Contraception is the use of various devices, drugs, agents, sexual practices, or surgical procedures to prevent conception or pregnancy.
Contraception enables people to choose when they want to have a baby.
The three ways of preventing or ending pregnancy are:
- Contraception: Prevents the fertilization of the egg by sperm cells
- Contragestion: Stops the fertilized egg from being implanted, for example the "morning-after pill"
- Abortion: Chemical or surgical removal of the developing embryo or fetus.
Here we will look at a range of methods of contraception and contragestion.
Contents of this article:
Traditional birth control methods
Celibacy or sexual abstinence means avoiding sexual intercourse.
A physician can advise on the range of contraceptive methods available.
Withdrawal, or coitus interruptus, is when the man removes the penis from the vagina so that ejaculation occurs outside of the vagina. In theory, this prevents the sperm from being deposited in the vagina.
Some claim that this method is about 90% effective if used correctly, but research suggests that about 1 in 3 couples who use this method will experience an accidental pregnancy within 12 months.
Birth control devices
A range of devices are available for both men and women to use with the aim of preventing pregnancy.
Male or female condom
The male condom is a mechanical barrier that prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from entering the vagina. It is placed over the penis before sexual intercourse begins. A condom is made of polyurethane or latex. It can also help to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The female condom is made of polyurethane. The female condom has a flexible ring at each end. One fixes 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. A spermicide kills sperm chemically. The product may be used alone, or in combination with a physical barrier.
A contraceptive sponge has a depression to hold it in place over the cervix. Foam is placed into the vagina using an applicator. The foam is a spermicide that destroys the male sperm, and the sponge acts as a barrier to stop the sperm from reaching the egg.
The diaphragm, cervical cap, and Lea contraceptive
A diaphragm is a rubber, dome-shaped device that is placed over the cervix. It fits into place behind the woman's pubic bone and has a firm but flexible ring that helps it press against the vaginal walls. Combined with spermicide, it is a very effective contraceptive device.
A cervical cap is a thimble-shaped latex rubber barrier device that fits over the cervix and blocks sperm from entering the uterus. The cap should be about one-third filled with spermicide before inserting. It stays in place by suction.
The Lea contraceptive 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 intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, flexible T-shaped device that is placed in the uterus by a physician. It stays in place as long as pregnancy is not desired. Three types of IUD are available, with different time frames. They last for 3, 5 or 10 years.
Pharmaceutical methods of contraception
The combined contraceptive pill is taken daily. It contains two hormones, estrogen and progestin. The hormones stop the release of the egg, or ovulation. They 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.
"The pill" contains hormones and prevents ovulation.
The contraceptive patch is a transdermal patch applied to the skin. It releases synthetic estrogen and progestin hormones. Evidence suggests that it is as effective as the combined oral contraceptive pill. The patch is worn each week for 3 consecutive weeks, generally on the lower abdomen or buttocks. No patch is worn in the fourth week, to allow for the menstrual period. The patches are readily available.
The contraceptive vaginal ring is a flexible, plastic ring that releases a low dose of a progestin and an estrogen over 3 weeks. NuvaRing is the trade name for a combined hormonal contraceptive vaginal ring manufactured by Organon. The woman inserts the ring into the vagina for 3 weeks, and then she removes it for one week, during which she will experience a menstrual period.
The contraceptive injection, or "the shot," is a progestin-only, long-acting, reversible, birth-control drug. It is injected every 3 months. It stops the woman from releasing an egg, and it provides other contraceptive effects.
An implant is a rod with a core of progestin, which is released slowly. It is inserted under the skin of a woman's upper arm. The implant is effective for 3 years.
Emergency "morning after" contraception
Emergency contraceptive pills, or the "morning-after pill," may prevent pregnancy after intercourse. It prevents ovulation, fertilization or implantation of an embryo. It is different from medical abortion methods that act after the egg is already implanted in the womb.
Fast facts about contraception
- 17.1 percent of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States use the contraceptive pill
- 16.5 percent use female sterilization
- 6.2 percent use male sterilization.
Emergency contraception can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but it is 95 percent effective during the first 24 hours, falling to 60 percent by 72 hours.
Emergency contraception should only be used when primary methods fail.
Some people see it as a kind of abortion, because the egg may have already been fertilized.
Permanent contraception: Sterilization
Tubal ligation is a permanent form of female sterilization. The fallopian tubes are cut, blocked, burned, or a combination of these methods, to seal them and prevent future fertilization.
Vasectomy is surgery to make a man sterile. The tubes through which sperm pass into the ejaculate are cut or blocked. A vasectomy is sometimes reversible, but may lead to a higher abundance of abnormal sperm, possibly resulting in lower fertility or birth defects.
10 myths about birth control
Reliable information about contraception is more readily available now than in the past. Myths about birth control have proliferated throughout history. Here we put right some common misconceptions about contraception.
- It is not true that a woman cannot get pregnant during her menstrual period. She may be less fertile for the first few days of menstruation, but pregnancy is possible
- Sexual intercourse in a hot tub or swimming pool does not prevent pregnancy
- There is no sexual position that prevents pregnancy
- Urinating or douching with any substance after sexual intercourse does not prevent pregnancy
- Putting toothpaste or seeds in the vagina does not prevent pregnancy and should never be used as a contraceptive
- Even if the man does not ejaculate, the woman can become pregnant. Any time vaginal penetration by the penis occurs, pregnancy is possible
- A woman can become pregnant while breastfeeding, although the chance is lower
- A woman can become pregnant whether or not she has an orgasm or is in love with the man
- Two condoms or using tight condom does not offer better protection than one
- The contraceptive pill does not make you fat. Studies show that it does not lead to significant weight gain.
Contraception is a powerful tool both for preventing unwanted pregnancy and for minimizing the risk of an STI. It is important to be informed and to use them wisely.