Birth Control Methods
Types Of Contraception For Preventing Pregnancy



Birth Control Methods


Introduction To Methods
Six Types Of Birth Control
What Is The Best Method Of Contraception?

In This Section:

Condoms, Male
Condoms, Female
Oral Contraceptives
Emergency Contraception
IUD Device
Natural Methods
Male Contraception

Related Articles

Female Reproductive System

Introduction To Birth Control Methods

In an ideal world there would be a method of birth control that was not only safe and effective, but convenient, unobtrusive, reversible and affordable. Yet despite billions of dollars spent by pharmaceutical companies on research, no such ideal contraceptive has been invented. Choosing a method of contraception can be a complicated process and inevitably involves some compromise. Among the issues to be considered are the costs, ease of use, effectiveness and side effects. Many women also need to consider which method is best for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV virus) and pelvic inflammatory disease. They also need to take into account their personal situation - lifestyle, sexual habits, financial situation, religious beliefs and future plans for having children. On the plus side, no method of birth control is riskier than childbirth and pregnancy itself. Pregnancy and childbirth cause the death of 1 in every 14,300 pregnant women, whereas the risk of death from taking the Pill in nonsmokers is 1 in 63,000 (or 1 in 16,000 for smokers).

Six Types Of Birth Control

Methods of birth control can be divided roughly into the following six categories:

1. Hormone Contraception: Pills, Patches, Implants, Injections

Hormones are inserted into the body via:

Oral contraceptive pill: Needs to be taken daily.
Birth control implants: Implanon (brand name) is a small flexible rod which is inserted in the arm and gradually releases hormones. It is effective for up to 3 years.
Birth control injections: Depo-Provera (brand name) is an injection of hormones which lasts 3 months.
• Contraceptive patches: Brand name, Orthro Evra, approved by the FDA in 2001. Patches are stuck to the skin and replaced weekly.

These artificial hormones interfere with ovulation, conception or prevent implantation. Potential side effects include acne, weight gain, hair loss, nausea and depression. The Pill, by far the most popular form of contraception, has many benefits however outside of preventing pregnancy, such as regulating irregular periods and reducing menstrual cramps.

Related Questions
The pill after 35: Is it safe to take the contraceptive pill after 35?
Weight gain: Will I gain weight on the contraceptive pill?
Side effects: Contraceptive pill side effects discussed.

2. Barrier Methods: Condoms, Diaphragms, Cervical Caps, Sponges

Any device that acts as a barrier and prevents sperm reaching the egg is called a barrier contraceptive. These include diaphragms, sponges and cervical caps as well as male condoms. If used with spermicides, barrier methods are the safest form of contraception, they are the least expensive and most likely to prevent STDs and possibly even cervical cancer. Still, in the passion of the moment, they may not be used correctly so they have a fairly high failure rate.
Diaphragm: The contraceptive diaphragm is a round rubber dome that fits inside the vagina and covers the entrance to the cervix and womb. It is meant to be used with a spermicide gel. The failure rate, if used correctly, is about 6 percent but in reality the failure rate is nearer 18 percent. To reduce the risk, some couples use a condom on the woman's most fertile days (which is about mid cycle).
Cervical Cap: A tiny thimble sized device (which needs to be fitted by a doctor) covers the entrance to the cervix. It can be inserted 40 hours before sexual intercourse and should be left in place for 8 hours after. Spermicidal gels will still be necessary but less is needed. It will then need to be removed. Some couples use it if they want a 'hassle-free' romantic weekend.
Sponge: Removed from the market in 1995 because of manufacturing problems, a newer version has been launched. The contraceptive sponge contains spermicide and is inserted in the vagina up to 24 hours before sex. It works by both blocking the entrance to the cervix and inactivating sperm with the spermicide. It is pulled out by a cord 8 hours after sex. The failure rate is technically 10 percent but in reality is more like 15 percent.
Male Condom: Worn over the penis, a condom catches sperm and prevents them from entering the vagina. It has an expected failure rate of 2 percent, but is more like 12 percent because it can slip off or break. On the plus side it is the most effective form of contraception (outside of abstention) in preventing STDs and possibly cervical cancer (possibly caused by the human papilloma virus infection, HPV virus).
Female Condom: Also known as the vaginal pouch, the female condom is a relatively new invention. Sold under the brand name FC2 it offers the same degree of protection against STDs as the male condom (but you get to retain more control). The condom is inserted into the vagina where it acts as an internal sealing bag and should be removed immediately after ejaculation.

