Birth Control Methods

See What Your Available Prescription Birth Control Methods Look Like

Birth Control Pills

Combination Pills Combination Birth Control Pills. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

When deciding between birth control methods or talking about contraceptive options, it could be helpful to familiarize yourself with what the contraceptive looks like. By familiarizing yourself with, at least the look (and even the feel) of the contraceptive, it may be easier to choose a method that you feel comfortable with or overcome some of the embarrassment about discussing your options. See what birth control pills, the Mirena IUD and other prescription birth control methods look like.

Combination birth control pills can be found in different colors. Pill packs vary in size and shape - they can be round, rectangular, square and even oval.

Combination pills are oral contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin. These type of pills are categorized as monophasic, biphasic, or triphasic depending on whether the level of hormones stays the same during the first three weeks of the menstrual cycle or if it changes.

Combo pill packs typically come in a one month supply and are generally available in either 28-day or 21-day packs. Both of these versions have 21 active pills (the pills that include the hormones that prevent a woman from becoming pregnant). The 28-day packs contain 7 placebo (or reminder pills) during the last week to help you keep on track with your pill use.

There are combination pills that have 24 active days and only four placebo pills. These include: Yaz 28 and Loestrin 24 Fe

There are also extended cycle pills that are FDA approved to allow women to have less menstrual periods per year. These include:

  • Seasonale (taken continuously for 84 days - it has 77 active pills and 7 placebo pills), so a woman only has 4 periods a year.

  • Seasonique (taken continuously for 77 days, but the final 7 days of the 3 month cycle contain low-dose ethinyl estradiol rather than placebo tablets)so a woman only has 4 periods a year.

  • Lybrel (taken all 365 days of the year), so a woman has no monthly period all year long

Birth Control Patch

The Ortho Evra Patch Birth Control Patch. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

The birth control patch is 4 x 4 cm, thin and totally discrete. In fact, the Ortho Evra Patch is beige and smooth – sticking easily to a woman’s skin.

The simple and convenient birth control patch is applied to the skin of the stomach, buttocks, upper outer arm, shoulder, or upper torso once a week for 3 weeks in a row. During this time, it slowly releases steady flow of synthetic estrogen and progestin (Ethinyl Estradiol and Norelgestromin) through the skin and into the bloodstream.

It is completely reversible, and the birth control patch simply sticks to the skin and stays on during activities such as bathing, showering, swimming, and exercising.

Given that hormones from patches applied to the skin get into the bloodstream and are removed from the body differently than those from pills taken by mouth, the FDA has updated the label on the Ortho Evra Patch due to these health warnings. For more information: Ortho Evra Patch Warning.


Also known as the Birth Control Ring or Vaginal Ring NuvaRing. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

The NuvaRing is a comfortable, discreet, flexible vaginal ring that is about 2 inches in diameter. This is an easy and highly effective birth control method.

The simple and convenient NuvaRing is inserted it into the vagina once a month and left it in place for 3 weeks. The muscles in the vaginal wall will keep the ring in place. The birth control ring is removed after 3 weeks, which allows you to have your menstrual cycle. A new vaginal ring is then inserted (once the week is over) for continued pregnancy protection.

The NuvaRing slowly releases a low dose of synthetic hormones (estrogen and etonogestrel), which are activated by contact with the vagina. The walls of the vagina absorb the hormones and distribute them into the bloodstream to protect against pregnancy for one month.


A Diaphragm Picture for You to See Diaphragms (and Spermicide). Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

A diaphragm is a flexible, dome-shaped cup with a bendable rim. Diaphragms come in many sizes & designs - increasing your odds of finding one that’s a good fit.

The dome-shaped diaphragm can be made of latex or silicone. Diaphragms have been used since the 1830s and are considered to be the first major innovation for women seeking personal control to protect themselves from an unintended pregnancy. Due to improvements in design and effectiveness, diaphragm use is still a popular birth control method.

In addition to size, there are two kinds of diaphragms: a flat ring option and an arcing or coil spring option.

Designed to fit securely in the vagina to cover the cervix, the diaphragm becomes a barrier that blocks the opening to the uterus. Diaphragms must be used with a spermicide (like Gynol) as this additional birth control method hinders sperm movement. Diaphragm use includes needing to be inserted before sex (no more than 6 hours ahead of time), and it should be left for 6 to 8 hours after ejaculation. It is important that you practice inserting your diaphragm – as you want to increase your diaphragm use success.

Depo Provera

Also known as the Birth Control Shot or Depo Shot Depo Provera. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

Depo Provera, also known as the birth control shot or the Depo shot, is a hassle-free birth control method that is available through an injection.

Depo Provera is a highly effective birth control method. There are two versions available -- the Depo Provera shot and the Depo-subQ Provera injection. Both injections work the same way and provide the same level of pregnancy protection.

