The Grown-Up's Guide to Birth Control
You're Single and Dating
You need to be prepared for all romantic possibilities. On the other hand, you may not want to expend too much effort and expense on contraception if you're just dating.
Your best choice "For spontaneity, it's best to use a contraceptive that's highly effective with minimum advance planning," says Beth Jordan, MD, medical director of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. If you're having sex infrequently, you might not want the hassle of taking a pill every day. An IUD is much less trouble. The copper T type has no hormones and works for up to 12 years; the progestin IUD needs replacement every five. An IUD is also a good choice if you're having sex regularly because it has one of the lowest failure rates (less than 1 percent) and, like the pill, won't affect your future fertility. Or get as much protection as you do from the pill by using the vaginal ring (insert a new one each month) or the patch (apply weekly for three weeks, then take a break the fourth week).
What to avoid Having sex without a condom, since condoms are the only way to protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases. But use them with another method -- the failure rate can be as high as 15 percent.
Talk to your doctor if you prefer a barrier method. The sponge is back on the market and is convenient but may have as high as a 32 percent failure rate. A diaphragm is a good option but it still has a 16 percent failure rate.
Special considerations The copper T IUD can make your period heavier; methods with estrogen (pill, ring, patch) may increase the risk of blood clots.