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The thing about birth control is that everyone has a favourite method. That’s probably because the way it affects each person varies—a lot. For example, hormonal birth control pills are a great choice for many but can have some annoying side effects for others. Condoms are easy to access and have the huge added bonus of helping to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but people don’t always use them perfectly, so their effectiveness at preventing pregnancy is on the low side (about 15 people out of 100 will get pregnant while using a condom to prevent pregnancy). Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are the most effective at preventing pregnancy (more than 99 percent), but some people don’t like the idea of inserting something semi-permanent into their body.

So how do you determine what the best birth control method is for you? Well, we surveyed students in an effort to help you out. Below, students told us what they like (and don’t) about these common contraceptives.

Note: In this article, we’re primarily talking about pregnancy prevention. To learn more about STI protection, check this out.

Expert perspective

“While pregnancy may not be a risk of sexual activity for everyone (for example, if the partners don’t have the equipment necessary to make a pregnancy), some kinds of contraception can be used to manage other conditions, such as to alleviate difficult menstruation [period] symptoms. In some cases, contraceptives can also be used to help prevent menstruation for individuals who experience gender dysphoria.”
Lizzy Appleby, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Youth Program Manager, Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook, Illinois

Student perspective

“Being a lesbian is a great way to avoid pregnancy, but STIs are still possible to transmit. Plus, gender-nonconforming folks can be in lesbian relationships, too, and may have a penis. Trans women and others still need to use protection with their partners if the couple doesn’t want to get pregnant [or contract STIs].”
Fifth-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

young woman with rainbow pride flag

Condoms (external or internal)

  • 66% of the Canadian students we surveyed have used condoms
  • Condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, 85% effective when used typically

How to correctly put on a condom

The gist

Most students agree that condoms are cheap, convenient, and the most effective at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In our survey, students recommended using condoms along with another birth control method, such as the pill, IUD, or ring.

Perfect use means that the person is using the birth control method exactly how it’s intended to be used, every single time. With the pill, for example, that would mean taking it at the same time every day and never missing a pill. This statistic comes from research studies where the environment is controlled and, unfortunately, can’t be applied to real life.

Typical use is the more realistic statistic. This accounts for user error, such as not putting a condom on correctly or forgetting to take a birth control pill occasionally. These things lower the effectiveness of pregnancy prevention.

“I’ve made a promise to myself to wait to have sex until marriage, however, when my boyfriend and I do anything that could possibly result in pregnancy (since you don’t have to have intercourse with penetration to get pregnant), we always use a condom for protection.”
—Second-year graduate student, Nova Scotia Community College

“Condoms should always be used to prevent STIs.”
—Second-year undergraduate student, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia

“I think that condoms are the most convenient and readily available form of birth control, and I think that is a huge advantage to using them. I like their effectiveness, convenience, and ease of use.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, University of Rhode Island

“The condom is easy and accessible, although it is also a method you always have to think ahead about and be prepared with.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

The pill

  • 52% of Canadian students say they’ve used the pill
  • The pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, 91% effective when used typically

The gist

Students like the effectiveness, ease of access, and period regulation. Some struggled with the side effects and remembering to take it at the same time every day.

“The pill is easy to use if you can remember to take it at the same time everyday. I haven’t experienced any side effects from it, although some people do.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick

“I like that the pill is easy to take. The danger is in not remembering when to take it, so I have a daily timer on my phone.”
Third-year undergraduate, Palomar College, California

“I like [the pill] because it’s something I am in control of and don’t have to depend on mutual teamwork to prevent pregnancy. It gives me comfort knowing that if a condom fails, I have less pregnancy risk.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, University of Alaska, Anchorage

“I like the pill because I don’t need to worry about it in the moment. However, with a fluctuating schedule, it is more difficult to take it at the same time every day. It is definitely a conscious addition to my life, since I can’t go anywhere without them.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

playful heterosexual couple

The IUD (Mirena®, Jaydess®, Kyleena®, or copper intrauterine device)

  • 17% of Canadian students say they’ve used the IUD
  • The IUD is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy (this is because it can’t really be affected by user error)

The gist

Many students love the convenience, the lack of (or lessening of) periods, limited side effects, and the fact that it works for multiple years. Students’ experiences vary regarding pain at insertion.

