Birth Control Options – Lifestyle Options

How do I choose a birth control or contraception option?

Many factors go into choosing a birth control option, ranging from personal comfort, life goals, health conditions, and the thoughts and opinions of your sexual partner(s). Thinking about your lifestyle and speaking with a health care provider may help provide you with more information so you can make a more informed decision. 

Some questions to consider before choosing a birth control option may include: 

  • What are your goals with starting birth control? Is it to prevent pregnancy, STIs, both, or maybe something else entirely? 
  • Do you have health conditions that may be affected by any of the birth control options? 
  • What are the potential side effects of each option? 
  • How much effort is involved in using specific options? How much effort are you willing to put in to prevent pregnancy or STIs? 
  • What is the effectiveness of the birth control option in preventing pregnancy? In preventing STIs? 
  • If it’s pregnancy you’re trying to prevent, how often do you engage in penile-vaginal sex? 
  • If you would like to become pregnant now or in the future, how soon would you like that to occur? 
  • What are you most comfortable with? 
  • How many sex partners do you have? What are your sex partners comfortable with? 

The various birth control methods have their benefits and disadvantages, and often these depend on peoples’ different perspectives and lifestyles. What works for someone else may not work for you and vice versa. That said, some trial and error may be involved in finding the best fit for you.

How do the lifestyle options work?

While lifestyle options are typically the least effective at preventing pregnancy—aside from abstinence—they are often the most cost effective. However, they might involve some planning or communication between sexual partners to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. Lifestyle methods of birth control do not prevent against STIs, so be sure to use a barrier method if you are looking for protection.

What are the lifestyle options?

The following sections describe the lifestyle options from most to least effective in preventing pregnancy. 

Abstinence and Outercourse 

  • The definition of abstinence can vary between people but is often understood as not engaging in any type of sex 
    • In preventing pregnancy, abstinence is usually considered as not engaging in penile-vaginal sex such that a sperm does not fertilize an egg 
  • Similarly, the definition of outercourse is subjective, but often refers to sexual activities or other forms of sex that keep sperm away from an egg 
    • Could involve sex toys, masturbation, grinding or dry humping, and even kissing 
    • For some people it may also include oral and anal sex 
    • Contact with genitals or sexual fluids still runs the risk of spreading STIs, so be sure to use a barrier method or a dental dam (latex or polyurethane sheet that covers the vulva or anus for oral sex) 
  • Some potential side effects: difficulty or discomfort, risk of STIs if engaging in activities that involve contact with genitals or sexual fluids 
  • Effectiveness rate: up to 100 percent, if perfectly adhered to 

Breastfeeding (lactational amenorrhea method or LAM) 

  • If you have recently had a baby and exclusively breastfeed (every four hours during the day and every six hours at night), you may not ovulate or have a period 
    • Does not work if the baby also drinks formula, or if you use a breast pump 
    • The prevention of ovulation is caused by increased levels of prolactin that occur by a baby suckling regularly at the breast 
  • Often only works for first six months after having a baby or until the menstrual period resumes 
  • Some potential side effects: difficulty or discomfort, lowered vaginal lubrication or decreased sexual sensation, risk of STIs 
  • Effectiveness rate: about 98 percent in the first 6 months after a baby is born 


  • Also known as the “pull out” method, referring to pulling out the penis before any semen is ejaculated 
  • Recommended to do with another birth control method, or have emergency contraception in case withdrawal is not successful 
  • Some potential side effects: difficulty or discomfort, risk of STIs 
  • Effectiveness rate: around 78 percent, if perfectly adhered to 

Fertility awareness 

  • Also known as “natural family planning” or the “rhythm method” 
  • Involves tracking the menstrual cycle and understanding when ovulation (release of the egg by the ovaries) occurs 
    • A person is most fertile around the time ovulation occurs 
  • Three tracking methods: temperature, cervical mucus, calendar 
    • When all three are used together, it’s called the symptothermal method 
  • Some potential side effects: difficulty or inconvenience, risk of STIs 
  • Effectiveness rate: about 77 to 98 percent, depending on how regular the menstrual cycle is and how well you know your cycle 

Last reviewed/updated: February 14, 2024

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