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Birth Control

Also called: Contraception


What is birth control?

Birth control, also known as contraception, is the use of medicines, devices, or surgery to prevent pregnancy. There are many different types. Some are reversible, while others are permanent. Some types can also help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

What are the different types of birth control?

There are several different types of birth control, and they work in different ways:

Barrier methods
Male condom A thin sheath that covers the penis to collect sperm and prevent it from entering the woman's body. Condoms that are made of latex and polyurethane can help prevent STIs.
Female condom A thin, flexible plastic pouch. Part of the condom is inserted into the vagina before intercourse to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. The uterus, or womb, is the place where the baby grows during pregnancy. Female condoms can also help prevent STIs.
Contraceptive sponge A small sponge that you put into the vagina to cover the cervix (the opening of the uterus). The sponge also contains a spermicide to kill sperm.
Spermicide A substance that can kill sperm cells. It comes in a foam, jelly, cream, suppository, or film. You put it into the vagina near the uterus. Spermicide can be used alone or with a diaphragm or cervical cap.
Diaphragm and cervical cap Cups that are placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix. They may be used with spermicide. They come in different sizes, so it's important to see your health care provider to figure out which size works best for you.
Hormonal methods
Oral contraceptives ("the pill") Pills that a woman takes every day. They may contain only progestin or both progestin and estrogen.
Contraceptive patch A patch that a woman puts on her skin each week. The patch releases hormones into the bloodstream.
Vaginal ring A thin, flexible ring. The woman inserts the ring into the vagina, where it continually releases hormones for three weeks. She takes it out for the fourth week. After that week, she puts in a new ring.
Injectable birth control An injection of a hormone that a woman gets once every three months. This is done in your provider's office.
Implant A single, thin rod that a provider inserts under the skin of a women's upper arm. It is done in your provider's office. The implant can last for four years.
Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)
Intrauterine device (IUD) A small, T-shaped device that a provider inserts into the uterus. This is done in the provider's office. IUDs can last from 3 to 10 years. There are two types: hormonal IUDs and copper IUDs.
Tubal ligation A surgery that prevents a woman from getting pregnant. It is permanent.
Vasectomy A surgery that prevents a man from getting someone pregnant. It is permanent.

What are some other forms of pregnancy prevention?

There are some types of pregnancy prevention that do not involve medicines, devices, or surgery:

Other forms of pregnancy prevention
Fertility awareness-based methods They are also called natural rhythm methods. They involve tracking the woman's fertility cycle and avoiding sex or using barrier methods on the days when she is most likely to get pregnant. This method may have higher pregnancy rates than other types.
Lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) A form of natural birth control for breastfeeding mothers. It relies on the new mother feeding her baby only breastmilk for up to six months and having no periods or spotting during that time.
Withdrawal During intercourse, the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation. The goal is to keep sperm from entering the vagina . But the sperm can leak out before the penis is pulled out, so this method has higher pregnancy rates than other types.

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is not a regular method of birth control. But it can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or if a condom breaks. There are two types:

  • Copper IUD, which is a small, T-shaped device that a provider inserts into the within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse.
  • Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs), which are hormonal pills which the woman takes as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse.

What else should I know about birth control?

When deciding which birth control type is right for you, there are many different factors to consider:

  • Do you want to have children someday? How soon?
  • Do you have any health conditions?
  • How often do you have sex?
  • How many sex partners do you have?
  • Do you also need protection from HIV and other STIs?
  • How well does the birth control method work?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Will you be able to use it correctly every time?
  • How much does it cost?

Your provider can answer your questions about birth control to help you select the best type for you.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.