Birth control options for women - Introduction


An in-depth report on the birth control options available to women.

Alternative Names



Contraceptives are devices or methods for preventing pregnancy, either by preventing the fertilization of the female egg by the male sperm or by preventing implantation of the fertilized egg.

Contraceptive Options

Choosing the appropriate contraceptive is a personal decision that varies from individual to individual. Contraceptive options include:

  • Hormonal contraceptives (oral contraceptives, skin patch, vaginal ring, implant, injection)
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs), which contain either a hormone or copper
  • Barrier devices with or without spermicides (diaphragm, cervical cap, sponge, condom)
  • Fertility awareness methods (temperature, cervical mucus, calendar, symptothermal)
  • Female sterilization (tubal ligation, Essure)
  • Vasectomy [For more information, see In-Depth Report #37: Vasectomy and vasectomy reversal .]

The condom is the only birth control method that provides protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The pill works in several ways to prevent pregnancy. The pill suppresses ovulation so that an egg is not released from the ovaries, and changes the cervical mucus, causing it to become thicker and making it more difficult for sperm to swim into the womb. The pill also does not allow the lining of the womb to develop enough to receive and nurture a fertilized egg. This method of birth control offers no protection against sexually-transmitted diseases.
Hormone-based contraceptives

Determining Effectiveness

Contraceptive effectiveness is characterized by "typical use" and "perfect use":

  • Typical use refers to real-life conditions, in which mistakes (such as forgetting to take a birth control pill at the right time) sometimes happen.
  • Perfect use refers to contraceptives that are used correctly each time intercourse occurs.

The most effective standard female contraceptives are surgical sterilization, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and the implant. They all have an estimated failure rate of 1% or less during the first year of normal (typical) use. Vasectomy (male surgical sterilization) is the only male contraceptive that is equally effective. By comparison, the estimated failure rate of the male latex condom is 17% with typical use and 2% with perfect use. To put these rates into perspective, a sexually active woman of reproductive age who does not use contraception faces an 85% likelihood of becoming pregnant in the course of a year.



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