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April 18, 2019

Everything you need to know about birth control

From the pill to LARCs to good old abstinence

Women's Health Contraception
Birth control pills 04182019 Image by Gabriela Sanda/from Pixabay


Control over when and if a woman gets pregnant is essential for her physical and mental health. According to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, almost 65 percent of 72.2 million U.S. women aged 15 to 49 used contraception between 2015 and 2017. 

The most common methods were female sterilization (18.6 percent), oral contraceptive pill (12.6 percent), long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) (10.3 percent) and the male condom (8.7 percent).

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Selecting a birth control method is a personalized choice and commitment. It’s a decision that should be made with your health care provider and partner. Remember that an unwanted pregnancy can occur any time you have unprotected sex.

Here is an overview of available birth control options available. (Sources include the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic and the Women's Health Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services):


Both male and female condoms can be used to prevent pregnancy. The male condom is usually made of latex or plastic and creates a barrier so the semen does not enter the woman’s vagina. The female condom is a lubricated tube with a flexible ring at each end with a similar purpose.


Another birth control option is the small, donut-shaped sponge which is coated with spermicide and inserted into the vagina. The diaphragm, a small, reusable rubber or silicone cup, and the cervical cap must also be used with spermicide. The cervical cap requires a snug fit over the cervix so it needs to be custom-fitted by a health care provider during a pelvic exam.


When placed next to the cervix, spermicides not only block the sperm from entering the cervix, they also paralyze or kill that sperm. Spermicides come in foams, jellies and suppositories, and are available at many drug stores.


Women also have the option of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like the IUD (intrauterine device) or implants. The IUD (Mirena, ParaGard, Skyla) is a small T-shaped device made of plastic that can be placed in the uterus for up to 5 to 10 years depending on the type of IUD chosen. Other types include a hormonal implant (Nexplanon)  inserted under the skin of the upper arm by a physician and a contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera).


Depending on a woman’s preference, she can take a prescription birth control pill that still allows her to menstruate every month or one that reduces the frequency of her periods. It is 99 percent effective, if used properly. Mini pills that contain only progestin are a daily option for breastfeeding mothers and women who can’t take estrogen. They are about 95 percent effective.


Both men and women can choose to be permanently sterilized. For women, this means tubal ligation surgery to burn or seal shut the fallopian tubes. For men, a vasectomy involves cutting and sealing the vas deferens.


Emergency contraception, or the "morning-after pill," can be taken by a woman after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. You have to use it within 120 hours or 5 days for it to be effective. One popular version requires two doses of hormones taken 12 hours apart.


No birth control is 100 percent effective so the best way to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy is to abstain from sex. Only you can decide when you are ready to be sexual active.

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