7 Ways to Make Your Birth Control More Effective

From Choosing It Wisely to Using It Properly

It goes without saying that if you have sex and you and your partner are of reproductive age, there is always the chance that you will become pregnant. Even if you use birth control, it's important to note that aside from permanent approaches to contraception (tubal ligation for a woman or vasectomy for a man) no method is fool-proof.

To avoid contraception failure, you have to make sure you're using your chosen birth control method correctly, keep the lines of communication open between you and your partner, and take responsibility for your body. Here are some tips for doing all that and more.

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effective birth control
Do You Believe in Birth Control Myths?. 4FR/Getty Images

The more educated you are about contraceptives and pregnancy prevention, the better choices you'll make. This may seem intuitive, but there can be quite a bit of misinformation out there about certain methods of birth control—that birth control pills cause birth defects, for example, or that using an IUD can make you infertile. Be wary of websites that may be run by crisis pregnancy centers because some may try to mislead you into believing that certain birth control methods may be ineffective or harmful.

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Effective Birth Control
Women - Carry Condoms. John Slater Collection/Getty Images

When it comes to using a condom, never assume that the person you'll be having sex with will be the one to bring them. This is especially true if you're a woman. Some men may assume you're on birth control pills or some other type of hormonal contraceptive and so don't think to bring condoms or offer to use them. And using a condom is a smart idea if your partner is someone new to you: It's the only form of birth control that will protect you from sexually-transmitted infections as well as help to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.

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effective birth control
Talk to Your Partner. Paper Boat Creative/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Bringing up the topic of birth control can be awkward, but that shouldn't stop you from doing it. Think about it this way: If you're trusting enough to have sex with this person, you should be able to be open and honest with him or her about the best ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy

Even married couples need to have these conversations. Once both you and your spouse are certain you're through having children (or you're choosing not to start a family at all), you may want to consider a permanent method—a vasectomy or tubal ligation. 

For any birth control to be effective, it's key to have these talks ahead of time. Don't wait until the heat of the moment. If you're with someone new, at least use a condom.  

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Effective Birth Control Methods
Birth Control Methods. Peter Dazele/Getty Images

Birth control has come a long way since the Pill was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960. There are many more choices than ever; no longer are you limited to condoms, pills, or a diaphragm. Hormonal methods like NuvaRing and the patch are just as effective as pills without the hassle of having to remember to use them. And the Today Sponge is back on store shelves as a less messy, more comfortable and convenient alternative to the diaphragm.

Do your research and discuss your options before you choose a method. Learn how to interpret birth control failure rates and find out about side effects of any contraceptive you're considering. Once you've made a decision, make sure you know how to use your chosen option effectively.

You'll also want to know what can lower the effectiveness of your birth control, such as medications that might interact with the Pill or improper storage.

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effective birth control
Don't Buy the Wrong Condoms. Photo Courtesy of R. Kaser

Latex condoms are the most popular type and can protect against sexually transmitted infections, as can those made from polyurethane and polyisopreneNatural lambskin condoms may help prevent pregnancy, but their small pores don’t protect you from an infection. Read labels to make sure the condom you're using has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Novelty condoms, such as flavored ones, may not be FDA-approved.

Size matters as well. Not only does condom size affect comfort and fit, one that's too large or too small can break or slip off.

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For a contraceptive to be effective, it has to be one that's easy to use and that fits your lifestyle and budget. If your current birth control doesn't fit those criteria, you're less likely to use it. Even getting a Depo shot four times a year may be a hassle for some women. 

If you think it may be time to change your birth control, follow your instincts. Start researching your options and talk to your doctor. Ask friends what they use and if they're happy with it. 

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effective birth control
Morning-After Pill vs Abortion Pill. © Dawn Stacey

If you find yourself pregnant when you don't want to be, you have a very effective option: emergency contraception (EC). You can take the morning-after pill immediately after having unprotected sex or within 72 hours (three days) of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. The important thing to know about EC is that it does not terminate a pregnancy. It simply prevents one, just as all other methods of birth control do. 

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