Contraceptives, also known as birth control, family planning, and anti-conception, are methods, medication, and devices designed to prevent pregnancy. Birth control is available for both men and women though currently there are more contraceptive types available for women than men.
Contrary to popular belief, the idea of birth control is not a modern brainwave. In fact, some of the earliest forms of birth control can be traced back thousands of years to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. A papyrus scroll dating around 1850 BCE lists instructions on how to DIY a kind of homemade cervical cap using honey, lint, and acacia leaves. The purpose of this contraceptive was to prevent sperm from entering the cervix and swimming up to the egg.
Safe, effective, and accessible female contraceptives were not introduced until the 1960s, where The Pill was made public in the United States. It quickly became an approved form of birth control for women and is now a widespread, generally inexpensive, female contraceptive in many countries.
Categories of Female Contraceptives
Female contraceptives, like male contraceptives, can be categorized into the following:
– Barrier methods (to prevent sperm from entering the womb and joining with the egg)
– Behavioral methods (tracking your period, safe sex education)
– Emergency methods (in case of a broken condom or unprotected sex)
– Hormonal methods (utilizing medication and devices to regulate ovulation and hormones)
– Intrauterine devices (IUD) (installing a device in the uterus to prevent pregnancy)
– Sterilization (to permanently prevent pregnancy)
The following methods and devices explained below are dependent on preference, availability, and what an individual’s doctor or gynecologist might suggest.
Birth Control Implant
This hormonal method of female birth control is a small, thin implant about the size of a matchstick that’s placed in an individual’s arm. The purpose of a birth control implant is to regulate the body’s hormones that prevent pregnancy. This kind of female contraceptive is effective for up to 5 years and is popular because it’s low maintenance – once it’s inserted, you don’t need to do anything – and it’s 99% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Birth Control Patch
Falling under the hormonal method of female contraceptives, birth control patches, also known as a transdermal contraceptive patch, is a patch worn on the back, butt, or arm that regulates hormones to prevent pregnancy. The hormones are absorbed through the skin and help thicken the mucus on the cervix, which stops sperm from entering the womb. The patch is 91% effective but must be replaced weekly.
Birth Control Pill
Colloquially known as “The Pill”, this hormonal method of birth control is taken every day to regulate ovulation and prevent pregnancy. While it’s safe, generally inexpensive, and effective, it can be considered a high-maintenance type of contraceptive for some. However, it’s one of the most popular types of female contraceptives due to its affordability and 91% effectiveness.
Birth Control Vaginal Ring
This is a barrier and hormonal method type of contraceptive where a small, flexible ring is fitted inside the vagina. It works by releasing hormones into the body to stop sperm from meeting the egg and to stop ovulation. This type of contraceptive can last from five weeks to a year depending on the brand and type used and is around 91% effective so long as it’s used correctly.
Another barrier method of female contraceptive, cervical caps are small silicone cups shaped like a sailor’s hat that is placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix. They are smaller than diaphragms and can be left inside of the vagina for up to 2 days.
A diaphragm is a barrier method type of contraceptive designed as a flexible cup, which is bent in half and placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix during sex. It’s up to 89% effective, especially if spermicide is used but the individual must remember to insert it before sex. Diaphragms are considered to be more effective than cervical caps.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Named after the fact that it is a device inserted into the uterus, IUD’s are t-shaped pieces of flexible plastic designed to change and redirect the way sperm cells swim so that they can’t get to the egg. Also known as an IUC (Intrauterine contraception), IUD’s come in two types:
– copper IUDs, which are non-hormonal but the copper material acts as a deterrent for sperm; and can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years
– hormonal IUDs, which releases progestin, the hormone to prevent pregnancy; and can prevent pregnancy anywhere between three to seven years
IUD’s are 99% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy and can also fall into the category of emergency contraception as long as they are installed within 5 days of having unprotected sex.
Also known as a “female condom”, this barrier method of contraceptive is a soft plastic pouch inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy and STD’s. It’s around 79% effective but efficiency can be increased by using spermicide, a gel or cream to kill sperm. Female condoms can also be used for anal sex to prevent STDs.
The Rhythm Method
The Rhythm Method or Calendar Method is a behavioral type of birth control where individuals track their menstrual cycle and history in order to predict their next ovulation period. It’s up to 76% effective but works better for individuals whose periods come regularly. It’s a high-maintenance type of contraceptive and barrier methods such as condoms should still be used to increase efficiency and to prevent STDs.
Also called female sterilization, this is a permanent type of birth control for individuals who don’t ever want to get pregnant. “Getting your tubes tied”, as it is colloquially known involves a safe and 99% effective surgical procedure where an individual’s fallopian tubes are closed, cut or removed. An individual can still get their periods and other barrier methods such as condoms should still be used to prevent STDs.
The type of birth control that works best for you really depends on what you prefer, what’s available at your local health clinic, and what your doctor recommends.