What are the Different Types of Female Contraceptives?

J.M. Densing

Female contraceptives make up the majority of birth control devices available, and there are many types available. Most female contraceptives can be categorized as either hormonal or barrier variants. Examples of hormonal methods include the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring. Barrier methods include options like the female condom, diaphragm, and the cervical cap. Emergency contraception is also available for women who are in danger of an undesired pregnancy due to failure of their chosen method or other circumstances beyond their control.

It is possible to get pregnant while using contraceptives, but it's rare.
It is possible to get pregnant while using contraceptives, but it's rare.

The use of female contraceptives encourage greater reproductive freedom; they are defined as any birth control devices used by women. Hormonal methods form one category of female contraceptives; these work by affecting the balance of hormones in the woman's body to prevent her from becoming pregnant. The pill is the most common hormonal method; when used properly, it is over 99% effective, and most require the woman to take a pill each day or for three weeks out of every four. There are many different formulations of the pill available, such as combination pills that use two hormones, mini or low dose pills, and progestin-only pills. Various formulas have different side effects, and some women have to try several to find one that works well for their body with minimal side effects.

A copper IUD.
A copper IUD.

There are also several other hormonal female contraceptives including the patch, the vaginal ring, and the contraceptive injection. The patch is worn on the skin for a week at a time, usually on the hip, rear end, or upper arm; a new one is applied weekly for three weeks, then the fourth is taken off for menstruation. The vaginal ring is a flexible circlet that is placed inside the vagina for three weeks then removed for one, and the contraceptive injection is a shot that is administered at three or one month intervals. All of these methods have a range of side effects that mimic pregnancy symptoms such as bloating, nausea, mood swings, and weight gain, but each woman's body is unique and reacts differently.

Barrier methods of female contraception prevent pregnancy by physically preventing the sperm from being able to fertilize the egg. These include the female condom, the sponge, the cervical cap, and the diaphragm and are generally less effective than hormonal methods. The female condom is a loose, polyurethane, bag-like pouch with a ring at each end that is placed inside the woman's vagina before intercourse and covers the vagina and the area around it as well as the cervix. The sponge is a rounded piece of polyurethane foam, the cervical cap is a latex or rubber cup-shaped device, and the diaphragm is dome shaped soft rubber stretched over a bendable ring. All of them are placed deep inside the vagina over the opening to the cervix. Each of the barrier female contraceptives should be used with spermicidal foam or gel meant to kill sperm in addition to blocking it.

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a type of female contraceptive implanted in the body. It's a small T-shaped device containing copper or hormones inserted into the woman's uterus that can be left in place for five to 10 years. It prevents pregnancy by changing the cervical mucus to lower the chances of fertilization and stopping implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterine wall. It is said to be 99% effective. Emergency contraception is also available, consisting of two high dose hormone pills taken two days apart in the event of unplanned, unprotected intercourse, in cases of sexual assault or a failed birth control method like a broken condom, for example.

Hormonal contraceptive pills.
Hormonal contraceptive pills.

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