Effectiveness is not the only important factor in choosing a method of birth control. Many additional factors—including cost, ease of use, and potential side effects—influence indi­viduals’ and couples’ decisions about whether to use or to continue a particular birth control method (Westhoff et al., 2007). Table 10.1 summarizes some of the most important fac­tors: comparative expenses, advantages versus disadvantages, and possible side effects of the most commonly used methods. The costs in the table are estimates because the price of contraceptives can vary greatly; prices at Planned Parenthood and campus and government health clinics can be considerably lower than standard pharmacy prices. The IUD is the lowest-cost reversible method if a woman continues to use it for the allowed time period (Trussell et al., 2009). Coverage of contraception by health insurance companies also helps reduce costs, and some states have required that prescription benefits include birth control. Further prescription benefits became available nationwide in August 2012. Regulations established by the Obama administration required private health insurance plans written after that date to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives for women without co-payments.

Which Contraceptive Method Is Best for You?

Beyond the variables listed in Table 10.1, the decision about which birth control method to use must take into account one more important factor: the individuals who will be using it (Ranjit et al., 2001). The statements presented in the Your Sexual Health box titled "Which Contraceptive Method Is Best for You?" are designed to help you take into account your own concerns, circumstances, physical condition, and personal quali­ties as you make this very individual decision. We discuss a number of commonly used contraceptive methods in the paragraphs that follow, and this more specific information may help you make your choice.

“Outercourse”

This important method deserves special mention because it involves the decision to be sexual without engaging in penile-vaginal intercourse. Noncoital forms of sexual intimacy, outercourse which have been called outercourse, can be a viable form of birth control. Outercourse

Noncoital forms of sexual intimacy. includes all avenues of sexual intimacy other than penile-vaginal intercourse, including kiss­ing, touching, mutual masturbation, and oral and anal sex. The voluntary avoidance of coitus offers effective protection from pregnancy, provided that the male does not ejaculate near the vaginal opening. Outercourse can be used as a primary or temporary means of prevent­ing pregnancy, and it can also be used when it is advisable not to have intercourse for other reasons—for example, following childbirth or abortion or during a herpes outbreak. This method has no undesirable contraceptive side effects. However, it does not eliminate the chances of spreading sexually transmitted infections, especially if it involves oral or anal sex.