3. Spermicides: Gels Used With Or Without Other Methods

These come in the form of gels, creams and foams - spermicides are chemicals that are placed in the vagina before intercourse to kill sperm. They are also available as suppositories (such as Intercept, Encare Oval and Semicid).

4. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

An IUD device - also known as the contraceptive coil - is a small device that is inserted by a doctor into the womb to prevent pregnancy. They come in many shapes and sizes. There are two types currently used in the United States:
Copper IUD: brand name ParaGard. It releases small amounts of copper into the uterus to prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg. If fertilization does occur, the IUD keeps the egg from implanting. It can stay in the uterus for up to 10 years.
Hormone IUD: brand name Mirena coil. It releases progestin into the uterus which stops the ovaries releasing an egg. It also stops the egg, if released from implanting. It can stay in place for 5 years.

5. Sterilization: Tubal Ligation (Women), Vasectomy (Men)

Sterilization can be performed both on men and women and is 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. It is however a permanent method of birth control and is difficult to reverse.
Tubal Ligation: This is where the fallopian tubes are cut so that egg and sperm have no way to reach other. The woman becomes instantly infertile.
Vasectomy: The sperm tubes are tied so that ejaculation becomes sperm free. This is a much simpler and safer procedure than female sterilization.

6. Natural Methods: Withdrawal And Periodic Abstinence

Natural birth control methods basically covers withdrawal and periodic abstention.
Withdrawal: The main pulls out of the woman just before ejaculation. Needless to stay it requires a lot of self control on the man’s part and good luck!
Abstention: Refraining from intercourse during a woman’s most fertile days.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is a medication taken to prevent pregnancy AFTER unprotected sexual intercourse. Also called the morning after pill it needs to be taken within 72 to 120 hours (depending on the brand) to be effective. It is like the normal daily birth control pill but contains a much higher dosage of hormones. See also:
What is the difference between the emergency contraception pill and the normal pill?


While not considered a method of contraception, about 1 million American women choose to terminate a pregnancy by abortion every year. Nearly half of all women in the States have had an abortion procedure by the time they reach the age of 45.

What Is The Best Method Of Contraception?

It depends largely on your personal circumstances. For example if you are single, the condom may be a better option because it will also protect you from STDs. If you are in a long term relationship, and not planning an immediate pregnancy, the Pill may be a better option. The following table gives you the statistical data you need to consider the effectiveness of different methods.

Which Is The Most Effective Method?

Method Of Birth Control Effectiveness in Theory Effectiveness in Reality
Implants 99 percent 99 percent
Oral Pills 99 97
Depo-Provera Injections 99 97
Ortho-Evra Patch 99 92
NuvaRing 99 92
Male Condoms 98 88
Female Condom 94 82
Diaphragm with spermicide 94 82
Cervical cap 94 82
Spermicide alone 97 79
Copper IUD 99 99
Mirena Coil 99 99
Tubal Ligation 99 99
Vasectomy 99 99
Withdrawal 96 80
Periodic Abstinence 94 80
No method 15 15

Related Questions: See Womens Health Questions for more.
What are the early signs of pregnancy before a missed period?

  Other Useful Guides

Recommended Health Screenings For Women: List for all ages.
The Female Body: How it works, visual guide with pictures.
Development of the Female Body: Puberty, pregnancy to menopause.
Hospital Departments Explained: A-Z of departments.
Latest Health Statistics: Life expectancy and more.

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