Whether it’s used for protecting yourself during intercourse, avoiding the risk of pregnancy or dealing with hormones, there are a variety of types of birth control, each with a purpose. The two main types are temporary/impermanent and permanent.
For females, impermanent birth control options are offered in numerous forms:
- Spermicide includes chemicals that block the cervix entrance and immobilize the sperm from reaching the egg. Spermicide can be found in creams, gels, films and suppositories but must be used with a condom, diaphragm or cervical cap to work.
- Internal condoms, or female condoms, resemble a tunnel with one blocked end. The device has two flexible rings on each end with connecting polyurethane plastic. The closed-off ring is inserted first and held behind the pubic bone while the open end remains outside the body. Internal condoms are about 79% effective at preventing pregnancies by itself.
- A diaphragm is a rubber, dome-shaped device placed over the cervix and behind the pubic bone. The ring surrounding the device keeps it in place during intercourse. Used alone, the diaphragm is around 77 to 83% effective at preventing pregnancy.
- A cervical cap works similar to the diaphragm in which the rubber latex device is suctioned over the cervix to block sperm from entering the uterus. It is 77 to 83% effective when used alone.
- For injections, a doctor administers the drug Depo-Provera, a progestin-only, long-acting drug that prevents pregnancy by preventing an egg release. When given every three months, it has a 94% efficiency.
- The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small t-shaped device that is either copper or hormonal. Copper IUDs release copper acting similarly to spermicide, while hormonal IUDs contain progestin, thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining to prevent sperm from reaching an egg. IUDs are a long-term option, lasting up to several years with about 99% effectiveness.
- The contraceptive pill comes in numerous variations with the most common being a daily pill that contains both estrogen and progestin to stop the release of the egg and thin the uterine lining. When taken on schedule, contraceptive pills are around 91 to 95% effective.
- The contraceptive patch releases estrogen and progestin transdermally. It is worn for three weeks and removed the fourth week. It is about 91% effective.
- The vaginal ring is made of flexible plastic and is inserted into the vagina to release a low dose of estrogen and progestin. The ring is worn three weeks and removed the fourth week. The device itself is about 99% effective but can be 91% effective due to human error.
- The implant is inserted into the upper arm and contains a rod core of progestin which releases slowly over time. The implant is another long-term option, effective for up to four years with about 99% effectiveness.
- Emergency contraceptives, or the “morning-after pill,” can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. The pill prevents ovulation, fertilization and implantation of an embryo since the egg may already be implanted in the uterus. However, different types and brands may have different effectiveness.
For males, there are fewer available impermanent birth control options due to a lack of research and development. However, the most common and popular method is condoms because they work about 98% of the time when used correctly. To ensure its effectiveness, use only latex or polyurethane condoms that have not been exposed to extreme temperatures or friction, preferably with water- or silicone-based lubricants instead of oil.
For females, doctors offer permanent birth control in two main forms:
- A tubal ligation serves as the most common form of permanent birth control. During this process, the fallopian tubes are blocked or cut, preventing fertilization. However, this procedure does not stop the menstrual cycle. Tubal ligations may be reversible for some, but about 50 to 80% of those who reverse it may become pregnant afterward.
- A hysterectomy is a more drastic procedure in which the uterus, and sometimes other parts of the reproductive system, is completely removed. In most instances, a hysterectomy is only performed if necessary, meaning that receiving a hysterectomy solely for permanent birth control may be difficult and unlikely.
For males, the only permanent birth control option is a vasectomy, which blocks or cuts the tubes, called vas deferens, that connect the sperm to semen. The procedure is done in an outpatient clinic under local anesthesia. A vasectomy is about 99% effective but does not affect sex drive nor protect against sexually-transmitted infections or diseases. Due to the nature of the procedure, a patient may be viable for a vasectomy reversal in which the surgeon reconnects the tubes. However, reversals can decrease in effectiveness with time.
Please note that the options listed above, except for the external condom, only help prevent pregnancy, not the contracting of STDs or infections. As always, conduct your own research and consult your doctor for what methods work best. Stay safe!