Contraception: An Overview Image

A wide variety of birth control, or contraception, options are available today, but not all methods are equally reliable, cost-effective or convenient. Researching the pros and cons of each method can help you determine which one is right for you.

What is Contraception?

Contraception refers to the deliberate prevention of pregnancy through the adoption of sexual practices, devices, pharmaceutical drugs or surgical methods. The five main types of contraception are:

  • Barrier methods
  • Behavioral methods
  • Emergency contraception
  • Hormonal methods
  • Sterilization.

Barrier Methods of Birth Control

Barrier methods of contraception prevent sperm from entering the uterus and fertilizing an egg. These birth control methods include:

  • Cervical caps
  • Diaphragms
  • Male and female condoms
  • Sponges
  • Spermicide.

Condoms are also the only contraceptive method (aside from abstinence) considered effective in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). According to a 2007 report conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, barrier methods are effective approximately 70 to 90 percent of the time in preventing pregnancy. Spermacide should only be used to enhance the effectiveness of other barrier methods, as it is much less effective on its own.

Behavioral Methods of Birth Control

Behavioral methods, or “natural family planning methods,” include:

  • Abstinence
  • Outercourse
  • Fertility-awareness methods (FAMs)
  • Lactational amenorrhea method (during postpartum breastfeeding period)
  • Withdrawal.

Statistically, abstinence is the most effective of these methods, and withdrawal is the least effective. FAMs, breastfeeding and outercourse are all considered effective contraceptive methods when performed properly.

Hormonal Methods of Birth Control

There are several different ways that the hormonal method of contraception can be administered. Hormonal methods are based upon the principle of controlling the levels of estrogen and progestin in the body, which prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. Hormonal methods include:

  • Birth control patches
  • Birth control pills
  • Birth control rings
  • Birth control shots
  • Subcutaneous implants.

Each of these methods is highly effective, but each usually differs in duration of use. The contraception pill for example, needs to be taken every day, while an implant is good for up to five years.

Emergency Contraception

The “morning after pill” should not be relied on as the primary method of contraception, but it can be used if another contraceptive method fails (i.e. condom breakage). The emergency contraception pill can reduce the risk of pregnancy by approximately 85 percent. However, according to a 2007 study released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is most effective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex.

Sterilization as a Method of Contraception

Sterilization is intended to be a permanent contraceptive solution.

  • A vasectomy is when a man’s sperm ducts (vas deferens) are cut or blocked to prevent sperm from being transferred into the ejaculatory duct.
  • Tubal ligation, better known as having your “tubes tied,” involves blocking the fallopian tubes to keep eggs in and sperm out.
  • According to the FDA, both procedures will result in less than 1 birth per 100 women per year.

Which Contraceptive is Right for You?

Choosing the contraceptive method that’s right for you requires weighing out the factors involved and deciding which are most important to you. Some factors to consider are:

  • Comfort
  • Convenience
  • Cost
  • Effectiveness
  • Health problems
  • Moral or religious beliefs
  • Potential side-effects
  • STDs.

Before making a decision, discuss the various birth control methods with your doctor. She can give you information about the pros and cons of each contraceptive method and advise you on which ones to avoid based on any health history you may have.


American Academy of Family Physicians Staff. (n.d.). Birth control options. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from the Web site:

American Academy of Family Physicians Staff. (n.d.). Emergency contraception. Retrieved February 8, 2010, from the Web site: Staff. (n.d.). Understanding your risks. Retrieved February 8, 2010, from the Contracept Web site:

FDA Office of Women’s Health Staff. (2007). Birth control guide. Retrieved February 8, 2010, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site:

Planned Parenthood Staff. (n.d.). Emergency contraception (morning after pill). Retrieved February 8, 2010, from the Planned Parenthood Web site: