Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is Contraception or Birth Control?

Sexual intercourse serves multiple purposes including reduction of stress and emotional bonding between partners. However, it may be argued that the primary function of heterosexual intercourse is procreation or the conception of healthy offspring. This outcome is not always desirable, though, and often individuals feel the need to prevent it. Reasons for this can be many and varied, ranging from personal choice to occupational requirement to the medical risks of a possible pregnancy.

Several methods have been devised over the centuries, and with varied success, to enable individuals to engage in sexual intercourse in such a way as to avoid pregnancy. These techniques are collectively referred to as contraceptive measures. In other words, these are techniques and devices that prevent the occurrence of conception or pregnancy.

‘Safe sex’ is a term used to refer to sexual intercourse where at least one partner uses an effective form of contraception such as a condom not only to prevent conception but also to prevent possible transmission of infections.


Why Use Contraceptives?

CONTRACEPTION methodsThe use of contraceptives is actively advocated by governments and health institutions for a variety of reasons. These include planned parenthood, prevention of teenage pregnancies and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Some common reasons are listed below:

  • Planned Parenthood. The use of contraceptives allows partners to determine when they are ready to conceive. This decision may be based on a variety of considerations such as the health of the parents, their age or their emotional or financial readiness. Those who wish to have more than one child can use contraceptive measures to determine the interval between the births of their children.
  • Avoiding conception. Individuals who wish never to conceive, for personal or health reasons, would necessarily need to opt for some form of contraception.
  • Preventing the spread of STDs. The use of contraceptives is advised not only for heterosexual couples but also for homosexual partners. This is because devices such as condoms (barrier contraceptives) can help to restrict the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases such as syphilis, HIV, and chlamydia.
  • Prevention of early pregnancy. Birth control is especially recommended for sexually active teenagers or young adults.
  • Health risks associated with pregnancy. Women suffering from certain kinds of diseases may suffer critical complications if they pregnant. Such individuals can use birth control to prevent pregnancy.
  • Occupational requirements. In certain professions, such as athletics or swimming, women may opt for contraceptives in order to avoid performance being affected by menstruation.
  • Possible health benefits. Maternal health can deteriorate with multiple successive pregnancies without a reasonable interval for recovery. Contraception allows women to choose whether they would like to conceive and, if so, when. Some women also choose to use certain forms of contraception because these offer benefits such as regulating the menstrual cycle, reducing acne breakouts or even relieving premenstrual pain.


What are the Different Methods of Contraception and How Do They Work?

CONTRACEPTION IUDsThere are several known methods of birth control.

These vary in approach and effectiveness. The majority are meant for the use of women.

These methods may be used individually or in combination with increased effectiveness and combined benefits.

The list below is not exhaustive but enumerates a variety of contraceptive measures, including modern and traditional ones.

  • Condoms: These are barrier contraceptives. In other words, they function by forming a barrier between the sperm and ovum. Condoms designed for the use of men are different from those meant for women. The male condom is worn on the penis in order to collect ejaculate and prevent it from entering the partner’s body. The female condom is worn inside the vagina. Both versions are considered highly effective when used correctly. Even so, these are not failsafe.
  • Intra-Uterine Device (IUD): This is a long-acting and reversible method that involves the insertion of a T-shaped device into the uterus. This device works by preventing fertilization and preventing the uterine lining from growing thick, effectively discouraging implantation in the event of fertilization.
  • Spermicide: This method involves inserting a substance in the form of a foam, film or gel preparation into the vagina before intercourse in order to destroy sperm. Over the centuries, different cultures have developed their own versions of this as in the case of pessaries soaked with spermicidal ingredients like lactic acid or citric acid. Modern spermicides are based on synthetic chemical formulae but overall, users are advised not to rely on this method alone since it has a high failure rate. It is preferable to use this in combination with a barrier method such as a cervical cap or a diaphragm.
  • Oral contraceptives: These are available in the form of pills containing a combination of hormones that work by preventing ovulation. These are considered very effective when taken regularly. However, there can be side effects, both desirable and undesirable ones. Another form of this is the emergency contraceptive or the ‘morning after’ pill meant to be taken soon after unprotected sex.
  • Coitus Interruptus: Certain cultures or faiths do not support the use of artificial contraceptives. Individuals subscribing to these belief systems may opt for methods such as coitus interruptus which involves withdrawing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation. This method may also be used in instances where no other form of contraception is readily available. However, this is generally believed to have limited effectiveness.
  • Rhythm method: This method may also be practiced in cultures that do not approve of artificial contraception. It is a set of practices based on awareness of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle and avoiding intercourse during the fertile period, usually the days preceding and succeeding ovulation.
  • Sterilisation: This is a permanent, irreversible method of contraception. This method involves clamping, cutting or blocking the fallopian tubes in women (tubal occlusion or fallopian implants) or the vas deferens in men (vasectomy) to achieve permanent sterilization. This prevents the release of ova and sperm respectively, thus negating the possibility of conception.
  • Lactational amenorrhea method: When an infant is exclusively fed on breast milk, the mother will not normally experience menstrual bleeding. This may last up to six months or longer following childbirth. As long as this condition persists, sexual intercourse will not result in fertilization.


