There are a number of different types of birth control, which vary considerably in effectiveness. People can choose between barrier methods, surgical sterilization, hormonal birth control, and what is known as “natural family planning,” among others. The type of birth control which is right for you depends on your personal beliefs about birth control, your health, and your feelings about the establishment of a family. It is a good idea to discuss birth control methods with your partner and your doctor to select the best method from among the range of types of birth control.
The most basic form of birth control is abstinence. Abstinence from sexual activity is guaranteed to prevent pregnancy, along with sexually transmitted infections. Abstinence from intercourse alone will prevent pregnancy, but may expose someone to sexually transmitted infections, depending on the level of contact involved. Abstinence also satisfies religious concerns about sexuality and birth control.
Barrier methods include things like condoms, diaphragms, and the cervical sponge. These methods are designed to prevent pregnancy by ensuring that sperm never reaches an egg. For people who believe that life begins at fertilization, these methods of birth control may be considered acceptable because a fertilized egg is never involved. These barrier types of birth control are typically used with a chemical spermicide which kills sperm, making the barrier even more effective.
Hormonal methods such as birth control pills, implantable birth control, the birth control shot, hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs), and the vaginal contraceptive ring prevent pregnancy by changing the balance of hormones in the body. The goal is to prevent fertilization, and also to prevent implantation, so that if an egg does become fertilized, it cannot attach to the uterine law. These types of birth control are viewed as controversial among some people because they involve fertilized eggs, and they are only available to women, although male hormonal birth control is under development.
In surgical sterilization, the release of eggs or sperm is prevented with a surgical procedure which essentially cuts the supply line. In men, this procedure is known as a vasectomy, and it is usually done as an outpatient procedure. In women, surgical sterilization is known as tubal ligation, and it requires general anesthesia, making it a more involved procedure. These types of birth control are considered permanent, because they are very difficult to reverse, and they should not be undertaken lightly.
The use of a copper IUD also prevents pregnancy, although the exact mechanism through which copper IUDs work is not fully understood. For people who have religious or ethical concerns about birth control, the copper IUD can be an ambiguous choice, because it may prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs in addition to preventing sperm from reaching the egg.
Finally, some people use what is known as natural family planning (NFP), fertility awareness, or the rhythm method. In this type of birth control, a woman keeps close track of her menstrual cycle so that she knows when she is most at risk of getting pregnant, and she abstains from sex during this stage in her cycle. The effectiveness of this type of birth control varies considerably, with some women finding it very successful, while others struggle to make it work.
Some types of birth control which are not very effective include withdrawal, in which a man attempts to avoid ejaculating during intercourse, along with douching and engaging in sexual activity in hot tubs, under the belief that the heat will kill the sperm. Douching does not prevent pregnancy, and it can make a woman more prone to infections, and likewise with hot tubs.