“I love my IUD. Getting it inserted made me a little nervous, but I hardly felt anything. Now I have peace of mind and have only had my period once in the last couple years.”
Recent graduate, NorQuest College, Edmonton, Alberta

“I really like using the IUD compared to the pill and the shot because I feel it’s more safe and I don’t have to remember taking the pill or getting my shot.”
—Second-year student, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick

“I have no complaints about the IUD so far. It has the least amount of maintenance involved and it hasn’t changed my body weight, emotions, acne, etc. I see and feel no side effects, and my partner does not feel it either.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

The ring

  • 3% of Canadian students say they’ve used the ring
  • The ring is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used perfectly, 91% effective when used typically

The gist

The ring requires a certain level of comfort with your body, which is by no means insurmountable. You insert it into the vagina, take it out after three weeks, and then replace it with a new one seven days later. Students like that the ring is lower maintenance than the pill, but some complained of it moving around during intercourse and the fact that it requires refrigeration.

How to use the NuvaRing®

“I love that the ring is something I only have to worry about every few weeks, as opposed to the pill, where the success of the method is determined by a strict daily schedule. It’s also not so far apart (like the shot) that scheduling appointments would be inconvenient or as involved as an IUD.”
Fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

“So far, the ring has been convenient and easy to use. I don’t have to worry about a daily pill, and it’s just once a month. The bad part is it has to be refrigerated, so extended travel can be challenging.”
Fourth-year graduate student, Texas A&M University, College Station

“I used the ring and loved it. It was easy to use, you only had to think about it once a month, and it was effective. My periods were like clockwork.”
Graduate student, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Emergency contraceptive pill (Plan B®, NorLevo®, Option 2®, Next Choice®, ella®, and others)

  • 20% of Canadian students say they’ve used emergency contraception
  • Emergency contraceptive pills lower the chance of getting pregnant by 75–89% if taken within three days of unprotected sex

The gist

As the name implies, these are meant to be used in emergency situations, like when you’ve just had unprotected sex and you want to try to lower your risk of pregnancy. Cost and whether or not insurance covers them vary, but many are available for sale over-the-counter at your local pharmacy or health clinic, and some are available by prescription only. It’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure they’re in stock.

For emergency contraception speak with your pharmacist, doctor, or find a clinic near you

“Plan B: do not recommend, unless an emergency, but incredibly effective; expensive.”
—Second-year graduate, Queen’s University, Ontario

“[Emergency contraceptives are] great when accidents happen.”
Third-year undergraduate, University of California, Riverside

“PlanB® has helped me once in the past, before I was able to get more consistent birth control, and it is important for cases where people are not on birth control or they do not use a condom.”
Fifth-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

“[Emergency contraceptives are] only to be used for emergencies and have worked well for me in emergency situations, but it should never be used as a first choice.”
First-year undergraduate, St. Clair College, Windsor, Ontario

Withdrawal or “pulling out”

About 26 percent of Canadian students say they’ve used the pull-out method to try and prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to do this incorrectly—especially in the heat of the moment. About one in four people will get pregnant after using the pull-out method, according to The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. Our health educator explains what you need to know about pulling out here.

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Article sources

Lizzy Appleby, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Youth Program Manager, Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook, Illinois.

Bedsider.org. (n.d.). Not right now. Retrieved from https://www.bedsider.org/methods/not_right_now

Ike, E., & Mackenzie, M. (2018, June 1). Your guide to birth control: How to find the best option that works for you. Student Health 101. Retrieved from https://default.readsh101.com/guide-to-birth-control/

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective are condoms? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-effective-are-condoms

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is pulling out? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/withdrawal-pull-out-method/how-effective-is-withdrawal-method-pulling-out

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is the birth control pill? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-pill

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is the birth control ring? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-vaginal-ring-nuvaring/how-effective-birth-control-ring

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective is the IUD? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud/how-effective-are-iuds

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How to put a condom on. Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-to-put-a-condom-on

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What is the effectiveness of the birth control implant? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-implant-implanon/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-implant

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What’s the Plan B morning after pill? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/morning-after-pill-emergency-contraception/whats-plan-b-morning-after-pill

Princeton University. (n.d.). The emergency contraception website. Retrieved from https://ec.princeton.edu/providers/index.html

Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (n.d. ). Sex & U: Natural Methods of Contraception. Retrieved from https://www.sexandu.ca/contraception/natural-methods/