You at every age
Staying loyal to a great doctor or a genius hairdresser—that’s just smart. But when it comes to birth control, sticking with the same method throughout the years isn’t always the right move. “Your contraceptive should fit your health, lifestyle, and values,” says Michele Curtis, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. That’s because the more comfortable you are with your birth control, the more likely you are to use it consistently—meaning less risk of an unintended pregnancy.
Dating but not with a long-term partner
Your best bet: Condoms plus a backup method
Whether you’re 25 or 45, condoms are a must to guard against STDs. But since condoms also have a higher failure rate than other forms of birth control, it’s wise to double up. Hormonal contraceptives—the Pill, patch, or vaginal ring—are highly effective. As a bonus, they can also help regulate periods, reduce PMS symptoms, and lower the risk of some cancers.
More back-up methods
If you want to avoid an estrogen-containing method, you can pair condoms with an intrauterine device (IUD)—either the hormone-free copper ParaGard or the progestin-containing Mirena. Other good options include Implanon, a progestin-releasing implant that’s inserted in the upper arm for up to three years; and Depo-Provera, a progestin injection that’s given every three months.
Having sex relatively infrequently
Your best bet: a barrier method
Condoms or another barrier method like a diaphragm are probably the easiest options for sporadic protection, says Sharon Mass, MD, an OB-GYN at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. An IUD or hormonal methods are also good if you want continuous protection.
Know your risks
But keep in mind that it’s a mistake to go on and off hormonal methods frequently. “The main risk with the Pill, the patch, and the ring is blood clots, and the risk is greatest in the first year,” explains Andrew M. Kaunitz, MD, professor and associate chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida College of Medicine–Jacksonville. “If you go on and off these methods, the risk likely occurs every time you restart.”