Birth control, also known as contraception, is any method used to prevent pregnancy. Choosing birth control is a personal choice, and it is important to learn as much as you can about the various methods – both hormonal and non-hormonal. Each has advantages and disadvantages, including effectiveness, side effects and health risks. All available options can be discussed in great detail with your doctor.
Hormonal contraceptives work by preventing the release of an egg from your ovaries into your uterus. These methods are available by prescription only.
- Contraceptive Injections (Depo-Provera)
Depo-Provera is a hormonal injection administered every three months. Using synthetic progesterone, Depo-Provera prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. This causes the cervical mucus to thicken and changes the uterine lining, which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter or survive in the uterus.
- Contraceptive Implants
NEXPLANON is a type of implantable birth control for women. It is a flexible plastic rod the size of a matchstick that is put under the skin of your arm. NEXPLANON contains a hormone called etonogestrel. You can use a single NEXPLANON rod for up to three years.
- Contraceptive Patch
The Contraceptive Patch looks like a square Band-Aid® and is applied to your abdomen, buttocks, upper arm or upper torso. It works by slowly releasing a combination of estrogen and progestin hormones through your skin. These hormones prevent ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus, creating a barrier to prevent sperm from entering the uterus.
- Oral Contraceptives (The Pill)
The Pill is available in different doses, and is dispensed in packs of 21 or 28 pills. The first 21 pills contain a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormones. The Pill works by stopping ovulation. It also thickens cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
- Progestin-Releasing Intrauterine Device
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small object inserted through the cervix and placed in the uterus. IUDs affect the movement of eggs and sperm, preventing fertilization. They also change the lining of the uterus and prevent implantation. One hormone-releasing IUD, called the Mirena®, releases small amounts of a synthetic progesterone hormone. The suggested length of use for progestin-releasing IUDs is five years or less.
- Vaginal Ring
The vaginal ring is a thin, transparent, flexible ring you insert into your vagina. The vaginal ring slowly releases estrogen and progestin hormones into your body, which stop ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus, creating a barrier to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. The vaginal ring provides one month of birth control.
Non-hormonal contraceptives prevent pregnancy by providing a barrier against sperm or by interfering with the movement of sperm.
- Condom (Female)
A female condom is a thin, loose-fitting, flexible plastic tube worn inside your vagina. A soft ring at the closed end of the tube covers the cervix during intercourse and holds it inside the vagina. A female condom can be inserted up to eight hours before sexual activity; a new condom must be used every time you have sex. It helps protect you from pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and is the only female-controlled device offering this protection.
- Condom (Male)
A male condom must be applied when the penis is erect, and a new condom must be used every time you have sex. A condom works by providing a barrier so bodily fluids are not shared, which helps protect you from pregnancy and STDs.
A variety of spermicides are available, including foams, jellies, creams and vaginal suppositories. Spermicides must be inserted no more than one hour before sex and must be used every time you have sex. Spermicides prevent pregnancy by killing (or disabling) sperm. They are most effective when used with a vaginal barrier method of birth control, such as a diaphragm or cervical cap.
A diaphragm is a thin, rubber dome with a flexible rim. The device is inserted into your vagina, fits over the cervix and is held in place by your vaginal muscles. A diaphragm can be inserted six to eight hours before sex and must be used every time you have sex. This method of birth control is available by prescription only, and you must be fitted for a diaphragm by your doctor.
- Intrauterine Device
Please see the description of an intrauterine device above under “Hormonal Contraceptives.” One IUD, called ParaGard®, does not release hormones into the body. This IUD has a tiny copper wire wrapped around the plastic body and once inserted in the uterus, can be left in place for up to 10 years.
- Sterilization (Tubal Ligation)
Female sterilization, or tubal ligation, is a surgical procedure that involves tying, cutting or blocking the fallopian tubes so eggs cannot travel down the tubes to be fertilized or to implant in the uterus.
It is important to remember that while birth control protects you from pregnancy, most methods do not protect you from STDs. If you have questions or concerns about which birth control method is best for you or how to protect yourself from STDs, please talk to your doctor.