What is Contraception: A Complete Guide

What is Contraception: A Complete Guide

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30 September 2023 . 6 min read

What is Contraception?

Contraception or birth control is any method, medicine or device used to avoid or prevent pregnancy.   It enables family planning, avoids teenage pregnancies, prevents unsafe abortions, and helps in population control. To know more about what contraceptives are and the most effective one’s for you, continue reading.

 

How do Contraception Methods Work?

Even though different contraceptive methods work in different ways, the primary mechanism common to all – preventing sperm and egg from meeting (fertilisation), which is the main reason why pregnancy occurs.

 

What are the Different Methods of Contraception?

Here are some different methods of contraception:

  • Barrier method

In this method, a barrier is placed between the sperm and egg. Both men and women can use this method. Barrier methods have the added advantage of preventing sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. Some examples of the barrier method are male and female condoms, diaphragm, and cervical cap.

  • Hormonal contraception

This method prevents pregnancy using hormones like oestrogen and progesterone (female reproductive hormones). Contraceptive pills, contraceptive patches, vaginal rings, etc., are examples of hormonal contraceptive methods.

  • Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive Methods (LARCs)

This method includes placing an Intrauterine system (IUS) in the arm, an Intrauterine Device (IUD) into the uterus, or hormonal implants to help prevent pregnancy.

  • Permanent methods

These include sterilisation techniques for both males and females in the form of vasectomy and tubal ligation, respectively.

 

What are the Contraception Methods for Females

Females have many methods of contraception to choose from. These methods can be grouped broadly into the following categories: 

  • Permanent Methods

These are surgical methods that cannot be reversed. The method is called tubal ligation, where a female's fallopian tubes are tied to prevent sperm from meeting the egg, thus preventing pregnancy. 

  • Temporary Methods

These methods can work for the long and short term and include all contraceptive methods like condoms, oral pills, and emergency contraceptive pills that do not involve surgery. 

  • Female Condoms: These are soft plastic pouches inserted into the vagina to prevent sperm from entering. The woman wears them before sex.
  • Diaphragm and cervical cap: It is a circular cup-shaped silicone device placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix.
  • Long-Acting Methods

This method includes placing an Intrauterine system (IUS) in the arm or an Intrauterine Device (IUD) in the uterus. They are of three types, namely:

  • Hormonal Implants: A thin rod of 4 cm is implanted in the upper arm. This method of contraception works for up to 3 years.
  • Hormonal intrauterine devices IUDs alter the cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. They work for up to 5 years.
  • Copper intrauterine devices (Copper IUDs): These IUDs work the longest, for up to 10 years, and make it difficult for the sperm and egg to meet.

These last for 3-10 years and are 99% effective when used correctly. 

  • Short Acting Methods: These methods are short-term, like for days, weeks, or months. They include:
  • Contraceptive Pills: If you are wondering what contraceptive pills are? here’s what you should know. These pills contain progesterone or a combination of progesterone and oestrogen. They work when taken regularly at the same time. The medicines come in 21-day, 28-day, and 90-day pill You need to take 3 weeks of pills followed by 2 to 7 days of pill-free days when you get your periods.
  • Contraceptive Patch: This is a small sticky patch that releases hormones into the blood from the skin to prevent pregnancy.
  • Vaginal Ring: It is a thin, soft, plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina, where it continuously releases hormones like oestrogen and progesterone to prevent pregnancy.
  • Injectable Contraceptive: This contraceptive contains synthetic progesterone, medroxyprogesterone acetate, or DMPA. It prevents pregnancy by thickening the fluid at the uterine entrance to stop the sperm from entering.
  • Emergency contraception (Morning-after pill): This medicine must be taken after engaging in unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It includes taking a pill within 24 hours (maximum effectiveness) up to 3 or 5 days (depending upon the pill).

 

Other Methods of Contraception in Females

There are other methods of preventing pregnancy that are only effective when used correctly.  

  • Natural Family Planning Methods

When following this method, females can monitor their monthly cycle to note the days they are most likely to get pregnant. These are the days when ovulation occurs (usually halfway through your menstrual cycle). The egg remains viable for up to 24 hours, during which sperm should meet the egg for pregnancy. Avoiding sexual activity a few days before and after ovulation is generally followed.  

  • Rhythm method

This is one of the oldest methods of natural family planning and presumes that a woman ovulates around the 14th day of her cycle, considering the normal menstrual cycle lasts 28 to 32 days. 

  • Cervical mucus or ovulation method

A woman can track the consistency of mucus that the cervix makes. During ovulation, the mucus is clear, stretchy, and like raw egg whites. This indicates that the woman is fertile and may want to avoid sexual contact if she does not want to get pregnant. In most women, this method is only 76% effective. 

  • Basal body temperature (BBT) method

A woman’s body temperature can rise between 0.5 to 1 degree when ovulating and stay at that level until the next period. So, women can take their temperature before getting out of bed each morning to determine when the temperature rises. 

 

What are the Contraceptive Methods for Males?

Let us understand some different ways of contraception which men can practice:  

  • Permanent Method

The permanent method of contraception in males is called vasectomy. This is a surgical procedure in which the tubes that carry sperm to the semen are cut and tied to prevent the sperm from entering the semen.

  • Temporary Method

This is the most commonly used contraceptive method in men and includes the male condom. The male condom prevents pregnancy and protects from STIs when used correctly.

  • Withdrawal or Pull Out Method

This method involves removing the penis from the vagina before the male ejaculates (releasing semen containing sperm). It has a 22% failure rate because the pre-ejaculation secretion may also contain sperms that may enter the vagina. This method does not protect against STDs. 

  • Outercourse Method

Outercourse means engaging in activities that will not result in pregnancy, such as oral sex or using vibrators. As long as the semen does not come in contact with the vagina, there is no risk of pregnancy. The risk of STIs remains. 

  • Abstinence Method

Abstinence involves avoiding sexual activity altogether. This method has zero risk of pregnancy and eliminates the likelihood of STIs. However, complete restriction of sexual activity might be difficult. 

However, the abovementioned methods for preventing pregnancy are effective only when used correctly.

 

What are the Advantages of Contraception?

  • Reduce unintended pregnancies
  • Improve sexual health
  • Enable family planning
  • Protect from STIs
  • Ensure good maternal and child health

 

Conclusion

Awareness and knowledge about contraceptives are essential. Various contraceptive methods have multiple benefits and risks with different rates of success. These can be employed for couples to ensure family planning.