illustration of contraceptive methods

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The thing about birth control is that everyone has a favorite method. That’s probably because the way it affects each person varies—a lot. For example, hormonal birth control pills are a great choice for many but can have some annoying side effects for others. Condoms are easy to access and have the huge added bonus of helping to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but people don’t always use them perfectly, so their effectiveness at preventing pregnancy is on the low side (about 15 people out of 100 will get pregnant while using a condom to prevent pregnancy). Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and arm implants are the most effective at preventing pregnancy (more than 99 percent), but some people don’t like the idea of inserting something semi-permanent into their body.

So how do you determine what the best birth control method is for you? Well, we surveyed students in an effort to help you out. Below, students told us what they like (and don’t) about these common contraceptives.

Note: In this article, we’re primarily talking about pregnancy prevention. To learn more about STI protection, check this out.

Expert perspective

“While pregnancy may not be a risk of sexual activity for everyone (for example, if the partners don’t have the equipment necessary to make a pregnancy), some kinds of contraception can be used to manage other conditions, such as to alleviate difficult menstruation [period] symptoms. In some cases, contraceptives can also be used to help prevent menstruation for individuals who experience gender dysphoria.”
Lizzy Appleby, licensed clinical social worker and youth program manager, Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook, Illinois

Student perspective

“Being a lesbian is a great way to avoid pregnancy, but STIs are still possible to transmit. Plus, gender-nonconforming folks can be in lesbian relationships, too, and may have a penis. Trans women and others still need to use protection with their partners if the couple doesn’t want to get pregnant [or contract STIs].”
Fifth-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

young woman with rainbow pride flag

Condoms (external or internal)

  • 64% of students we surveyed have used condoms
  • Condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, 85% effective when used typically

How to correctly put on a condom

The gist

Most students agree that condoms are cheap, convenient, and the most effective at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In our survey, students recommended using condoms along with another birth control method, such as the pill, IUD, or ring.

Perfect use means that the person is using the birth control method exactly how it’s intended to be used, every single time. With the pill, for example, that would mean taking it at the same time every day and never missing a pill. This statistic comes from laboratory studies where the environment is controlled and, unfortunately, can’t be applied to real life.

Typical use is the more realistic statistic. This accounts for user error, such as not putting a condom on correctly or forgetting to take a birth control pill occasionally. These things lower the effectiveness of pregnancy prevention.

“I think that condoms are the most convenient and readily available form of birth control, and I think that is a huge advantage to using them. I like their effectiveness, convenience, and ease of use.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, University of Rhode Island

“Condoms should always be used, even if the partner has some other form of birth control, [because they are] effective at preventing STIs.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts

“I think condoms are extremely important for protection against STIs and generally bolstering protection when used along with other methods. They’re obviously convenient and easy enough to use regularly.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

“The condom is easy and accessible, although it is also a method you always have to think ahead about and be prepared with.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

The pill

  • 52% of students say they’ve used the pill
  • The pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, 91% effective when used typically

The gist

Students like the effectiveness, ease of access, and period regulation. Some struggled with the side effects and remembering to take it at the same time every day.

“I like my birth control pill. I take it at the same time every day to make sure it works efficiently and I don’t forget. I set my prescription up so I take it for three months, then have my period, and repeat. Luckily, I haven’t had any issues with mood swings, weight gain, or acne, so it’s a perfect fit for me.”
Fifth-year undergraduate, University of Alaska, Anchorage

“I like that the pill is easy to take. The danger is in not remembering when to take it, so I have a daily timer on my phone.”
Third-year undergraduate, Palomar College, California

“I like [the pill] because it’s something I am in control of and don’t have to depend on mutual teamwork to prevent pregnancy. It gives me comfort knowing that if a condom fails, I have less pregnancy risk.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, University of Alaska, Anchorage

“I like the pill because I don’t need to worry about it in the moment. However, with a fluctuating schedule, it is more difficult to take it at the same time every day. It is definitely a conscious addition to my life, since I can’t go anywhere without them.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

playful heterosexual couple

The IUD (Mirena®, Paragard®, or Skyla® intrauterine device)

  • 16% of students say they’ve used the IUD
  • The IUD is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy (this is because it can’t really be affected by user error)

The gist

Many students love the convenience, the lack of (or lessening of) periods, limited side effects, and the fact that it works for multiple years. Students’ experiences vary regarding pain at insertion.

