1. So what's the BEST method?
Well, nothing works better than not having sex at all; it's the only foolproof way to prevent pregnancy and STDs. But the experts all agree that if you are sexually active, your absolute best protection comes from using what's called a "dual method." That's doctor-speak for the combo of a barrier form of birth control like condoms and a highly effective method (the IUD, Implant, Pill, Ring, Patch, or Shot).
2. How do I choose one of those "highly effective" methods?
Sadly, there's no one-size-fits-all form of BC — that decision has to come down to your life and what works best for you, says Caroline Barangan, MD, a physician at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York. "Not everyone can remember to take a pill every day, for example," she says. "So the best method is going to be something you can use correctly and consistently — and your doctor should be able to help you figure that out."
3. Wait. Let's say I just use ______. How bad is that?
So maybe you only use condoms. Or you're on the Pill, but you're not using condoms. First things first: Know that any birth control is better than NO birth control at all. But it's also important to understand that some methods work better than others, and this little chart will help you explore your options and know your risks. Plus, remember that only condoms protect against STDs. Just another reason why the "dual method" described in #2 is the two-thumbs-up, gold standard, best-you-can-do.
4. Everyone's talking about the IUD lately. What's up with that?
Chances are, you've heard some legit buzz about , and with good reason. The IUD and Implant are what docs call LARC methods — that stands for long-acting reversible contraception. Not only have they been at preventing pregnancy, but they also require the least maintenance. Put simply: They're easy to use — as in, a single procedure at your doctor's office gives you years worth of protection. (You can also have them taken out at any time.) Discuss LARC with your doc, especially if you don't want to deal with taking the Pill every day, or changing the Patch weekly … that sort of thing.
5. But what about my friend who had CRAZY side effects on BC?
OK, so your BFF who hated the Ring? You have to remember: She's not you! The same goes for the women there in the comments who are maybe going to say the IUD made them crampy, or the Pill made them moody. We're not discounting those concerns at ALL — they're likely very, very real. But you have to think about contraception like a pair of jeans (*stick with us here*): What fits someone else's body perfectly won't necessarily work for yours, and vice versa. "You can't predict what side effects you may or may not have on a particular method," explains Dr. Cullins. "But it's OK to be assertive with your doctor at any time. Tell them, 'This method isn't working for me — I want to switch.'" It's annoying to think it may take a couple of tries, but not nearly as stressful/frustrating/risky as getting pregnant, right?
6. What's the deal with emergency contraception (a.k.a. EC/morning after pill)?
First things first: Contrary to what you might have heard on the Internet, EC is not an abortion. It's just a stronger dose of the same hormones found in other birth control pills, which will stop the fertilization process before it happens. So if the condom breaks, or you straight-up didn't protect yourself — get thee to a drugstore ASAP. (EC works within 3-5 days of unprotected sex, but the sooner you take it, the better.) Also good to know: EC is available without a prescription and can typically be found next to the condoms and other "family planning" stuff, but some pharmacies may keep it behind the counter, even though they're not supposed to. DO NOT be afraid to ask if you can't find it … or go somewhere else stat!
7. If I'm not having sex right now, can I go off my Pill/Patch/Ring/etc.?
You can do whatever you want, sure — but the fact is, it's not necessarily a good idea. Because what if you get back together with your guy next week, or meet someone new tomorrow? These hormonal methods are only at their most effective when used consistently, and docs told us it can take up to a month for any one method to kick in and work for sure. You're probably better staying on it, rather than starting over, just in case.
8. Are there other reasons to go on it?
Yes, a lot of them. "Many of the hormonal methods treat other medical conditions," explains Dr. Baranagan. "So if you have really bad cramps or really heavy periods, talk to your doctor about your options."
9. Is there anything else I need to know?
Yes! The bottom line is, if you're having sex, using birth control will make sex better. Guaranteed. And not because there's some magic ingredient in the Pill that will make the process more pleasurable, or because using a certain type of condom makes you see 💥💥💥. It's just that the pure act of being responsible enough to protect yourself is going to make you: (a) more confident; (b) *way* less nervous about the consequences of sex, like pregnancy and STDs. (And nerves = tense muscles = pain = no thanks!)