Contraception is any method of birth control used to prevent pregnancy. A woman has many birth control options; which are appropriate depending on her age, overall health and lifestyle. Contraception can be permanent or temporary. Some types of contraception are more effective than others, and it is up to each woman to decide which type is best for her.

Types of Contraception

Barrier Methods

A barrier method of contraception places a barrier or block between the sperm and the egg, thus preventing pregnancy from occurring. Common barrier methods include:

  • Cervical cap
  • Diaphragm
  • Sponge
  • Condom

Condoms and sponges may be purchased over the counter, but diaphragms and cervical caps must be prescribed and fitted by a physician. Spermicide, a substance that kills sperm, can be used in conjunction with all barrier methods except the sponge, which already contains a spermicide.


What are my other options for birth control?

There are a number of other birth control options, both short-term and long-term. Short-term options include:

  • Vaginal ring: 98% effective, changed every month
  • Birth control shots: 94-99% effective, shots every three months
  • Birth control patch: 92-99% effective, changed every three weeks


These methods work for anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months, so consistency is crucial to prevent pregnancy.

Oral Contraceptives

Oral contraceptives are birth control pills that you typically take daily. Oral contraceptives work by releasing a steady dose of hormones — estrogen, progestin, or both — into your body. There are two main kinds of oral contraceptives.

Combination pills, the most popular option, contain both estrogen and progestin. They prevent ovulation, thin your uterine lining, and thicken your cervical mucus. The other main option, the mini pill, contains only progestin. It doesn’t stop ovulation but does thicken cervical mucus and causes uterine shedding.

There are many options within these two categories. You can choose to have periods every month, or just a few times a year, based on the type of pill selected. If you take oral contraceptives in the optimal way, at the same time every day without fail, they’re 99% effective. But, with typical use, effectiveness drops to 91%.

Risks of Contraception

In general, hormonal methods of birth control have more risks associated with them than barrier methods.

Risks of Barrier Methods

Although most barrier methods of birth control are safe, they are associated with the following risks:

  • Vaginal or cervical irritation
  • Allergic reaction to spermicides
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Allergic reaction to latex

It is important to note that condoms are the only method of contraception that provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

Risks of Hormonal Methods

Although most methods of hormonal birth control are safe, they are associated with the following risks:

  • Irregular bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Skin or vaginal irritation
  • Blood clots
  • Headache
  • Weight gain
  • Stroke

Women who are older than 35 or who smoke have a much higher risk of heart attack or stroke when using hormonal birth control methods. Hormonal methods of birth control do not provide any protection against the HIV virus or sexually transmitted diseases.

It is important to consider all risks inherent in a particular method of birth control before choosing it.