“I love my IUD. Getting it inserted made me a little nervous, but I hardly felt anything. Now I have peace of mind and have only had my period once in the last couple years.”
Recent graduate, NorQuest College, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

“I love the IUD. It was painful to get inserted but totally worth it because I don’t have to think about it for five years.”
Third-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

“I have no complaints about the IUD so far. It has the least amount of maintenance involved and it hasn’t changed my body weight, emotions, acne, etc. I see and feel no side effects, and my partner does not feel it either.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

The ring

  • 6% of students say they’ve used the ring
  • The ring is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, 91% effective when used typically

The gist

The ring requires a certain level of comfort with your body, which is by no means insurmountable. You insert it into the vagina, take it out after three weeks, and then replace it with a new one seven days later. Students like that the ring is lower maintenance than the pill, but some complained of it moving around during intercourse and the fact that it requires refrigeration.

How to use the NuvaRing®

“I love that the ring is something I only have to worry about every few weeks, as opposed to the pill, where the success of the method is determined by a strict daily schedule. It’s also not so far apart (like the shot) that scheduling appointments would be inconvenient or as involved as an IUD or arm implant.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

“So far, the ring has been convenient and easy to use. I don’t have to worry about a daily pill, and it’s just once a month. The bad part is it has to be refrigerated, so extended travel can be challenging.”
Fourth-year graduate student, Texas A&M University, College Station

“I used the ring and loved it. It was easy to use, you only had to think about it once a month, and it was effective. My periods were like clockwork.”
Graduate student, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Emergency contraceptive pill (Plan B One-Step®, My Way®, AfterPill®, Take Action®, and others)

  • 17% of students say they’ve used emergency contraception
  • Emergency contraceptive pills lower the chance of getting pregnant by 75–89% if taken within three days of unprotected sex

The gist

As the name implies, these are meant to be used in emergency situations, like when you’ve just had unprotected sex and you want to try to lower your risk of pregnancy. Cost and whether or not insurance covers them vary, but they should be available for sale over-the-counter at your local pharmacy or health clinic. It’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure they’re in stock.

Find a provider of emergency contraception near you

“[Emergency contraceptives are] great when accidents happen.”
Third-year undergraduate, University of California, Riverside

“PlanB® has helped me once in the past, before I was able to get more consistent birth control, and it is important for cases where people are not on birth control or they do not use a condom.”
Fifth-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

“PlanB® is a frightening and sobering experience, [but] it’s useful in an emergency.”
Third-year undergraduate, California State University, Fullerton

“[Emergency contraceptives are] only to be used for emergencies and have worked well for me in emergency situations, but it should never be used as a first choice.”
First-year undergraduate, St. Clair College, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

young woman flexing arm

The arm implant (NEXPLANON®)

  • 5% of students say they’ve used the arm implant
  • The arm implant is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy (because it isn’t affected by user error)

The gist

Like the IUD, the arm implant is highly effective at preventing pregnancy, since it doesn’t require the user to remember to take it or know how to use it correctly. Students liked the arm implant’s effectiveness, the fact that it works for a few years, and its effect on their periods.

“I currently have the arm implant, and it has made my everyday life easier. I also use condoms to protect [against] STIs.”
Third-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

“I like the arm implant because it is low maintenance. I only have to get it changed every three years and, honestly, I forget I even have it.”
Second-year graduate student, California State University, Northridge

“My favorite birth control method is the NEXPLANON® arm implant because it has been 100 percent effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies and has lessened the frequency and intensity of my periods.”
First-year graduate student, Texas Woman’s University, Denton

“The arm implant is the best one that has worked for me because I don’t have to worry about it for two years or more. The only scary part is the actual implantation, but that is worth it [compared to] becoming pregnant or having to remember to do or take something [every day].”
Third-year undergraduate, California State University, Northridge

Withdrawal or "pulling out"

About 29 percent of students say they’ve used the pull-out method to try and prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to do this incorrectly—especially in the heat of the moment. About one in five people will get pregnant after using the pull-out method, according to Planned Parenthood. Our health educator explains what you need to know about pulling out here.

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Article sources

Lizzy Appleby, licensed clinical social worker and youth program manager, Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook, Illinois.

Bedsider.org. (n.d.). Not right now. Retrieved from https://www.bedsider.org/methods/not_right_now

Ike, E., & Mackenzie, M. (2018, June 1). Your guide to birth control: How to find the best option that works for you. Student Health 101. Retrieved from https://default.readsh101.com/guide-to-birth-control/

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective are condoms? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-effective-are-condoms

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is pulling out? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/withdrawal-pull-out-method/how-effective-is-withdrawal-method-pulling-out

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is the birth control pill? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-pill

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is the birth control ring? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-vaginal-ring-nuvaring/how-effective-birth-control-ring

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is the IUD? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud/how-effective-are-iuds

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How to put a condom on. Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-to-put-a-condom-on

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What is the effectiveness of the birth control implant? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-implant-implanon/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-implant

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What’s the Plan B morning after pill? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/morning-after-pill-emergency-contraception/whats-plan-b-morning-after-pill

Princeton University. (n.d.). The emergency contraception website. Retrieved from https://ec.princeton.edu/providers/index.html