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How effective are birth control pills?

Birth control methods vary in how effective they are at preventing pregnancy. When used properly, hormonal methods — such as the pill, ring, patch, or shot — are up to 99% successful.

Other methods of birth control, such as condoms, diaphragms, and cycle monitoring, are generally less effective. The withdrawal method is even less effective, especially if your partner isn’t so quick on the draw.

No matter what birth control method you use, it’s important to be vigilant. Be sure to follow all instructions you receive from your healthcare provider.

While hormonal birth control options tend to have similar rates of effectiveness, medical interactions and usage schedules can have different impacts on different methods. Let’s break it down:

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How effective are birth control pills?

The pill — either the combination pill or the minipill — is one of the most common and most powerful birth control methods. When taken exactly as recommended, the pill can be up to 99% effective — meaning that only 1 out of every 100 women who take the pill will get pregnant in a given year. 

In reality, taking the pill perfectly is easier said than done. When missed pills are factored in, the rate of efficacy drops to around 91% — still a very high number. 

Women who miss a pill should use physical methods of birth control, such as condoms, for at least seven days. Doing so ensures that hormones return to levels that minimize the risk of pregnancy. 

For the pill to be effective, it must be taken every single day. Women who use the minipill should be sure to take it daily within the same three-hour window to maximize its effectiveness.

How effective is the shot?

The Depo-subQ Provera 104 shot, like the pill, is highly effective when taken correctly. Fewer than 1 in 100 sexually active women will get pregnant while on the shot if it is administered regularly and on time. 

Missing the shot or getting it late lowers its ability to prevent pregnancy, making it around 94% effective in real-world use. Most women will need to get the shot every 12-13 weeks. Stick to that schedule strictly in order to keep the chance of unwanted pregnancy to a minimum.

How effective is the patch?

The Xulane patch is almost perfect at reducing the risk of pregnancy when used properly — up to 99% — but it’s more like 91% effective when factoring in misuse. The patch must be applied weekly to a clean, dry part of the skin in order to work properly. 

How effective is the ring?

NuvaRing has similar numbers of effectiveness to the pill and the patch: 99% when used perfectly but 91% in reality. Some NuvaRing users insert it incorrectly, while others fail to take it out on time.

The NuvaRing must be replaced regularly in order to work properly. Each ring has a set of hormones it can release; once those are gone, the ring is no longer effective. 

Should I still use condoms while on birth control? 

When used perfectly, hormonal birth control is effective enough that some women choose not to use a backup method. But because ideal use is a high bar, others supplement with condoms.

Hormonal birth control is intended to prevent the egg from exiting the ovary. But any time that sperm enters the female reproductive tract, there is the chance of pregnancy. Condoms are a widely available and inexpensive solution.

Wondering which birth control method might work best for you? Ask our medical experts for advice. 

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