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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

There are four types of contraceptives: the long-acting reversible contraceptive, the hormonal methods, the barrier methods and the emergency contraceptive. All come with different types of risks and benefits. The right method for you depends on your health, age, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, desire to have children in the future and family history of certain diseases.

Long-acting Reversible Contraceptives

Long-acting reversible contraceptives, also known as LARCs, are an ideal choice for women who may want to become pregnant in the future but are currently in need of a long-term method of contraception. LARCs include the copper IUD, the hormonal IUD and the hormonal arm implant. They are the most effective methods of birth control with a failure rate of less than 1% and can prevent unwanted pregnancy up to 20 times better than birth control pills and patches.

Both the hormonal IUD and the copper IUD have to be implanted into the lining of the uterus. The copper IUD works by preventing the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg, while the hormonal IUD releases a progestin hormone into the uterus. The hormonal can last up to five years, while the copper IUD can last up to 10 years. The hormonal arm implant is surgically inserted under the skin and works by releasing a progestin. It can remain implanted for three to five years, depending on the brand. 

Hormonal Methods

This method of birth control uses hormones to regulate or stop ovulation and prevent pregnancy. Hormones come into different forms and methods such as pills, injections, skin patches, vaginal rings, intrauterine systems, etc. Short-term hormonal methods include injectable birth control and progestin-only pills. The injectable birth control has to be injected once every three months, while the progestin-only pills have to be taken at the same time daily. The biggest drawback to the injection method is that it can cause temporary loss of bone density.

There are combined hormonal methods that contain a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin. These methods include oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches and the vaginal ring—these work by preventing ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus, which blocks sperm from reaching the egg. The medical risks associated vary depending on the type of synthetic estrogen used. 

Barrier Methods

The barrier methods include male condoms, female condoms, cervical caps, diaphragm and spermicide. These methods work by literally preventing sperm from reaching the eggs. Most of these methods do not require a visit to a health care provider, with the exception of diaphragms and cervical gaps. 

Emergency Contraceptives

In the case of unprotected sex or if the condom breaks, there are two emergency contraception methods. The first method is the copper IUD, which can be inserted within 120 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. The second method is the emergency contraceptive pill, most commonly known as the “morning-after pill,” or Plan B. These pills can inhibit ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus to interfere with sperm function. This method should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex and should not be used as a regular contraceptive method. 

Before choosing your method of contraceptive, please consult your doctors. Best of luck!

Kathy Nguyen is a Senior at VCU. She is double majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies and Political Science with concentration in International Relations. Her passion includes advocating for women's reproductive rights and gun reforms. In addition to her political activism, she is a coffee snob and a Harry Potter fanatic.