Choosing the right birth control for you is a tough decision. Birth control has brought about a level of control for women and family planning over the last several decades that has never existed in the history of humanity prior.  Knowing all the different birth control options available to you and your partner can help you to make an informed choice for what is a very personal decision. This is a simple overview of the many different types of birth control available and the four different categories they fall into.


Barrier Methods

One of the oldest artificial birth control methods in the world that intervenes in the conception process are condoms.  The first synthetic condoms were created from rubber in 1855 and then from latex in the 1920s.  Condoms both keep the sperm from reaching the egg, therefore preventing conception, and also help protect from many STIs excluding herpes, syphillis, HPV, and public lice.  Diaphragms work similarly and prevent sperm from traveling through the cervix but must be used in conjunction with spermicides.  Diaphragms provide control for the woman using them in terms of protection from pregnancy.  They do not, however, protect against any STIs like condoms do.


Natural Methods

Abstinence, breastfeeding, withdrawal, and fertility awareness are all natural forms of birth control or natural family planning that do not require the intervention hormones or barriers.  Abstinence is simply the act of choosing to not have sex and therefore, not risk pregnancy.  This not always a choice women wish to pursue.  Women who have recently had children can utilize breastfeeding as a form of birth control for up to six months.  Women who breastfeed exclusively release a hormone that does not allow a woman to ovulate.  This method is used by women all over the world.  The withdrawal method is an option if the woman’s partner is willing to take responsibility for their family planning choices.  The withdrawal or pull-out method, when used correctly, can be more effective than even a diaphragm.  This method is where the man pulls-out prior to ejactulating and takes a lot of self-knowledge and control to predict accurately.  Lastly, fertility awareness, also known as natural family planning, is where you track your cycles in order to know when ovulation is occurring so as to choose not to have sex during that time.  All of these natural methods should be discussed with your doctor to help you understand how to make them most effective for you.   


Hormonal Methods

The first form of hormonal birth control was the mixed hormone pill called Enovid and was released by the FDA in 1960.  Along with birth control pills, other hormonal options include the implant, patch, Depo-Provera shot, NuvaRing, emergency contraceptive pill, and some intrauterine devices (IUD).  While hormonal birth control methods do not provide any level of STI protection, they do provide a consistent level of control for women.  Many women experience more regular menstrual cycles that are lighter and more predictable.  The pill has to be taken every day, and if it’s progesterone only, at the same time.  The patch lasts for a week at a time, the NuvaRing for a month, and Depo for up to three months.  The implant and IUD last longer than any of the other options.  The implant lasts up to three years and depending on the IUD, they can last 3 to 12 years.  The IUD can be hormonal or nonhormonal.  Most have a small amount of progesterone in them to help create lighter periods.  There is a nonhormonal copper IUD for women who cannot use or do not want to use hormones.  Along with control, hormonal birth control methods can help reduce acne, prevent cysts, and provide some protection against endometrial and ovarian cancers just to name a few.  Lastly worth mentioning is what is known as the morning after pill or emergency birth control.  Though you shouldn’t rely on an emergency hormonal birth control, it is available for situations where it may be necessary.  Emergency contraception only works if you’re not pregnant and take it within the recommended time frame after unprotected sex.  Both options on the market temporarily prevent an egg from being released from the ovary, therefore stopping fertilization.     


Permanent Methods

There are two forms of permanent birth control.  The easiest is for a man to have a procedure called a vasectomy.  This is an in-office process where a small incision is made and the vas deferens, that allow sperm to mix with the seminal fluid, are blocked.  The process of sterilization for women is more invasive but has changed a lot in the last 15 years.  Essure allows for a spring-like insert into the fallopian tubes, disrupting fertilization.  A tubal ligation in the operating room is also an option.  This can be done after women have completed their family or if there are other reasons where it would be beneficial or wanted.  


Choosing the right birth control methods for you and your partner is essential.  Discussing this with your obstetrician or gynecologist will help inform you further of all the options available and which one is best for your unique needs.  

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