Contraception Birth Control

Overview & Description

Birth control refers to a conscious decision that sexually active couples make to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The decision may result from personal situations or medical conditions.

What is the information for this topic?

Some forms of birth controlkeep the sperm from fertilizing an egg. Other forms keep the fertilized egg from being implanted. The couple may consider these factors when choosing birth control:

  • availability
  • convenience
  • cost
  • failure rates
  • health risks
  • partner involvement
  • side effects
  • Natural family planning methods

    Many couples choose a natural method because of religious or personal beliefs. Some natural family planning methods are as follows:

  • Withdrawal, or coitus interruptus. The penis is withdrawn from the vagina before the male ejaculates. This method has a high failure rate because sperm may enter the vagina before the penis isremoved.
  • Douching after sex. This involves flushing the vagina with a liquid. This method is not very effective. Many sperm continue up to the ovary and can fertilize the egg.
  • The rhythm method. This means a woman avoids sexduring the middle of her menstrualcycle. This method has a high failure rate. It should only be used by women who have regular, predictable cycles.
  • Breastfeeding. This method is not entirely reliable in preventing pregnancy. A backup method of birth control, such as a condom, should be used.
  • Traditional barrier methods

    Barrier methods use physical or chemical blocks to keep sperm fromfertilizing the woman’s egg. These methods include the following:

  • Condoms, or synthetic sheaths. Male condoms cover the penis and keep semenfrom going into the vagina. Female condoms cover the external genitals and the walls of the vagina.
  • Spermicides. These are chemicals that kill the sperm in the vagina. They come in the form of jellies, foams, creams, films, or suppositories.
  • A diaphragm. This is a flexible rubber cap that is placed inside the vagina.
  • A cervical cap. This is smaller than adiaphragm and covers the cervix.
  • Hormones

    Combinations of female hormones can be used to prevent pregnancy. Thesecombinations include:

  • oralcontraceptives, or birth control pills, which prevent ovulation
  • progestin-only birth control pills, or minipills, which do nothave estrogen
  • progestin implants, which are small plastic rods that are placed beneaththe skin to supply small daily doses of hormones
  • injections of synthetic progestins, which are hormones given every 3months
  • monthly injections of progestin and estrogen in combination
  • Intrauterine devices

    Intrauterinedevices, or IUDs, areplaced in the uterus. They keep the fertilized egg from being implanted. IUDshave been linked with an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease. They can also increase the risk for pregnancy outside theuterus, or ectopic pregnancy.


    Surgery can be performed on a man or woman to prevent pregnancy. A vasectomy in a maleinvolves cutting andtying off the tubes that carry sperm. A tuballigation in a woman involves cutting and tying off the fallopian tubes.Surgical removal of the uterus, or hysterectomy, also causes sterilization.

    Emergency contraception

    Emergency contraception means birth control that is given after unprotected intercoursehas taken place. Hormones can be given over a 24-hourperiod,within 72 hours of the unprotected sex. Another method uses anintrauterine device,orIUD. This is placed into thewoman’s uterus within 5 days after unprotected sex.


    Abstinence, or the avoidance of sexual intercourse, is the only fullyeffective way to prevent pregnancy.

    Article type: xmedgeneral