Birth control or contraception is the process of preventing pregnancy or conception or the creation of a zygote. There are many different methods of contraception, and to be able to choose one that is right for you, you must first have an idea of how each method works. Knowing the process of fertilization can help and guide you in understanding the different methods of birth control.
The process of fertilization is a complex wonder. For successful conception to happen, the following events must occur:
- A woman must release a healthy and viable egg from her ovary to her fallopian tube.
- A man must release healthy and viable sperms that must unite with the egg to form a zygote in the fallopian tube.
- The zygote must then travel through the fallopian to the uterus. It should implant there and start to grow.
- The woman’s uterus should be able to carry and sustain the growing fetus until it is ready for delivery.
Types of contraception
Birth control methods aim to prevent fertilization by inhibiting one or more of the steps mentioned above. In general, birth control methods can be classified into the following:
- Hormonal Birth Control
- Barrier Methods
- Intra-uterine Device
- Emergency Methods
- Permanent methods
- Natural Methods
Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control methods come in the form of pills, patches, injections, rings, or implants. The most popular among these are the “birth control pills” or “oral contraceptive pills” or “mini-pills.” These medications are synthetic versions of the body’s sex hormones that, when administered, alter the normal levels of hormones in a woman’s body. By so doing, these pills, patches, or devices prevent the ovulation (egg production) of a woman.
These hormonal birth control methods vary in their administration. Pills have to be taken daily for it to be effective. Patches are placed on the skin and are replaced weekly. Hormonal injections are given every 3 months. Implants (small rods that release hormones) are placed surgically under the skin and are effective for 3 to 5 years. The manner of administration and the duration of action of these different kinds of contraception are important factors when selecting a particular method.
Barrier methods of contraception are devices that prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. Common examples of these barriers are male condoms, female condoms, cervical cap, and diaphragms. These devices are worn before intercourse and are disposed after. Male condoms are placed over the male’s penis to catch all the semen during ejaculation. Female condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms are inserted into the vagina to prevent the sperm from passing through. Cervical caps and diaphragms are often used with spermicides. Spermicides are cream, gel, or suppository that are applied in the vaginal canal to kill sperms.
The advantage of barrier methods, especially the condom, is their ability to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Also, barrier methods do not affect the hormonal status of the body, so these are safe in breastfeeding women. Moreover, they are convenient to use and can be procured on “as-needed” basis.
An intrauterine device or IUD is a small T-shaped device that is inserted in the uterus. This device disrupts the environment inside the uterus such that the sperm are prevented from passing through and the prevention of implantation of a fertilized egg. Some of these devices release hormones that prevent women from ovulating. The advantage of IUDs is their long duration of action. Some of these devices can be effective for 3 to 12 years. However, these devices have to be inserted and removed only by a trained medical doctor.
Although not advisable as a regular form of contraception, emergency contraceptive methods are also available after an episode of unprotected sex. Commonly known as the “morning after pill,” this medication is effective in preventing conception if taken within 3-5 days after intercourse. Of course, the sooner this is taken after intercourse, the greater is its efficacy in preventing conception.
Permanent methods include surgical procedures that are done to alter the anatomy of the reproductive tract and prevent the sperm from meeting the egg permanently. These methods include vasectomy in men and tubal ligation in women. In vasectomy, the vas deferens (the tubules in men where the sperm passes) are cut and ligated, effectively cutting off the passageways of the sperm towards the outside world. In tubal ligation, the fallopian tubes (the tubes where the egg lodges and waits for the sperms) are cut and ligated, effectively making it impossible for the sperm to reach the egg. These two methods are permanent and are advised only for those with completed family size.
Some individuals prefer to use natural methods of family planning. These methods do not use devices or medications to prevent conception. Instead, these methods take advantage of the natural biological cycle to identify when a woman is most fertile. Examples of these methods are the calendar or rhythm method, basal body temperature method, and cervical mucus method. These methods are all about timing. In the calendar method, a woman is assumed to be most fertile on her 14th day of the cycle. In basal body temperature, it is assumed that a woman’s body temperature rises during ovulation. In cervical mucus methods, it is assumed that a woman’s cervical mucus becomes thinner during ovulation. By identifying these signs, the ovulation date of a woman can be identified, and intercourse is timed as far away as possible from the day of ovulation.
Other much less effective natural methods are withdrawal, or the process of ejaculation outside the woman’s vagina.
Choosing the right contraceptive method for you
There is no single best contraceptive method. Choosing a contraceptive method should be individualized. It should depend on:
- Your ability to adhere to a specific method—some find it difficult to take one pill a day
- Your desired duration of contraception—some want methods that are long lasting, and some even choose permanent contraception
- Your budget—implants and IUDs can be expensive
- Your willingness to undergo invasive procedures—some contraceptive methods involves surgical procedures
- Your health status—some hormonal methods are contraindicated in breastfeeding women and in some diseases
- Your beliefs—some religious organizations are not open to the idea of artificial contraception
Whatever these factors are, you should make the decision with your partner and with your healthcare provider.