Artificial contraception methods work in different ways to decrease the likelihood that sexual intercourse will result in pregnancy. Barrier methods such as condoms (male or female), diaphragms (with or without spermicide) and sponges (with spermicide) have as their first line of defense the physical blocking of the sperm's entry into the uterus. If sperm cannot get into the uterus it cannot fertilize an egg, and pregnancy cannot occur.
An IUD works in a different way, by making the uterus toxic to sperm and by disturbing the lining of the uterus so that it won't allow egg implantation. The hormones in oral contraceptives and hormone implants fool the ovaries into refraining from ovulation, and without a fertile egg, pregnancy will not occur. IUDs and oral contraceptives and hormones may be used as emergency contraception in the case of unprotected sex, but neither one will protect against sexually-transmitted disease.
Review Date 1/23/2020
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.