What is Contraception?

Contraception Definition
Contraception. Adam Gault/Getty Images

Contraception Definition:

Contraception is the use of different devices, sexual practices, techniques, chemicals, drugs, and/or surgical procedures to purposely try to prevent pregnancy. This means that contraception includes something (or some behavior) if its purpose is to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. There are several types of contraceptives that have been officially labeled as contraception because they have shown reliability in preventing conception from occurring.

Available Methods of Contraception:

There is evidence that contraception has been used since ancient times. But safe and effective contraceptive methods have only became available in the 20th century. Available methods of contraception fall under the categories of natural birth control, over-the-counter contraception, prescription birth control (which includes hormonal contraception), and permanent contraception.

Pronunciation: con·tra·cep·tion (kŏn'trə-sĕp'shən)

Contraception is Also Known As:

Birth control, family planning, contraceptives, pregnancy prevention, and fertility control

Contraception History:

Did you know that contraception use did not become legal in the United States until 1965? Before then, the use of contraception in the U.S. was either outlawed or restricted in most states. Then, on June 7, 1965, the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, that people who were married have the right to make their own decisions about whether or not to use contraception.

This meant that only married couples were legally allowed to use contraception -- and until 1972, you could go to jail if you gave contraception 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 contraception.

Ways to Use Contraception:

There are different types of contraception, and each method is designed to work in a certain way. Contraception can be:

  • Behavioral – actions such as monitoring changes in your body to figure out when you ovulate (such as the Billing’s Method).
  • Injected or Implanted – this includes contraceptives like Depo Provera or Nexplanon.
  • Oral – the minipill or combination pills are taken by mouth daily.
  • Inserted – this type of contraception can be placed into the vagina to block sperm from reaching an egg (such as the sponge, female condoms, diaphragm, and spermicide) or to release hormones (like the NuvaRing). IUDs are inserted into the uterus.
  • 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).
  • Surgical – these are typically methods permanent contraception like tubal ligation or a vasectomy.

Although these contraception methods are very different, the one thing they have in common is that no contraception (except abstinence) is 100% effective.

Plus, to be most effective, contraception must be used correctly and consistently.

There's Even Emergency Contraception:

You can use emergency contraception up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex or birth control failure. Research even suggests that emergency contraception (like the morning-after pill) may still be used for up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Choosing Contraception:

It is your choice and right to use contraception. Deciding which method to use is a personal decision. There is no "best" method of contraception. It is helpful to research each method of contraception, weigh the risks and benefits, consider the level of effectiveness you want, and choose a contraceptive that fits into your lifestyle, your comfort level and/or religious beliefs. Having an honest talk with your doctor can also help you choose the best contraception... for you.


Shoupe D. (2011). Contraception. Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford.

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