When you are sexually active but don't want to become pregnant, you should use some form of contraception, or birth control. Choosing the appropriate birth control method involves weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each method and choosing the method that best fits into your lifestyle.
It is important to remember that in order for a birth control method to be fully effective, you must use it consistently and correctly. It is also important to remember that the only birth control method that protects you against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is the male condom.
Barrier methods of birth control physically block sperm from entering the uterus. Spermicides use chemicals to kill the sperm before they reach the female egg.
The male condom is a thin sheaf that fits over the erect penis and catches the semen before it enters the vagina. When condoms are used properly, they not only prevent pregnancy but also offer protection against the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases.
When choosing a birth control method, think about:
The female condom is a single-use, disposable sheath connected by two rings that is inserted into the vagina before intercourse. It can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse.
The diaphragm is a reusable round rubber disk that fits inside the vagina to cover the cervix. It can be inserted up to 2 hours before intercourse and should be left in for 6-8 hours following intercourse. A diaphragm must be fitted by a doctor, is available only by prescription, and should be used with a spermicide.
The cervical cap is like a mini diaphragm that fits snugly over the cervix and is held in place by suction. Cervical caps are generally less effective than other forms of contraception.
A sponge is a soft, disk shaped device that contains a spermicide. It is inserted into the vagina before intercourse and must remain in place for at least 6 hours after intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The sponge must be removed within 30 hours after it is inserted.
An intrauterine device is a plastic or metal device that the doctor places into your uterus to prevent fertilization. The IUD can remain in place for up to 10 years.
The intrauterine system (IUS) is a term used for a diaphragm that progressively releases progestin. The IUS is placed into your uterus by a doctor and can remain in place for up to 5 years.
Spermicides prevent contraception by using chemicals to kill the sperm before they reach the female egg. They are often used with condoms and diaphragms to increase their effectiveness.
If you are certain that you never want to have a child or have additional children, you can elect to use surgery to permanently prevent pregnancy. Women may undergo tubal ligation surgery to seal the fallopian tubes with an electric current, clip, or ring. A non-surgical option is to have your doctor insert a small implant through your vagina into your fallopian tubes to block the fertilization of eggs.
Men may undergo a vasectomy to cut or clamp the two tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis. The vasectomy is safer and easier to perform than a tubal ligation.
If you have intercourse without contraception and do not want to become pregnant, a series of birth control pills can be taken to prevent pregnancy. The pills must be taken as soon as possible after intercourse without contraception but are effective within 72 hours. While highly effective, they should never be used as the primary form of contraception.