No method of birth control, save abstinence is 100% effective against preventing pregnancy. All birth control methods are prone to human error, and each method may fail even if used properly.
Birth control methods come in many different types. These are barrier methods, hormonal methods, intrauterine devices (IUDs), natural methods, permanent sterilization, and post sexual activity contraceptives. All of these methods have merits, and all have risks. Only barrier methods like male and female condoms reduce risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The male condom is probably most familiar of the birth control options. This is a latex sheath worn over the penis during sexual contact and intercourse. When used correctly according to instructions, the condom is judged at between 87-90% effective as birth control. Women may instead use a female condom as a contraceptive. This is inserted into the vagina up to eight hours prior to sex. It is not as effective as the male condom; it will prevent pregnancy about 79% of the time.
Many people use spermicides with either condom as an added form of protection. Also considered a barrier method, spermicides can come in the forms of gels, suppositories or foam that are placed in the woman’s vagina. Their primary function is to kill any sperm entering the vagina.
Another barrier contraceptive method is the diaphragm. This is also inserted into the woman’s vagina prior to intercourse, and is used with spermicide or foam. Diaphragms are only available by prescription and one must be fitted with the appropriate size through a gynecological exam. They are about 82% effective in preventing pregnancy. Similar to the diaphragm is another form of barrier method called the cervical cap. This is available by prescription and fits over the cervix. It is always used with spermicide as extra protection. The cervical cap has about an 80% effectiveness rate.
Sponges, another barrier method, can be purchased over the counter. These are placed over the cervix and release spermicide. They do run the danger of dislodging during intercourse and are about 64-82% effective in preventing pregnancy.
The IUD, a device implanted in the uterus, is also a barrier method. There are two main types of IUD, one that contains copper and one that contains hormones. When the IUD releases hormones, it is about 98% effective. Both types of IUD prevent pregnancy by affecting how the sperm travels to the egg. However, it does carry risks for side effects like pelvic inflammatory disease. Should a woman become pregnant with an IUD implant in the uterus, the pregnancy has a 50% chance of ending in miscarriage.
Hormonal methods for birth control used to be limited to “The Pill,” a daily dose of hormones that prevented ovulation in women. These doses have changed over time, and women can now use pills that are much lower in hormones. Further, a hormone patch is now available which is replaced weekly. There are also hormone injections available. This makes forgetting to take the pill less likely-one need only remember to replace patches on a weekly basis or get regular injections. Hormone birth control proves about 97% effective in reducing pregnancy.
The morning after pill is an “after sex” pill which women may take after unprotected sex. It involves taking a very high dose of hormones to prevent pregnancy or egg implantation. The morning after pill carries a 75% effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy.
Natural birth control, often called the rhythm method is a process of counting days to reasonably predict when a woman is ovulating. During this time, sexual activity is avoided. Women also may analyze body temperature and vaginal mucus in order to predict ovulation. This may work fairly well with women with regular cycles, but irregular cycles may make ovulation much harder to predict. It is difficult to gauge effectiveness with natural methods. Any unprotected sex drastically increases risk of pregnancy.
Permanent sterilization may be a contraception option for people who never wish to have children. There are two forms. Men can have a vasectomy, where the ducts that provide sperm to the testicles are cut. Alternately, women can undergo tubal ligation, where the tubes leading from the ovaries to the uterus are cut. Of these, a vasectomy is a much less invasive procedure, normally done in a doctor’s office. Tubal ligation requires surgery and general anesthesia. Both methods may be highly effective, but usually this takes several months to determine. Permanent sterilization proves to be about 100% effective when the body does not self-heal the pathways to the testicles or uterus.