Birth control involves one or more actions, devices, sexual practices or medications followed to intentionally prevent or reduce the likelihood of pregnancy or childbirth. The three main routes of birth control to prevent or end pregnancy include contraception (the prevention of fertilization of the ovum by sperm cells), contragestion (preventing the fertilized egg from implantation - morning-after-pill), and the chemical or surgical induction of abortion of the developing embryo/fetus. The term emergency contraception is often used instead of contragestion.
Below is a list of the most common types of contraception:
Traditional birth control methodsCelibacy or sexual abstinence - this means avoiding penis-in-vagina intercourse to prevent pregnancy.
Withdrawal (coitus interruptus) - when the man is about to have an orgasm he pulls his penis out of the vagina. The ejaculation occurs outside of the vagina. The idea behind this method is that no sperm will be deposited in the vagina. According to some organizations this method is about 90% effective if used correctly. Typically, though, about one third of couples who use this method will experience an accidental pregnancy within twelve months.
Modern birth control methodsMale condom - this device is a mechanical barrier which prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from entering the vagina. It should be placed over the penis before sexual intercourse begins. They are made of polyurethane or latex. Male condoms look like long thin deflated balloons. As well as preventing pregnancy, they are also useful in helping protect sexual partners from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Female condom - made of polyurethane. The female condom has a flexible ring at each end - one secures behind the pubic bone to hold the condom in place, while the other ring stays outside the vagina.
Spermicides - may be placed in the vagina before intercourse and create a chemical barrier. Spermicides may be used alone, or in combination with a physical barrier.
Contraceptive sponge - The contraceptive sponge has a depression to hold it in place over the cervix. Foam is placed into the vagina using an applicator. As well as having a spermicidal which destroys the male sperm, the sponge also acts as a barrier which stops the sperm from reaching the egg.
Cervical cap - fits over the cervix and blocks sperm from entering the uterus through the external orifice of the uterus, called the os. The cervical cap is a thimble-shaped latex rubber barrier device. A spermicide should fill about 1/3 of the cap. The cap should then be carefully positioned in the vagina, covering the cervix. The cap stays in place by suction.
The Lea contraceptive - this is a soft pliable cup-shaped bowl with a loop. It is inserted into the vagina before intercourse and prevents sperm from entering the cervix. To be effective it must be used with a spermicide and left in place for 8 hours.
The Pill - combined contraceptive pills have two hormones - an estrogen and progestin. They stop the release of the egg (ovulation), and also make the lining of the uterus thinner. When used correctly about 3 in every 1,000 women will become accidentally pregnant in the first year.
Contraceptive patch - a transdermal patch applied to the skin. It releases synthetic estrogen and progestin hormones. They have been shown to be as effective as the combined oral contraceptive pill. At the moment (September 2009) the only available contraceptive patches are Ortho Evra, marketed in the USA by Ortho-McNeil, and Evra sold in Canada by Janssen-Ortho and in the UK by Janssen-Cilag. The "Patch" is worn each week for 3 consecutive weeks, generally on the lower abdomen or buttocks. The fourth week is patch-free.
Contraceptive vaginal ring (NuvaRing) - NuvaRing is the trade name for a combined hormonal contraceptive vaginal ring manufactured by Organon. It is a flexible plastic (ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer) ring that releases a low dose of a progestin and an estrogen over 3 weeks. The woman inserts the NuvaRing into the vagina for a 3-week period, and then removes it for one week, during which she will experience a menstrual period.
Contraceptive injection (The Shot) - Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) is a progestin-only long acting reversible hormonal contraceptive birth control drug which is injected every 3 months. It stops the woman from releasing an egg and provides other contraceptive effects. Depo-Provera is the brand name.
Implants - Implanon (made by Organon International) is a rod with a core of progestin (etonogestrel). It is inserted under the skin of the upper arm of a woman. The progestin is released slowly. The implant is effective for 3 years.
Emergency contraception (emergency postcoital contraception) - this refers to contraceptive measures that, if taken after sex, may prevent pregnancy. They include:
- Emergency contraceptive pills - often referred to as emergency contraceptives or the morning-after pill. They are drugs that prevent ovulation or fertilization and possible post-fertilization implantation of a blastocyst (embryo). Emergency contraceptive pills are different from medical abortion methods that act after implantation (when the fertilized egg is implanted in the womb).