The Depo Provera injection must be injected into a muscle and is injected into either the buttock or upper arm. This shot contains 150 mg of the progestin medroxyprogesterone acetate, and it requires 4 shots a year (every 11 to 13 weeks) to maintain Depo Provera’s high effectiveness rate.

The Depo-subQ Provera 104 injection is the newer version of the original Depo shot. It contains 31% less hormone than the original Depo shot (104 mg of medroxyprogesterone acetate). Because of the lower dose of progestin, it may lead to fewer progestin-related side effects. The subQ stands for subcutaneous, which means this newer shot only has to be injected under the skin (not into a muscle), so it has a smaller needle and may cause less pain. Depo-subQ Provera 104 must be injected into the thigh or abdomen 4 times a year (every 12 to 14 weeks).

Both Depo Provera shots can help in the treatment of endometriosis-related pain (The Depo-subQ Provera 104 injection is the first new remedy in the last 15 years to be FDA approved for endometriosis pain). It is also recommended that you stop using Depo Provera one year before you wish to become pregnant. This is because it takes an average of nine to 10 months (sometimes more than a year) to regain fertility and begin ovulating after receiving the last shot. There is also a black box warning required in the package insert cautioning about possible bone loss: "Women who use Depo Provera may lose significant bone mineral density (BMD)." BMD measures how much calcium is stored in the bones. Using this method over time can result in a calcium loss, but calcium starts to return once this method is stopped.

The Mini Pill

Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills Mini Pills. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

The mini pill is an effective oral contraceptive that only contains progestin, so there is no estrogen. All the pills in the pill pack are the same color.

The mini pill is only available in a 28-day pack, so you take a pill every day for the 4 week cycle (all 28 pills are considered active). Because progestin-only pills do not contain estrogen, they can be a good alternative for women who can not use combined oral contraceptives. These include:

  • Cigarette smokers over the age of 35
  • Women with a history of blood clots
  • Women with high blood pressure
  • Women who experience extreme migraine headaches
  • Breastfeeding mothers


(The Implant Contraceptive or Birth Control Implant) Implanon. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

Implanon is a newer type of birth control implant. It is a thin, flexible implant about the size of a matchstick and is inserted under the skin in the arm.

Implanon contraceptive implant was FDA-approved in July 2006. This implant contraceptive consists of a thin rod, 40 mm in length and 2 mm in diameter and is made from a flexible plastic (it is latex and silicone free). Implanon is a progestin-only contraceptive option (so it is a type of hormonal birth control method). It continually releases a low dose of etonogestrel (a progestin) to protect against pregnancy for up to 3 years.

Insertion requires a local anesthetic and only takes a few minutes. The implant can also be removed anytime before the 3 years are up. Implanon is a safe, highly effective and discreet birth control method. After removal, a woman’s ability to become pregnant usually returns quickly.


Mirena IUD and ParaGard IUD IUDs - Mirena & ParaGard. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

An IUD is a small, flexible device, shaped like the letter T, that is inserted into the uterus. IUD stands for intrauterine device.

The IUD is a totally discreet contraceptive method and is the most popular form of reversible birth control in the world. There are two IUD brands available in the United States:

  • Mirena IUD: which continuously releases a small amount of the progestin levonorgestrel and is effective for 5 years

  • ParaGard IUD (also known as Copper T 380A): which releases a tiny amount of copper (which acts as a spermicide) over a 10-year period as a way to prevent pregnancy. This IUD is the only non-medicated IUD available in the US and is hormone-free (so it does not alter a woman’s natural menstrual cycle). It can also be used as emergency contraception
IUDs are long lasting, safe, virtually maintenance-free and one of the most effective birth control types available.

Cervical Cap

Also Femcap and Leas Shield Cervical Cap, Femcap and Leas Shield. Photo © 2009 Dawn Stacey

A cervical cap is a silicone or latex cup and acts as a barrier birth control device. It is similar to a diaphragm but is made to fit onto the cervix.

A cervical cap is a soft, thimble-shaped device that is inserted into the vagina and fits snugly over the cervix. Like the diaphragm, the cervical cap prevents sperm from reaching an egg. Yet unlike the diaphragm, the cap is much smaller. The cervical cap keeps sperm from entering the uterus by forming a secure seal around the cervix as suction keeps the cap in place. For added protection, the cap should be used with spermicide (like Gynol). The cap can be inserted up to 24 hours before having sex, but you must wait at least 6 to 8 hours after having sex to remove it.

FemCap is silicone cup that is offered in 3 sizes:

  • Small (never been pregnant)
  • Medium (had a c-section or abortion)
  • Large (had a vaginal birth)
Lea’s Shield is also a silicone cup but has an air valve and a loop to aid in removal. It only comes in one size.