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10 Things to Stop Doing if You Want Effective Birth Control

Ways to Lower Your Chances of Getting Pregnant

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Updated March 27, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

It goes without saying that, if you have sex, there is always the chance that you will become pregnant. No birth control method is protected from contraception failure. That being said, effective birth control does exist! There are actions that you can either take or not take that can enhance the likelihood that your birth control works and lower your chances of getting pregnant. The following are 10 things you should stop doing if you want more effective birth control:

1. Stop Believing All the Myths You Hear

Photo © Dawn Stacey 2011

One of the greatest hurdles against finding effective birth control is misinformation. The more educated you become about birth control, the better contraceptive choices you can make. If you believe in certain myths, you may not actually understand how to not become pregnant or how a method actually works to prevent pregnancy. Be wary of certain websites that may be run by crisis pregnancy centers because these sites may try to mislead you into believing that certain birth control methods may be ineffective or harmful (which is not normally the case). Believing in certain birth control myths may also negatively affect your choice to use a particular method, so you may choose to use a less effective birth control method simply out of not knowing the truth.

Do You Hold Misconceptions? Consider the following statements -- true or untrue?

How did you do? Can you see how having the wrong information about birth control could negatively influence which methods you are willing to try or put you at a higher risk of getting pregnant?

2. Stop Putting Off Birth Control Discussions with Your Partner

Photo Courtesy of B. Levy

Have you been afraid to bring up the topic of contraception with your partner? Some women think that their partners may question their love if asked to use contraception. The fact of the matter is, if you are trusting enough in this person to have sex with him or her, you should be able to have discussions about what you’re going to do to avoid getting pregnant. Research shows that if you are in a serious relationship, you will be more likely to correctly and reliably use contraception if you have discussed it and both partners have agreed upon a method. Even married couples need to have these conversations.

Are you done having children? Then it’s time to discuss your feelings about seeking a permanent method. Do you want to have your tubes tied but are unsure? Discussing your thoughts about obtaining a permanent procedure can help you in your decision-making process. Maybe you are afraid of asking your partner to get a vasectomy? Would you prefer your girlfriend/wife to use a hormonal birth control method?

Along the same lines, you may be hesitate to have this conversation because you may only feel comfortable using natural family planning and are not sure how your partner may react. Yet to have effective birth control, not only do these preferences need to be discussed, they should be talked about ahead of time... before you have sex. If not, you may find yourself in the “heat of the moment” without a birth control plan. This may increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Also, when discussing birth control with your partner, it is important that you are honest about your sexual history (past and present). Most methods do not protect against STDs, so even if you choose an effective birth control option, you may need to consider whether condoms should be used as well. Also, having been exposed to an STD may affect the timing of when certain contraceptive devices, like IUDs, can be inserted. So, it is important to know whether you fall into this risk category.

3. Stop Thinking You Don't Have a Variety of Contraception Options

Photo Courtesy of Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

Now, more than ever, there are so many effective birth control options available. Contraceptive methods have come a long way since the FDA approval of the pill in 1960. Women have more choices beyond needing to take a pill each day or insert a diaphragm before having sex. Hormonal methods like NuvaRing and the Ortho Evra Patch allow women the same effectiveness as the pill without the need to swallow pills. Femcon Fe is actually a chewable birth control pill. Barrier methods have even evolved to include cervical caps and female condoms. Plus, many women are thrilled that the Today Sponge is back on store shelves.

With so many available options, it is important that you do your research before you choose a method, so you can make an educated decision. This may require that you learn how to interpret birth control failure rates. Before choosing a birth control method, make sure to ask about side effects. Research shows that women are more likely to continue using a birth control method and tolerate its side effects if they are aware of these potential effects before beginning use.

Also, once you have picked your method of contraception, don’t assume that you know how to properly use it. User error is the number one cause of contraceptive failure, so make sure that you read and follow all of the instructions that come with your birth control method. For example, would you know what to do if:

You should also be aware of what may lower the effectiveness of your method, like medications or weight, as well as how to properly store your birth control. Also, don't let your contraception ruin your vacations, so plan ahead if you want your birth control to work while you are away. See, if you want effective birth control, it's time you recognize all of your contraceptive options and understand how to use them.

4. Stop Buying the Wrong Condoms

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There are such a wide variety of condoms to choose from. Latex condoms are the most popular and are effective at preventing pregnancy as well as STDs. But did you know that polyurethane and polyisoprene (non-latex) condoms can do this as well? Natural lambskin condoms may help prevent babies, but their small pores don’t protect you from STDs. Over the years, condom styles have grown to include textured, flavored and colored condoms. But to make sure the condom you choose is an effective birth control method, you have to read the package to make sure that it is FDA-approved as contraception, and is not just a novelty item.

