Birth Control

Birth Control and Pregnancy

Birth control, commonly called contraception, is a term used to refer to methods to prevent pregnancy. There are several different methods available to both men and women since no birth control method is best for every person.

Birth Control

Birth Control: Special Note

Birth control is a controversial issue in many cultures and religions and it is opposed by many groups. There are various degrees of opposition, including those who oppose all forms of birth control short of sexual abstinence.

While birth control methods reduce the chances of you getting pregnant, there are no guarantees.  Most women can become pregnant from the time they are in their early teens until they are in their late 40s.  About 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned. 

If you are sexually active it is important to remember that all forms of birth control have some degree of failure rate and the only totally effective is total abstinence.   Additionally, most birth control methods do nothing to reduce the chance of getting or giving a sexually transmitted disease.

Birth Control Questions and Answers

The question and information below have been adapted from the websites listed at the bottom of the page.

Is it true that a woman cannot get pregnant if she is having her period at the time of sexual intercourse?

This is one of the common myths that is not correct.  You can get pregnant even if you have sex during your period.  Other false myths include the belief that a woman cannot get pregnant on her first time having sexual intercourse, cannot get pregnant if she has sex in a hot tub, has sex standing up, or has sex with her on top of the man.

What is the best method of birth control (or contraception)?

There is no best method of birth control. Each method has its own positives and negatives.  Some methods work better than others at preventing pregnancy and some are more convenient than others.

Bear in mind that NO method of birth control prevents pregnancy all of the time. Birth control methods can fail, but you can greatly increase a method's success rate by using it correctly all of the time. The only way to be sure you never get pregnant is to not have sex (abstinence).

What birth control method protects me from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and other STD's?

Not all methods of birth control offer protection against sexually-transmitted infections.  Birth control pills or other types of birth control, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), birth control injections or a tubal ligation will NOT protect you from HIV and other STD's.

The male latex condom is the only birth control method that is proven to help protect you from HIV and other STD's.  If you are allergic to latex, there are condoms made of polyurethane that you can use.  It is important not to use oil-based products, such as massage oils, baby oil, lotions, or petroleum jelly, to lubricate a condom since these can weaken the condom causing its barrier to break.

How effective is withdrawal as a birth control method?

Withdrawal is when a man takes his penis out of a woman's vagina before he ejaculates or has an orgasm.   Withdrawal is not an effective birth control method and also does not protect you from STD's or HIV.

Are there any foams or gels that I can use to keep from getting pregnant?

You can purchase what are called spermicides in drug stores. They work by killing sperm. They are inserted or placed in the vagina no more than one hour before intercourse. You will need to use more spermicide before each act of intercourse. Spermicides alone are about 74% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Where can I find more Information about birth control methods?

See the section below and contact:

Women's Health Information Center
Phone Number: (800) 994-WOMAN (9662)

Food and Drug Administration
Phone Number: (888) 463-6332

Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Phone Number: (800) 230-7526

Population Council
Phone Number: (212) 339-0500

You should take a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any pregnancy symptoms.

What Are the Birth Control Methods?

There are many methods of birth control but remember that most birth control methods do not protect you from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) like gonorrhea, herpes, and chlamydia. Other than not having sex, the best protection against STD's and HIV is the male latex condom.

Below is a list of birth control methods with estimates of effectiveness.

Continuous Abstinence-- This means not having sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse) at any time. It is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and protect against HIV and other STD's. This method is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and STD's.

Periodic Abstinence or Fertility Awareness Methods-- A woman who has a regular menstrual cycle has about seven or more fertile days or days when she is able to get pregnant, each month. Periodic abstinence means you do not have sex on the days that you may be fertile. These fertile days are approximately 5 days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and one or more days after ovulation. It does not protect against STD's or HIV.

Male Condom-- Condoms are called barrier methods of birth control because they put up a block, or barrier, which keeps the sperm from reaching the egg. Only latex or polyurethane condoms are proven to help protect against STD's, including HIV. Male condoms are 84 to 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Female Condom-- Worn by the woman, this barrier method keeps sperm from getting into her body. It is made of polyurethane, is packaged with a lubricant, and may protect against STD's, including HIV. It can be inserted up to 24 hours prior to sexual intercourse. Female condoms are 79 to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. 

Diaphragm, Cervical Cap or Shield-- These are barrier methods of birth control, where the sperm are blocked from entering the cervix and reaching the egg. Before sexual intercourse, you use them with spermicide (to block or kill sperm) and place them up inside your vagina to cover your cervix (the opening to your womb). The diaphragm is 84 to 94% effective at preventing pregnancy. The cervical cap is 84 to 91% effective at preventing pregnancy for women who have not had a child. The cervical shield is 85% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Contraceptive Sponge - This is a barrier method of birth control. It is a soft, disk shaped device, with a loop for removal. It is made out of polyurethane foam and contains a spermicide. Before intercourse, you wet the sponge and place it up inside your vagina to cover the cervix. The sponge is 84 to 91% effective at preventing pregnancy in women who have not had a child. The sponge does not protect against STD's or HIV.

Oral Contraceptives-- Also called the pill contains the hormones estrogen and progestin and must be taken daily to block the release of eggs from the ovaries. It does not protect against STD's or HIV. The pill is 95 to 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Mini-Pill-- Unlike the pill, the mini-pill only has one hormone, progestin, instead of both estrogen and progestin. Taken daily, the mini-pill thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. It also prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus (womb). The mini-pill is a good option for women who can not take estrogen, are over 35, or have a risk of blood clots. The mini-pill does not protect against STD's or HIV. Mini-pills are 92 to 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy but the mini-pill does not protect against STD's or HIV.

Intrauterine Device-- The IUD is a small, plastic device that is inserted and left inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Although there have been several types of IUDs, currently only two are available in the United States: the hormonal IUD and the copper IUD.  The IUD is approximately 98-99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STD's or HIV.

Depo-Provera-- With this method women get injections, or shots, of the hormone progestin in the buttocks or arm every 3 months. It does not protect against STD's or HIV. It is 97% effective at preventing pregnancy.

The Patch-- This is a skin patch worn on the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body. It releases the hormones progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. The patch is 98 to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.  It does not protect against STD's or HIV. You will need to visit your doctor for a prescription and to make sure you are not having problems.

Hormonal Vaginal Contraceptive Ring)-- The vaginal ring is a flexible, plastic ring that is placed in the upper vagina. It is worn for 21 days, removed for 7 days, and then a new ring is inserted. You squeeze the ring between your thumb and index finger and insert it into your vagina. The ring is 98 to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect against STD's or HIV.

Surgical Sterilization (Tubal Ligation or Vasectomy)-- These surgical methods are meant for people who want a permanent method of birth control.  They are 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy. They do not protect against STD's or HIV.

Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill)--The "morning after pills" may be taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. The FDA has authorized such drugs to be labeled as "emergency contraception." This is not a regular method of birth control and should never be used as one. Emergency contraception, or emergency birth control, is used to keep a woman from getting pregnant when she has had unprotected vaginal intercourse. Emergency contraception consists of taking two doses of hormonal pills taken 12 hours apart and started within three days after having unprotected sex. The pills are 75 to 89% effective at preventing pregnancy but do not protect against STD's or HIV.

Additional Information

Wikipedia: Birth Control

7 Commom Birth Control Side Effects

Food and Drug Administration : Birth control guide


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