To maximize your birth control’s effectiveness, you can combine certain birth control methods, like condoms and the pill, set yourself reminders to remember to take it, and choose a method that works well for you.
How Effective is Birth Control at Preventing Pregnancy?
There are a few things you should always be able to count on in this world—estimated delivery time for online purchases, the “decaf” label on your coffee order, and of course, your birth control method. Whether you’re using a new method for the first time or are curious about your current one, it’s important to learn what factors may prevent it from doing its job.
So, how effective is birth control, really? The short answer: it’s complicated. The effectiveness of birth control depends on the method you’re using, but it may also be impacted by how well you use it.
Birth control effectiveness: method by method
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, tells us the following birth control methods are over 99% effective when used exactly as recommended:
Condoms can also be an effective means of birth control, but have slightly lower effectiveness even with perfect use. When used as recommended, according to the CDC:
To maximize the effectiveness of your birth control, you should follow the exact instructions given by your healthcare provider or on the packaging.
In an ideal world, we’d be able to always use our birth control perfectly and at the right time. However, even if you’re an ace at using your contraceptive as directed, there are several other factors that may impact your birth control’s effectiveness. Being aware of these factors is a crucial step in helping you to prevent unexpected pregnancy.
What lowers the effectiveness of birth control?
Nobody’s perfect, but when you’re relying on a certain method of birth control, it’s important to know what might make it less effective.
Factors affecting any birth control’s effectiveness may vary depending on the method, including:
When used correctly, condoms are an immediately effective form of birth control. However, if a condom breaks or is removed during sex, it could be less effective. Using oil-based lubricants can also make condoms more likely to break.
Oral contraceptives (a.k.a. the pill)
This contraceptive method is one of the simplest forms of hormonal birth control for people with uteruses. However, there are two things that may reduce the pill’s effectiveness:
Taking the pill late or missing a pill – Birth control pills work most effectively when you take them at the same time each day. If your timing is off, or if you miss a pill, it could lower the effectiveness of your birth control.
As long as your IUD is placed correctly, there’s not much you can do to reduce its effectiveness. Your healthcare provider should provide guidance on how to tell it’s still in place and when you should have it replaced.
An arm implant is another longer-term birth control solution, so timing isn’t as big of a concern from day to day.
However, you will need to replace it every 3 years for continued effectiveness.
Shot (Depo Provera)
A birth control shot must be administered by a healthcare professional every 3 months or 4 times a year. If you miss a shot or are late in getting the next one, it could increase your likelihood of unintended pregnancy.
The timing of the patch may take some getting used to if you’re new to using it.
The patch must be replaced once a week for 3 weeks in a row, then removed for 7 days, after which you restart the cycle with a new patch. The Office on Women’s Health also notes that the patch may be less effective for women who weigh more than 198 lbs.
Ring (Annovera, Nuva)
Like the patch, those who rely on a vaginal ring for contraception need to be careful about the timing. A ring needs to be inserted for 21 days, then removed for 7 days before a new one should be inserted.
Vasectomy or tubal ligation
In most cases, male and female sterilization, such as a vasectomy or tubal ligation are 100% effective. The only time it might fail is if the procedure isn’t performed correctly, which is fairly rare. Otherwise, this form of birth control is usually permanent.
An important note on timing
Some forms of birth control may take up to 7 days to start working, depending on when in your cycle you start using them and what form of birth control you used previously. If you’re using a new method for the first time, it’s crucial to ask your healthcare provider how soon it’s effective and consider using an additional form of birth control, such as condoms, in the meantime.
Can you actually get pregnant on birth control?
Even though many of the available birth control methods are highly effective, imperfect use and other factors mean that it is possible to become pregnant while using them.
So, how effective is birth control for the average person? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, provides a bigger picture of the odds of becoming pregnant with typical use of different birth control methods.
Out of 100 people using a certain birth control method, the chances of becoming pregnant are:
However, the FDA also notes that those who are sexually active while using no birth control at all have 85 in 100 odds of becoming pregnant. Thus, while your birth control and your use of it might not always be 100% perfect, it goes a long way toward lowering your overall odds of becoming pregnant.
How effective is birth control without pulling out?
While pulling out may increase the effectiveness of your birth control method, most other methods are designed to prevent pregnancy regardless. This includes hormonal methods that impede ovulation and prevent eggs from implanting in the uterus or barrier methods like condoms that prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg.
However, it’s vital to know that on its own, the pull-out method—also known as withdrawal—can be unreliable. The Office on Women’s Health notes that for every 100 people using this method, withdrawal results in 22 pregnancies.
How can you make your birth control more effective?
Out of all these birth control options, choose the one that best suits your lifestyle. Regardless of which birth control option you choose, make sure you’re following the instructions exactly as recommended by your provider. That may include taking your birth control on time, avoiding certain medications or supplements, replacing them when needed, or taking extra precautions when taking them.
Aside from following the instructions to the letter, you can also use these tips to maximize the effectiveness of your birth control:
Set a reminder – If you have trouble remembering when to take or replace your birth control, there are many useful smartphone apps you can use to receive a reminder when it’s time. You can also set a simple phone alarm or circle a date on your calendar to help you remember when it’s time to change or replace your birth control.
Double up – While you shouldn’t use multiple implants or forms of hormonal birth control without consulting your doctor, you can increase your protection by using condoms alongside another form of birth control. It’s also worth noting that while other methods may be more effective at preventing pregnancy, condoms are the only birth control method that can also help protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Use a method that works for you – If you have trouble remembering to take your birth control pills or struggle with taking them at the same time each day, it might be helpful to consider using a different longer-lasting method, such as an implant or IUD.
Birth control effectiveness: a recap
When used correctly, your birth control can be like a good friend—dependable, reliable, and a huge relief to have around. However, knowing what factors might affect your birth control and how well it works is always a key step in protecting yourself from unintended pregnancy and other risks to your sexual health.
Armed with that knowledge, you can feel more empowered to choose a method that fits right in with the rest of your life. If timing isn’t your strong suit or you want a low-maintenance option, you may want a longer-term form of birth control, while a short-term option might feel like a better choice for some. Learn more about choosing the best birth control pill.
At Favor, we believe everybody should have access to a form of birth control that works for them. To find a good fit and take control of your birth control, get started today.
Reviewed By: Jessica Barra, FNP - Family Nurse Practitioner
At Favor, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Articles are written by experienced contributors; they are grounded in research and evidence-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and extensively reviewed by our team of experts to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.