Also, keep in mind that condoms may not be effective if you buy the wrong ones. Using the wrong condom size can cause problems (like breaking or falling off) that may lead to condom failure. Condom sizes will affect your comfort and fit, so it is important that you buy the right condom. Condoms range from snug sizes, like Caution Wear Iron Grip Snugger Fit Condoms to extra large, like KYNG Extra Large Condoms, so you are sure to find the right fit for you. Research also indicates that the most effective condoms are the ones that fit properly. To help you from buying the wrong condoms:

5. Stop Having Sex

Photo Courtesy of L. Byrne

Hey, let’s face it, if you are not having sex, then you will have super-duper effective birth control! The fact of the matter is abstinence is the ONLY birth control method that is 100% effective. Because of religious or moral reasons, people may turn to abstinence as their contraceptive method. Some people may simply not want to deal with the emotional side of having sex, while others are just waiting until the day that they can say "I Do."

Whatever your reason, practicing abstinence (a natural form of birth control) will basically guarantee that you will not become pregnant. So, this means that abstinence wins the award for most effective birth control. That being said, choosing to not have sex is a personal decision, and you are the one in control of this choice. If you decide that this is the route you feel the most comfortable taking, you should try to safeguard yourself against some predictable pitfalls. Some people may find it very challenging to remain being abstinent in the “heat of the moment,” and may possibly give in to the temptation (and regret it later on). So, if not having sex is going to be the way to go, here are some tips to help you stick to your choice:

6. Stop Being Reluctant to Change Birth Control Methods

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office

For some reason, it appears that women are reluctant to change birth control methods -- even if they are not happy with their current option. Perhaps this may be due to, in part, women not knowing how to talk to their doctors about contraception. Some women may want to use the pill but will settle for a less effective method because the pill isn’t sold over the counter (and women may feel uncomfortable undergoing a pelvic and/or breast exam to get a pill prescription). But if you want effective birth control, you need to feel satisfied with the contraceptive option you are using. It is important that you are comfortable with your birth control’s level of convenience/ease of use, cost, and that it fits into your lifestyle.

If you are not happy with your birth control method, you may be less likely to use it consistently, thereby making it less effective. You don’t need to settle for a contraceptive you don’t feel is right for you, yet 21% of women do. Physical side effects seem to be the main reason why most women opt for a birth control change. Psychological side effects (like mood changes) may alter your confidence level in using a birth control method; this may then cause you to believe your method is no longer effective or safe. Though most women who use hormonal contraception are happy and satisfied with their method, over half of these women admit that they seldom assess how well their birth control is fitting their needs.

Research shows that, overall, women tend to be most satisfied with permanent birth control, followed by birth control pills, then IUDs. But if you find yourself thinking that it may be time for a change, follow your instincts. Stop putting off this discussion with your doctor and start researching available methods. Ask your friends if they are satisfied with their methods and listen to what other women have to say. In the end, this is your choice, and you owe it to yourself to use an effective birth control method that you feel happy and comfortable using.

7. Stop Complaining That You Can’t Use Estrogen Contraception

Photo © 2008 Dawn Stacey

Okay, I understand that there are some women who cannot use hormonal contraception that contains estrogen. Even though the risk is relatively low, research does show that hormonal birth control may increase your chances of experiencing VTE/blood clots or other types of cardiovascular complications. The good news is that there are effective birth control methods that only contain the hormone progestin. Progestin-only options can be good and effective alternatives if you suffer from estrogen-related side effects, like high blood pressure, headaches, or severe nausea. Effective progestin-only contraceptives include:

Additionally, ParaGard is super-effective birth control that is also completely hormone-free.

To help aid you and your doctor in deciding if a progestin-only birth control method may be the right way to proceed, the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a risk classification system to help determine medical eligibility for contraception use. Based on this classification system, progestin-only birth control options, as well as ParaGard, can be effectively and safely used by:

  • Teenagers (though Depo Provera is not recommended for adolescents due to its black box warning about possible bone loss)
  • Mothers who have been breastfeeding for at least 1 month
  • Non-breastfeeding women who have just given birth
  • Nulliparous women (those who have never given birth)
  • Obese women
  • Women of all ages (even over 35)
  • Women who smoke (regardless of how often)

Progestin-only methods are also deemed safe by the WHO for women who are over age 35 and smoke. However, if you have multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease (such as smoking, older age, diabetes, and hypertension), Depo Provera use is not advised. WHO advises that the benefits of using Mirena, Implanon, Nexplanon and the Mini-Pill in women with increased risk factors generally outweigh the risks for blood clots (and these risks are substantially less than with combination pills). There are no restrictions for ParaGard use in women who have multiple cardiovascular disease risks. Given all the progestin-only hormonal options available, don’t allow your inability to use estrogen-based contraception get in the way of your quest for effective birth control.

