In simplest terms, birth control is any method, drug, or device that is used for the purposes of preventing pregnancy. It is not synonymous with safe sex, as many forms of birth control do not prevent the involved parties from coming in contact with one another’s bodily fluids. There are five basic types of birth control, each type (excluding abstinence), with its own set of subtypes.
The five basic categories in which all birth control methods fall are:
Not all of these types of birth control are equally effective, and some are completely ineffective. Abstinence is the only method of birth control which offers 100 percent effectiveness against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence means to abstain from sexual intercourse, or quite simply, choose to remain sexually inactive.
A barrier, with regard to birth control, is any device that prevents sperm from making contact with an egg. These devices come in the forms of male condoms, female condoms, diaphragms, spermicides, contraceptive sponges, and cervical caps. Of all of the many different types of birth control, only the condom offers protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
Female birth control methods are markedly less effective at preventing pregnancy than standard male condoms. For that reason, most doctors and birth control manufacturers recommend using all of these devices in conjunction with a spermicidal jelly to increase the level of protection. Spermicides are chemicals that kill sperm before they are able to fertilize an egg. They are not always efficient, however, as there are, quite literally, millions of sperm in each ejaculate.
Hormonal methods of birth control work by preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg. Birth control pills are the most commonly recognized form of hormonal contraception, but there are many other variations on the principal. Options such as the vaginal ring, birth control patch, birth control injection, and Intra-Uterine Devices, or IUDs, offer a hormonal solution to contraception that is more convenient for many women.
All forms of hormonal birth control, including birth control pills, require a prescription from a doctor in order to obtain. Some forms such as injections and IUDs may only be given in a doctor’s office. IUDs are devices that are inserted into the uterus through the cervix by a health care professional. They may remain in place for 5 to 10 years depending on the type chosen and offer the greatest convenience for women in monogamous relationships.
Sterilization is meant to be a permanent birth control solution. For men, sterilization involves the severing of the vas deferens to prevent live sperm from entering the ejaculatory fluid. For women, sterilization may be as simple as tying off the fallopian tubes to block the passage of mature eggs, or as complex as a partial or full hysterectomy. Sterilization may be reversed in some people, but one should never undergo the procedure expecting such a possibility. For all intents and purposes, this birth control method is a final, definitive solution for people who are finished or not interested in having children.
One final form of birth control that is not highly approved of by most family physicians is the natural family planning method and/or withdrawal. Natural family planning centers around an extreme awareness and familiarity with a woman’s menstrual cycle. It involves charting changes in one’s basal body temperature and cervical mucus on a daily basis. Using these recordings in conjunction with the timing of the last menstrual picture can give women an estimate of when they are ovulating.
This awareness then allows the couple to avoid intercourse for a seven to ten day period centered around the projected ovulation. If abstinence is not desired, some may choose to use the withdrawal method, which involves removing the penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation. Both methods are very prone to mistakes and miscalculations, and should therefore only be used by couples who wish to avoid pregnancy but are able to deal with it if it should occur.
If you are sexually active and do not wish to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about the birth control method that may be right for you. If you have multiple partners, the only responsible choice is the condom. Married or monogamous couples may enjoy any method they choose, provided their doctor is in agreement.
Get the latest symptoms information emailed directly to you...