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Overview: Types of Birth Control

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Contraception is a term used for the prevention of pregnancy, and it is often referred to as birth control. There are several methods of contraception, some of which are created for women and others for men. Some methods are considered permanent while others are reversible. The majority of birth control methods fall into one of two categories: barrier or hormonal. There are also four other methods: sterilization (surgery), withdrawal, natural family planning and abstinence.

It is important to examine the different methods of birth control and other related considerations as you determine which method of contraception is best for you. It is important to remember that most birth control methods prevent pregnancy, but they do not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. If you are sexually active and using a form of birth control, it is important to remember that all forms of birth control have a failure rate. You should take a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any pregnancy symptoms.

Below is a brief description of each type of contraception. Additional detailed information is available through links to each specific type of contraception.


  • As a means of contraception, abstinence is the voluntary refraining from sexual activity.
  • Abstinence is the only contraceptive method that is 100% effective in the prevention of both pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Fertility Awareness Method: Natural Family Planning (NFP):

  • Fertility awareness method is also known as Natural Family Planning and it is commonly called NFP.
  • NFP does not rely on devices or medications to prevent pregnancies.
  • NFP is a contraceptive method that uses the natural functions of your body and your menstrual cycle to calculate ovulation. The most common features of NFP involve recording of your body temperature and changes in your cervical mucus each day.
  • NFP requires periodic abstinence (approximately 7 to 10 days) during the ovulation period. Some women choose to use a barrier method or withdrawal during this time frame.

Barrier Methods: Devices

Barrier or device methods of contraceptives are physical or chemical barriers designed to stop sperm from entering a woman's uterus.

Male Condom:

  • The male condom is a tube of thin material (latex rubber) that is rolled over the erect penis prior to contact with the vagina.
  • The male condom is the most common barrier method.

Female Condom:

  • The female condom is a seven-inch long pouch of polyurethane with two flexible rings and is inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse.
  • The female condom covers the cervix, vaginal canal, and the immediate area around the vagina.


  • Spermicides are chemicals that are designed to kill sperm.
  • Spermicide chemicals are available as foam, jelly, foaming tablets and vaginal suppositories.


  • The diaphragm is a soft rubber dome stretched over a flexible ring; the dome is filled with a spermicidal cream or jelly.
  • The diaphragm is inserted into the vagina and placed over the cervix no more than 3 hours prior to intercourse.

Cervical Cap:

  • The cervical cap is a small cup made of latex rubber or plastic.
  • The cervical cap is filled with a spermicidal cream or jelly and inserted into the vagina and placed over the cervix.

Contraceptive Sponge:

  • The contraceptive sponge is a soft saucer-shaped device made from polyurethane foam.

Hormonal Methods:

Whether administered as a pill, patch, shot, ring or implant, hormone medications contain manufactured forms of the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone. Hormonal methods work in one of three ways: 1) preventing a woman's ovaries from releasing an egg each each month; 2) causing the cervical mucus to thicken making it harder for sperm to reach and penetrate the egg; 3) thinning the lining of the uterus which reduces the likelihood that a fertilized egg will implant in the uterus wall. Hormonal contraceptives do NOT protect against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Birth Control Pills:

  • Birth control pills are taken daily as prescribed by your healthcare provider.


  • Depo-Provera is an injection given by your health care provider that prevents pregnancy for three months.


  • Lunelle is an injection given by your health care provider that prevents pregnancy for one month.

NuvaRing/Vaginal Ring:

  • NuvaRing, or vaginal ring, is a flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina for three weeks, removed for one week, and then replaced with a new ring.
  • The ring releases estrogen and progesterone into your body.

Ortho Evra Patch/Birth Control Patch:

  • The birth control patch is placed directly on the skin with the hormones built into the sticky side of the patch.
  • Each week for the first three weeks a patch is placed on the hip, buttocks or upper arm.
  • The fourth week you are free from the patch allowing for a menstrual period.

Intrauterine Device (IUD):

  • The IUD is a small plastic device containing copper or hormones and is inserted into the uterus by a medical professional.
  • The IUD does not stop the sperm from entering into the uterus, but rather it changes cervical mucus decreasing the probability of fertilization and it changes the lining of the uterus preventing implantation should fertilization occur.

Withdrawal & Sterilization:

Neither withdrawal nor sterilizations prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.


  • Withdrawal involves the removal of the erect penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation.


  • Female:
    • Sterilization involves the surgical closing of the fallopian tubes which carry the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus
    • This procedure is referred to as a tubal ligation
  • Male:
    • Sterilization involves the surgical closing of tubes that carry sperm
    • This procedure is referred to as a vasectomy