[Toy blocks spell out “Family Planning” against a white background.]
For the purposes of this article, we will refer to men as those with male sex organs, and women as those with female sex organs. If you do not identify with a gender, please feel free to use this information in whatever way is most useful for you.
Family planning can feel overwhelming and even a little confusing — it’s understandable if you are bogged down by all the options and best practices. Try to remember there's no one-size-fits all approach and your preferences may change as time goes on and your plans shift.
Because there is no right or wrong way to begin family planning, it’s best to start off by educating yourself. That way, you can make decisions that feel right for you (and your partner, if you are planning a family with someone else). Here is a guide to help break down some of the basics so you can make an informed decision about whether, and how, to start a family.
Reasons to think about family planning
Family planning can help you choose if, how, and when you’d like to have children. This process empowers you to use your basic human right over your body. While there are many ways to go about family planning, the primary method is through birth control. Birth control can be used for a variety of reasons, but the most common is to prevent pregnancy.
The different birth control options for men and women
Intrauterine methods, both of which are used by women, include:
- The copper intrauterine device (IUD) is placed into the uterus by a healthcare provider during an office procedure to prevent pregnancy. It works by stopping ovulation and implantation and lasts up to 10 years.
- The levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG IUD) is like the copper IUD except that it also releases a hormone called progestin to help prevent pregnancy. It lasts up to three to six years.
Hormonal methods, all of which are used by women, include:
- The levonorgestrel implant, which is placed under the skin of the upper arm during an office procedure performed by a healthcare provider.
- The long-acting medroxyprogesterone injection, which is a shot given in the arm or buttocks every three months in a healthcare provider's office.
- The oral contraceptive (or birth control pill), which is taken daily to prevent ovulation and is prescribed by a healthcare provider.
- The hormonal patch, which can be worn on the lower abdomen, buttocks, and upper body (except for the breasts) and releases hormones to prevent ovulation. It is replaced weekly and is prescribed by a healthcare provider.
- The vaginal ring, which is inserted into the vagina at home every three weeks and releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. Like other forms of hormonal birth control, a healthcare provider writes a prescription for the vaginal ring.
Barrier methods, which are used right before sexual intercourse by men and women, depending on the type of method, include:
- The diaphragm, and the cervical cap, both of which are fitted for the woman’s vaginal or cervical size by a healthcare provider. The diaphragm is inserted by women each time she is about to have sexual intercourse.
- The contraceptive sponge, which works for up to 24 hours, can be inserted at home, and is worn by women.
- The male condom, which is available at many drug stores, can be used once, and is worn by men.
- The female condom, which is available at many drug stores, can be used once, and is worn by women.
- Spermicides, which are inserted one hour before sexual intercourse, last for eight hours, and are worn by women.
Fertility awareness, which is usually tracked by women who can choose to include their partners or not, is:
- Tracking the menstrual cycle to determine when it is most likely for women to get pregnant. Based on that information and whether you are hoping to start a family, you can plan which times of month are best to have sexual intercourse.
Emergency contraception, which is used by women, involves:
- A method that is used if you and your partner are concerned about an unwanted pregnancy after sexual intercourse. A common way this can occur is when condoms break.
Permanent methods include:
- Female sterilization, which occurs when women have their fallopian tubes closed (either tied or plugged) so she can no longer become pregnant.
- Male sterilization, also known as a vasectomy, which involves an operation that prevents men from being able to fertilize an egg.
Because different methods of birth control can have varying effectiveness, and some may work better for certain people than others, it is important to talk to a healthcare provider about which option is best for you.
How telehealth can help
Have questions about family planning, birth control options, and/or sexual wellness? Women’s health doctors on Amwell can help. Simply log in and select the “Women’s Health” practice.