8. Stop Relying on Your Partner to Carry Condoms

Photo © 2012 Dawn Stacey

Yes ladies, it is time that you step up to the plate when it comes to condom use. It seems like many men just expect that you are on the pill, so they don’t bring condoms or offer to use them. Even if you are using a hormonal method, these contraceptives don’t protect against STDs, so unless you know and trust your partner’s sexual history, you should be demanding that your man use condoms. Though you may worry what "image" you are giving off if you carry condoms, at the end of the day... would you rather have a questionable image or an unplanned pregnancy?

When you find yourself caught up in the "heat of the moment," what happens if you ask your guy to put on a condom, and he says he doesn’t have one? Though women expect men to carry condoms, you can’t just hope this is the case. Let’s face it, men offer all kinds of excuses not to use condoms (and not having one usually falls on this list). To empower yourself as well as protect yourself against potential pregnancy and STDs, be prepared:

And here is some additional advice that may be helpful... feel free to read other’s responses or add one of your own:

9. Stop Believing That Emergency Contraception Equals Abortion

Photo © 2008 Dawn Stacey

There is a major debate about emergency contraception (EC) that stems from people’s mistaken beliefs that EC terminates a pregnancy. If you think that EC causes an abortion, you may be less likely to use EC after contraceptive failure or unprotected sex occurs. This can put you at a much higher risk for becoming pregnant. The morning-after pill is not the same thing as the abortion pill. If you use it and are pregnant, it will not hurt your existing pregnancy. In fact, EC is meant to PREVENT a pregnancy, not to terminate one. Leading medical authorities consider a pregnancy to have occurred after implantation of a fertilized egg has occurred, and they define an abortion as the disturbance of an implanted, fertilized egg. This means that it’s impossible for EC to end a pregnancy that medically doesn’t even exist.

Not only is it important that you recognize the differences between emergency contraception and abortion, it is also critical that you don’t fall into the trap of rationalizing that it's too late to do anything about your situation. Emergency contraceptives like Plan B One-Step and Next Choice can be taken right way and can be used within 72 hours (3 days) of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure to avoid an unintended pregnancy (some research even suggests that it may still be beneficial to use these methods up to 120 hours after unprotected sex). Both of these methods are available behind pharmacy counters (no need a for a doctor’s prescription) for those ages 17 and older. If you are under 17, you can buy these with a doctor’s prescription. Another EC option is Ella -- this works differently from Plan B One-Step (but still will not cause a pregnancy to terminate). You need a prescription to obtain Ella, and this method can be used for up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. Some women get confused about how Ella works; if you use this method, you need to understand that Ella is only effective at preventing pregnancy from a previous act of intercourse (that occurred in the last 5 days), it will not protect against any sex you have during the days after you have taken it.

Emergency contraception can be an effective birth control method -- after the fact. To maximize your opportunity to use this method, you should understand who can use it as well as how to use EC. It is most effective the sooner you take it, so don’t rationalize that you don’t need it or believe in the myth that it will harm an existing pregnancy.

10. Stop Thinking That Getting Pregnant Won’t Happen to Me

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office

No birth control method (besides abstinence) is 100% effective. This means that the reality of the situation is, if you are having sex, there is the possibility that you will get pregnant. This chance increases if you are having sex without using contraception. We also know that about half of all pregnancies in the US are not planned (this statistic includes those conceptions that resulted in miscarriages, abortions, or live births). About 50% of the women experiencing these unintended pregnancies were actually using birth control during the month that they got pregnant. This tells us that allowing yourself to think that unplanned pregnancy happens to “other people” can be a risky way to approach the use of birth control.

Besides not using contraception, an unplanned pregnancy can also be due to a natural malfunction of the birth control method itself. In general, longer acting birth control methods or those that involve less for you to do, tend to be more effective. A sign that you may be pregnant is a late period. Your period is considered late if it has been more than 5 days from when you would normally expect to have it. If you find yourself in this situation, try to remember if you had unprotected sex (or experienced contraception failure) right before, during, and after the time that you would have ovulated. If so, you may need to change your thinking that getting pregnant won’t happen to you. Though this can be a stressful situation to be facing, before you allow your emotions to get the best of you, try using a home pregnancy test to confirm if you are, in fact, pregnant.

For more effective birth control, you can’t allow yourself to become careless with your chosen method. For the greatest chance against becoming pregnant, you must use contraception every time you have sex, and you have to be using it correctly. The following are some tips to help increase your success (and decrease your chances of contraceptive failure) with each of the following methods:

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