Types of Contraception

Methods of birth control can be classified in several different ways:

  • They may be natural methods or artificial methods. The former category includes the use of herbal preparations or even coitus interruptus. Most modern contraceptives fall into the latter category.
  • Contraceptives may be long-acting (like IUDs) or short-term measures (condoms).
  • Birth control measures may be reversible or irreversible. Sterilisation is an irreversible measure. Nearly all other methods are reversible.
  • Barrier contraceptives work by creating a physical barrier between sperm and ova. Examples include condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, and sponges.
  • Spermicidal contraceptives are those that work by killing sperm.
  • Hormonal methods function by preventing ovulation. Examples of these are pills, patches, injections and vaginal rings.


Are There Any Side Effects or Complications?

Some methods are completely free of side effects whereas others are capable of causing both desirable as well as undesirable side effects. Hormonal methods, in particular, are capable of causing both kinds of side effects. Therapeutic effects include reduction of premenstrual discomfort or prevention of acne. On the other hand, hormonal methods can induce difficulties such as loss of libido, headaches, mood swings, weight gain, and nausea. Some individuals suffer from what is known as latex allergy when using condoms. Of course, when contraceptives fail, they can lead to unwanted pregnancy or even the spread of STDs.


How Does One Choose the Best Method?

CONTRACEPTION pregnancyThe choice of contraceptive method must be made taking multiple factors into account such as allergies, age, general health of the individual and whether or not they to conceive in the foreseeable future. Those who do not wish to conceive at all may opt for permanent and one-time measures such as hysterectomy or vasectomy.

Condoms need to be inserted or worn every time intercourse takes place. This may not be preferable in all instances in which cases long-acting measures such as intrauterine devices may serve. Emergency measures such as the morning after pill may be used on rare occasions whereas the regular birth control pill is meant to be taken on a daily basis. In order to make an informed choice, one must take the advice of a certified medical practitioner.


Treatment and prevention

Side effects

  • Reduced risk of cancer – Those who are on the birth control pill have 30-50% lesser chances of getting endometrial and ovarian cancer.
  • Fewer cramps – With a more regulated regime of estrogen and progestin entering your body, your menstrual cycle tends to get on a more predictable schedule. Once you get adjusted to the pill, your periods may become lighter, resulting in less painful cramps.
  • Intermenstular bleeding – This is one of the side effects of using birth control. In order to control this symptom don’t stop taking your pills abruptly, take your pills at the same time every day, and do not indulge in smoking.
  • Breast tenderness – This is another side effect of using contraceptives. This generally goes away in a few days on its own, but if it does not make sure to consult your doctor.
  • Nausea – Make sure to consume only light and plain foods such as bread and crackers.

Women who need to be careful while taking oral contraception.

  • Already pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are not sure if you are pregnant or if you experience any unexpected spotting and irregular period, make sure to get a checkup done by your doctor.
  • Make sure to keep an eye out for the side effects of contraceptives if you are older than 35.
  • If you smoke or consume recreational drugs, make sure to tell your doctor in advance to make sure that they provide you with the right method of contraception.
  • Have a history of blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, current deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
  • Have a history of breast cancer.
  • Healing from any major injury.


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