What is birth control?
Birth control, also known as contraception, describes methods used to prevent pregnancy. The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is to remain abstinent from sex. However, there are a number of different methods that women can use that when used properly, are very effective in preventing pregnancy.
Types of birth control
There are many different types of birth control – each works differently to prevent pregnancy. Some methods prevent sperm from getting to the eggs, others keep the ovaries from releasing eggs and some permanently prevent a woman from getting pregnant. The following is an overview of each type of birth control method and how it works to prevent pregnancy:
Barrier Methods: These methods do not prevent pregnancy as well as other prescription birth control methods. They must be used exactly as the instructions say and every time you have sex. Barrier methods include:
- Condoms – a condom is a thin covering of latex that is rolled over an erect penis. It prevents semen, which contains sperm, from entering a woman’s vagina.
Hormonal Birth Control Methods: These types of birth control contain estrogen and progestin, which are hormones that prevent eggs from being released to the ovaries so they cannot be fertilized. Hormonal birth control must be used exactly as the instructions say in order to be effective. Common hormonal birth control methods include:
- Birth control pills: Pills typically come in packs, which each pack containing 3 weeks of hormonal pills. The pills for the fourth week do not contain hormones. The lack of hormones ingested will cause a menstrual cycle to begin. There are also birth control pills that offer a constant hormone dosage, which causes fewer periods per year.
- Birth control shots: This is a long-acting form of progesterone. It is given as an injection once every three months.
- Birth control patch: The patch is worn on the skin on the buttocks, lower abdomen or upper torso. It releases hormones through the skin for seven days. For three weeks, you change the patch each week and on the fourth week, you take the patch off, which causes a menstrual period to start.
- Vaginal Ring: This is a ring placed in the vagina for three weeks, which gives continuous birth control. The ring is removed on the first day of the fourth week, which causes a menstrual period.
Intrauterine Devices: This type of birth control is small, plastic T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus by a doctor. They contain copper or the hormone levonorgestrel. Also called IUDs, they work for 5-10 years.
Sterilization: This is a permanent type of birth control. A man can have a vasectomy, which means his sperm ducts are closed so sperm does not get through. A woman can have her tubes tied, or a tubal ligation, so eggs can’t travel through to reach the uterus. This method should only be used if you are absolutely certain that you do not want any more children.
Emergency contraception: This is a method of birth control only used as a backup method. If a condom breaks, you forget a pill or your method of birth control is not taken as prescribed, a backup method is necessary to prevent pregnancy. Plan B, also called the ‘morning after pill,’ can be purchased in most drugstores.
Which method is right for you?
With so many different types of birth control, it is important to make an accurate assessment of which type will work best for you. Regardless of the method, you want to choose one that will protect you every time you have sex. Birth control pills are a popular choice, however if you are a person who might have trouble taking a pill at the same time every day, you may want to consider another choice.
Your lifestyle and preferences should also be taken into consideration. Sterilization is a very serious method of birth control, but for someone who is absolutely certain they do not want any children, it is a viable method.
Consider your sexual habits as well – if you only have sex occasionally, male or female condoms might be a good option. If the main concern is effectiveness, prescription contraceptives such as a vaginal ring or IUD might be best. If you have a monogamous partner, you should discuss the options together and decide what is best for the two of you.
One thing to keep in mind is that depending on your health, you may not be able to use all types of birth control. A doctor can assess your health to determine this and may need to know the following:
- If you are pregnant or breast-feeding
- Whether or not you smoke
- If you have ever had breast cancer or a sexually transmitted disease.
- Whether you or a family member has had blood clots in the lungs or legs
- If you have health problems such as high blood pressure, migraines, diabetes or heart disease
Overall, the method of birth control used should be based on health, how often one has sexual intercourse, number of sexual partners and whether or not children are desired in the future.