The Only Birth Control Guide You'll Ever Need

Birth control helps with so much: It can regulate your period, lessen cramps, improve hormonal acne, lighten the symptoms of conditions like PCOS and endometriosis, and, of course, reduce your chances of pregnancy. But how do you choose which method to go on?

"There are so many options for women today when it comes to birth control," says gynecologist and SweetSpot Labs expert Jessica Shepherd, MD. "And they can be taken many ways—by mouth, inserted into the vagina, placed in the uterine cavity, injected, and more."

According to Shepherd, all types of birth control work by doing one of two things: "medically altering the ovulation pattern" or "mechanically preventing sperm from entering the uterus," she tells us. Some forms of birth control are super temporary (like condoms), some are less temporary (like the pill), and some are long-term (like the IUD). The latter two are called "short-acting" and "long-acting" reversible contraception, respectively. These are the methods we're focusing on today.

For the record, there are a few other kinds of birth control that we won't be covering here, including permanent methods such as sterilization, where a doctor surgically closes a woman's fallopian tubes. There are also fertility awareness–based methods, which have you track your ovulation to avoid having sex during your most fertile days. For those who don't mind the obvious risks, there's also withdrawal (or the pull-out method). And then there's always abstinence.

But this guide is dedicated to immediate, short-acting, and long-term types of birth control. To make the best choice in your personal quest for pregnancy-free sex, you'll want to consult your doctor. But in the meantime, we spoke to three great women's health experts: Shepherd; Sara Twogood, MD, an ob-gyn at USC; and Trish McMorrow, MSN, a board-certified family nurse practitioner and clinical educator at Progyny. Whether you're already on birth control and want to make a switch, or are considering it for the first time, keep reading to figure out which birth control method is right for you.

Brief disclaimer on STIs: If they're not mentioned below, then the method does not protect against them.

Curious about side effects? Next up, read about the birth control side effects every well-informed woman should know.

This story was originally published on March 17, 2017, and has since been updated.