An Overview of Contraception

Contraception, or birth control, is the use of different devices, sexual practices, techniques, chemicals, drugs, and/or surgical procedures to purposely try to prevent getting pregnant while having sex. There are several types of birth control methods that have been officially labeled as contraception—they have been shown to be reliable in preventing conception from taking place. In addition to contraception, birth control is also referred to as family planning, contraceptives, pregnancy prevention, and fertility control.

Available Methods

There are multiple contraception methods available. And with so many options, it can get confusing. Learning the pros and cons of each type can help you choose the right method for you. It is also helpful to understand that each method typically falls under one of five categories:

  1. Natural—Also known as natural family planning, these are birth control methods in which you need to do specific behavioral actions to avoid getting pregnant. In order to be successful using many of these natural methods, you need to really know your body and the signals it gives off throughout your menstrual cycle.
  2. Over-the-Counter (OTC)—These are the methods you will find in the family planning aisle of your local store. This means that you can buy them without a doctor’s prescription. In general, OTC contraception works by forming some type of barrier that prevents sperm from reaching an egg.
  1. Prescription—These are options that first require you to visit your doctor so that you can get a prescription. These methods include hormonal contraception (birth control that contains progestin and/or estrogen) and IUDs.
  2. Permanent—Also known as sterilization, these methods permanently prevent you from being able to become pregnant. They are typically performed via surgery and are among the most popular of all birth control methods.
  1. Emergency—This is a special category. It includes methods specifically intended to be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex or birth control failure to prevent you from getting pregnant. 

Who Should Use Contraception?

If you do not want to get pregnant right now—but are having sex—you should be using birth control. Because there are so many methods, you should be able to find an option that fits into your lifestyle and matches your health needs.

So, if you are allergic to latex, for example, they make condoms from other sources. Or, if you can't use estrogen, there are several progestin-only options to pick from. No excuses!

For every 100 women who have sex for one year without using contraception, 85 will become pregnant. That means that not using birth control when you have sex equals an 85 percent chance that you will get pregnant.

Take a moment to think about the impact having a baby would have right now on your life. If you are not ready for this responsibility, use birth control.

We are lucky that there are so many options available nowadays.

A Brief History

There is evidence that contraception has been used since ancient times. But safe and effective birth control methods have only been available since the 20th century.

Did you know that birth control use did not become legal in the United States until 1965? Before then, it was either outlawed or restricted in most states. But, on June 7, 1965,  in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that people who were married had the right to make their own decisions about whether or not to use contraception. This meant, however, that only married couples were legally allowed to use contraception. And, until 1972, you could go to jail if you gave birth control to an unmarried person.

This continued to be the law until March 22, 1972. On that date, in the case of Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried people had the same right as married couples to use birth control. Moreover, it wasn't until Tummino v. Hamburg in 2013 that most forms of emergency contraception became available over the counter to people of any age.

Specific Types

Again, it is easiest to understand the different contraception types based on the five categories:

  1. NaturalAbstinence, outercourse, withdrawal, natural family planning (Billings Method, Symptothermal Method, and Standard Days Method), and continuous breastfeeding (Lactational Amenorrhea Method)
  2. Over-the-Counter—Male condoms (available in latex, polyurethane plastic, polyisoprene non-latex natural rubber, and lambskin), female condoms, spermicide, and the sponge
  3. Prescription—The pill, NuvaRing, the patch, Depo-Provera, Nexplanon, IUDs (ParaGard, Skyla, and Mirena), a cervical cap, and the diaphragm
  4. Permanent—Traditional vasectomy, keyhole/non-scalpel vasectomy, tubal ligation (most common procedures include mini-laparotomy and laparoscopic sterilization), and Essure (non-surgical permanent birth control)
  5. Emergency—Morning-after pill (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Fallback Solo, My Way, Opcicon One-Step, Take Action, EContraEZ, AfterPill, Next Choice, and Ella), progestin-only EC pills, and ParaGard IUD

As you can see, most of the available methods are for women. Except for withdrawal and abstinence, the only options for men are condoms and having a vasectomy. Male hormonal birth control is currently being researched, but there are no methods available yet.

How to Use Contraception

As stated, there are various types of birth control. But each method is designed to work in a certain way:

  • Behaviorally—Actions such as monitoring changes in your body to figure out when you ovulate (such as the Billing’s Method).
  • Injected—When birth control is put into your body through an injection (like using  Depo-Provera).
  • Orally—This includes methods like the mini-pill or combination birth control pills since they must be taken by mouth at the same time each day.
  • Inserted—This type has to be placed into the vagina to block sperm from reaching an egg, such as the sponge, female condoms, diaphragm, and spermicide. It also includes the NuvaRing which is inserted into the vagina so it can release hormones.
  • Implanted—Methods in which your doctor must slide or embed a device, like an IUD (which is  inserted into the uterus) and Nexplanon (which is implanted under the skin in your arm).
  • Worn—Men wear condoms on their penises to catch sperm and keep it out of the vagina. Women can wear the patch which releases hormones through the skin.
  • Surgically—These are typically permanent options like getting your tubes tied or having a vasectomy.

The most important thing about contraception is that you use it correctly and every time that you have sex. Also, although all these methods are very different, the one thing they have in common is that no method (except for  abstinence) is 100 percent effective. 

Choosing Contraception

It is your right whether or not to use contraception and  deciding which method to use is a personal choice. There is no "best" birth control method. It is helpful to research each method, weigh the risks and benefits, consider the level of effectiveness you want, and choose the one that fits into your lifestyle, your comfort level, and/or religious beliefs. Having an honest talk with your doctor can also help you in your decision-making process.

Part of your decision about which contraception method to choose may be based on some of your values. For example, if you have chosen to live a greener lifestyle, you may want to use an eco-friendly method or a device that can be recycled. You may also want to consider how quickly your fertility will return once you stop using a particular method.

And even if you are already using birth control, don't feel like you are stuck with that specific method. So many women settle on their method and continue to use it even if they arent' happy with it. Don't let this be you!

If you are not satisfied, change your birth control. The more comfortable and pleased you are with your contraception, the more likely you will use it (and in the correct way). Allow yourself to be empowered over your health, your reproductive and sexual choices, and your birth control. You are in charge of your body.

A Word From Verywell

Contraception has far-reaching implications in life. It can allow you to decide how many children you may want to have as well as when you want to be pregnant. There is no "right" reason to use birth control, but it is YOUR decision to make.

You may have your own reasons for wanting to use birth control, but choosing a method should be an informed decision. Talk to your doctor and have a truthful conversation with your partner. Do your research and see which ​option is available. Being honest with yourself and doing your "homework" will help you choose the best contraception for YOU.

Sources:

Hatcher RA. Contraceptive Technology. 20th ed. New York, NY: Bridging the Gap Communications; December 2011.

Shoupe D, ed. Contraception. London, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Ltd); February 10, 2011.

Continue Reading