Birth Control Methods

What are birth control methods?

Birth control methods are ways to keep from getting pregnant when you have sex. There are many different ways to try to prevent pregnancy. Some methods work better than others.

You may want to choose a kind of birth control that will help keep you from getting a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD). Sometimes you may need to use more than 1 method to prevent pregnancy and infection. You can use latex or polyurethane condoms to protect against infection. Condoms are the only birth control method that will lower your risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Hormones, natural family planning, and withdrawal do not give any protection against infection.

What are the different methods of birth control?

Hormone Medicine

Hormone medicines use manmade forms of the female hormones estrogen and/or progesterone. The hormones stop a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg each month. They also make it harder for sperm to get into the uterus or for a fertilized egg to stay in the uterus.

  • Birth control pills are taken according to a daily schedule prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • One shot of Depo-Provera, which contains progesterone, can prevent pregnancy for 3 months.
  • Vaginal rings are flexible rings put into the vagina. The rings release hormones into the body. A ring stays in the vagina for 3 weeks. Then it is removed. After 1 week a new ring is put into the vagina and the cycle is repeated.
  • Patches containing hormones may be put on the skin. A new patch is used each week for 3 weeks. During the 4th week, no patch is used. Then the cycle is repeated.
  • The implant (Implanon/Nexplanon) is a small, thin capsule containing progesterone. It is put under the skin of a woman’s arm. The implant prevents pregnancy for up to 3 years.

You need to see your healthcare provider to get any of these hormonal forms of birth control.

Birth Control Devices

Most birth control devices provide barriers that stop sperm from getting into the uterus. The barrier may be physical or chemical.

  • The male condom is a tube of thin material. Latex rubber or polyurethane is best. The condom is rolled over the erect penis before the penis touches any part of a woman’s genital area. The male condom is the best protection against STDs.
  • The female condom is a pouch put into the vagina before sex. It is made of polyurethane and has 2 flexible rings. It covers the cervix, vagina, and area around the vagina. It may protect against some STDs, such as HIV and hepatitis B.
  • Spermicides are chemicals that kill sperm. They come in different forms, like foam, gel, cream, film, suppository, and tablet. They are put into the vagina no more than 30 minutes before sex. Spermicides work much better when they are used with another form of birth control, such as a condom or diaphragm. Spermicides do not protect against STDs.
  • The sponge is a round, soft piece of polyurethane foam. It is soaked with a spermicide. No more than 24 hours before sex, the sponge is dampened with water and put into the vagina.
  • The diaphragm is a soft, shallow rubber or silicone cup with a flexible rim. Before you have sex, you fill the diaphragm with a spermicide and put it into the vagina.
  • The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small plastic device containing copper or hormones. It is put inside the uterus by your healthcare provider. The IUD keeps the egg from getting fertilized or implanting and growing in the uterus. The IUD may be kept in the uterus 5 to 10 years (depending on the type) before it must be replaced with a new one.

You can buy condoms, spermicides, and sponges at drug and grocery stores without a prescription. A diaphragm needs to be fitted by a healthcare provider. IUDs must be put into the uterus by a healthcare provider.


Sterilization is a procedure done to close the tubes that carry the sperm or eggs. It may be done with surgery or with special devices put into the tubes. A woman or man who is sterilized will no longer be able to have children. The procedure is usually a permanent method of birth control.

Surgery to remove a woman’s uterus (hysterectomy) also causes sterility.

Natural Family Planning and the Withdrawal Method

The natural family planning methods of birth control do not use any devices, drugs, or surgery. To prevent pregnancy you avoid having sex on certain days of each menstrual cycle. Some of the other methods of birth control are usually more reliable.

The withdrawal method involves taking the penis out of the vagina before semen starts coming out of the penis. Often sperm get into the vagina before or during withdrawal. This method is not a reliable way to prevent pregnancy.

Other than sterilization, the IUD and hormone medicines, such as birth control pills, are the most effective methods of birth control. However, the diaphragm and condom can be nearly as reliable if they are used properly.



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