estrogen. One of the ways the pill works is by stopping the action of the hormones that trigger ovulation. The pill comes in 2 forms: combination pills and progestin-only pills. The pill must be taken daily to sustain the hormone levels needed to prevent ovulation.

2. The Depo Provera Shot

Photo Courtesy of K. Price
The Depo Provera shot, also known as DMPA, is an injectable form of progestin (medroxyprogesterone acetate) -- so it is considered to be a progestion-only method (there is no estrogen). The shot must be given every 3 months (12 weeks) and will only provide optimal pregnancy protection for that amount of time. There are two versions available - the Depo Provera shot and the Depo-subQ Provera injection. The Depo-subQ Provera 104 injection is also FDA approved for the treatment of endometriosis-related pain.

3. The NuvaRing

Photo Courtesy of Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
The ring is a small, flexible circle about 2 inches in diameter. You insert it into your vagina once a month and leave it in place for 3 weeks. Then, you take it out for the remaining week. The ring secretes synthetic estrogen and progestin to protect against pregnancy for one month. It works like other combination hormonal methods. This method may be more prone to error than some of the other prescription options (due to misuse, misplacement, and not staying where it should).

4. The Ortho Evra Patch

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images/Staff
The Ortho Evra Patch is a thin, beige, plastic patch and is stuck to the skin of the stomach, buttocks, upper outer arm, shoulder, or upper torso once a week, for 3 weeks in a row. It works best when it is changed on the same day of the week for the 3 weeks, and it is not applied during the fourth week. The patch releases synthetic estrogen and progestin that provides weekly protection against pregnancy. This method may also be subject to more user error especially if the patch becomes loose or falls off or if it is not replaced each week.

5. Diaphragms

Photo Courtesy of Michael Matisse/Photodisc/Getty Images
The diaphragm is latex or silicone, dome-shaped cup with a flexible rim and does not contain any hormones. It is inserted securely in the vagina and becomes a barrier which covers the cervix. Before insertion, the diaphragm and its ring should be covered with spermicidal jelly or cream. It is put in place before intercourse and needs to be left there for 6 to 8 hours after ejaculation. Additional spermicide must be applied before another act of intercourse. A doctor must measure the woman's vagina to determine the correct type and size of diaphragm. The diaphragm blocks the opening to the uterus while the spermicide hinders the sperm's movement.

6. ParaGard Intrauterine Device (IUD)

Photo © 2007 Dawn Stacey
An IUD is a small, plastic device shaped like a T. The ParaGard (Copper T 380A) is the only non-hormonal IUD available in the US. This IUD has copper (which acts as a spermicide) coiled around it. The IUD irritates the lining of the uterus, which makes it harder for implantation. It also serves as an irritant, so white blood cells migrate to the inflamed uterus and can help to destroy sperm. The IUD is inserted into the uterus by a doctor and has 2 filament strings which hang down into the vagina. A woman can feel the strings to make sure the IUD is still in place. ParaGard can be left in place for up to 10 years.

7. Mirena Intrauterine Device (IUD)

Photo © 2007 Dawn Stacey
The Mirena IUD is a small, T-shaped flexible piece of plastic. It continuously releases a small amount of progestin. Due to the progestin, it is a little more effective than the ParaGard. Besides changing the lining of the uterus, Mirena also thickens cervical mucus (serving as a barrier to sperm), and in some cases, it may suppress ovulation. The Mirena is inserted into the uterus by a doctor and has strings which hang down through the cervix into the vagina. The strings can allow for the woman to check that the IUD is still in place and for the doctor to use to remove the IUD. Mirena is effective for 5 years. Mirena is also the only FDA-approved contraceptive to treat heavy menstrual bleeding.

8. Nexplanon

Photo Courtesy of Merck
Nexplanon is the next generation of Implanon. This progestin-only contraceptive implant is made of soft,medical polymer. Insertion into the skin of the upper arm requires a local anesthetic and only takes a few minutes. Nexplanon is radiopaque, so this means that the implant can be seen in an x-ray. It also has a preloaded applicator made to lower the chances of insertion errors. Nexplanon is good for three years of protection and can be removed at any time during that three year time frame. If properly inserted, Nexplanon boasts an impressive 99.9% effectiveness rate - making it one of the most effective long-acting, reversible methods of contraception.

9. Implanon

Photo Courtesy of S. Linder
Implanon is a newer method that consists of a thin (about the size of a matchstick), flexible plastic implant. It is inserted under the skin in the arm. This progestin-only method provides 3 years of pregnancy protection. Implants should be removed when they are no longer effective because they can interfere with menstrual cycles. Implanon can also be removed anytime before the 3 years are up.

10. Cervical Caps

Photo © 2008 Dawn Stacey
A Cervical Cap (like FemCap) is a silicone or latex cup. It is similar to a diaphragm but is made to fit onto the cervix. Unlike a diaphragm, the cervical cap can be left in place for up to 24 hours without additional spermicide. It still uses spermicidal cream/jelly but in less amounts. It needs to be left in place for 6-8 hours after ejaculation and has to be fitted by a doctor. This device blocks the opening to the cervix while the spermicide impedes the sperm's movement. The Lea's Shield (a similar device) is also a silicone cup but has an air valve and a loop to aid in removal.

11. Norplant

Photo Courtesy of S. Linder
Norplant implants consist of small, match-stick sized tubes made of flexible plastic called Silastic. They are implanted surgically beneath the skin on the upper arm (using a local anesthetic). The rods are hollow inside and are filled with synthetic progestin. 6 tubes are implanted which can provide up to 5 years of protection (as this is how long it takes for the hormone to seep out). The rods release a continuous dose of progestin to prevent ovulation. They can be taken out at any time. Once Norplant is removed, fertility can be regained within a few months. Norplant is no longer available in the United States.

What Has Worked For You?

Have you found success with any of these methods? Please share your stories or questions by posting a message in our Contraception Forum! You can also share your decisions:
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