On November 26th, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in their journal Pediatrics that teenage girls should have emergency contraction prescriptions given to them in advance. The authors believe girls are then more likely to use them promptly when needed.
- Intrauterine devices - usually used as a primary contraception method, but may be used as emergency contraception.
Intrauterine device (IUD) - a small, flexible T-shaped device that is placed in the uterus by a physician. It is also known as a coil. IUDs are currently used by about 160 million women, most of them in China. It stays in place the entire time pregnancy is not desired. Depending on the type, an IUD can last from 5 to 10 years. The copper T 380A has been shown in trials to be effective for at least 12 years.
Male contraceptive pill - they are not currently (September 2009) on the market, although several forms are in various stages of research and development.
Tubal ligation - a permanent form of female sterilization. The fallopian tubes are severed and sealed (pinched shut) in order to prevent fertilization.
Vasectomy - a surgical procedure designed to make a man sterile. The right and left vas deferens - the tubes through which sperm pass into the ejaculate - are cut or blocked. Although a vasectomy is sometimes reversible (vasovasostomy) the likelihood of an abundance of abnormal sperm is higher, resulting in lower fertility. The higher rates of aneuploidy and diploidy in the sperm cells of men who have undergone vasectomy reversal may lead to a higher rate of birth defects.
20 Birth control myths1. Douching with any substance after intercourse does not work as a contraceptive and does not prevent pregnancy.
2. It is not true that a female cannot become pregnant after her first sexual intercourse.
3. It is not true that a woman cannot get pregnant during her menstrual period. It is true that a woman is usually less fertile for the first few days of menstruation - but less fertile does not mean not infertile.
4. Sexual intercourse in a hot tub or swimming pool does not prevent pregnancy.
5. There is no sexual position that prevents pregnancy. Some sexual positions may encourage pregnancy. Having sex standing up or with the female on top does not prevent pregnancy.
6. Urinating after sexual intercourse does not prevent pregnancy.
7. Toothpaste does not prevent pregnancy and should never be used as a contraceptive.
8. It is not true that if the man does not ejaculate the woman cannot get pregnant. There is a risk of pregnancy as soon as vaginal penetration by the penis occurs.
9. Breastfeeding is not a 100% sure way of not getting pregnant. It is true that breastfeeding significantly reduces the chance of becoming pregnant.
10. If the woman does not have an orgasm it does not mean at all that she cannot get pregnant. The risk of becoming pregnant is there as soon as vaginal penetration by the penis occurs.
11. Jumping up and down or placing seeds inside the vagina will not stop pregnancy occurring after intercourse.
12. Drinking a lot of milk does not prevent pregnancy.
13. If the male drinks a lot of alcohol pregnancy is not prevented.
14. Two condoms are not better than one. In fact, the friction between the condoms may cause them to tear more easily.
15. Waiting until the next day to take the morning-after- pill does not make it more effective. It should be taken as soon as possible. The emergency contraceptive pill can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. However, it is 95% effective during the first 24 hours, and goes down to 60% by 72 hours.
16. It is not true that the morning-after pill (emergency contractive pill) can only be used two or three times a year. It should be reserved for emergencies and should not be used as a regular contraception method. However, it can be used when necessary.
17. A tight condom does not reduce the risk of pregnancy. If anything, a tight condom has a higher likelihood of tearing.
18. It is not true that condoms can get lost in a woman's body.
19. Plastic wraps or balloons are not alternatives to condoms. Condoms are designed to prevent pregnancy and have a very high success rates. Other products are not and have a much lower success rate at preventing pregnancy.
20. Whether or not the sexual partners love each other makes no difference to the likelihood of pregnancy. It is a tragic myth to think that if you don't love him you won't get pregnant. Unfortunately, this myth still exists among a few very young women in some parts of the world.
Condom usage, contraceptive pill, and teenagers - teenagers who go on the pill tend to use condoms significantly less often than they used to beforehand, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine informed in October 2012 after carrying out a study. More alarmingly, many young teenagers and young women do not resume using condoms when they stop taking their contraceptive pills.