Contraception - male, female - definition, types and methods

Contraception Definition

Any of various methods, also called birth control, intended to prevent PREGNANCY. Contraception allows sexually active women and their partners to prevent as well as plan pregnancies.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960. Thirteen years later the US Supreme Court legalized elective ABORTION. Though they remain controversial even today, these two events were pivotal in the arena of reproductive choice and planning because they were the first methods that placed contraception in the control of women. Now, nearly all forms of contraception are for the woman’s use.

MethodMale or FemaleAvailabilityEase of UseEffectiveness When Used Correctly
cervical cap female prescription only; health-care provider must measure and fit must insert before SEXUAL INTERCOURSE
must use with spermicide
must remove after specified time
85 percent when woman has not had vaginal CHILDBIRTH
70 percent when woman has had vaginal childbirth
cervical shield female prescription only must insert before sexual intercourse
must use with spermicide
must remove after specified time
85 percent
condom male most common; female available over the counter (OTC) must put on before each sexual act
must withdraw from partner and remove condom for disposal while PENIS remains erect
female condom may be difficult to insert
male condom: 85 to 98 percent
female condom: 80 to 95 percent
continuous abstinence both personal commitment challenging 100 percent
contraceptive patch female prescription only woman applies once a month 99.9 percent
contraceptive ring female prescription only woman inserts during MENSTRUATION, leaves in place 3 weeks, then removes 98 percent
contraceptive sponge female OTC must insert before sexual intercourse
must remove after specified time
65 to 90 percent
depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injection female prescription only; health-care provider must administer received every 12 weeks 99.9 percent
diaphragm female prescription only; health-care provider must measure and fit must insert before sexual intercourse
must use with spermicide
must remove after specified time
85 to 94 percent
fertility awareness both personal commitment requires diligent effort from both partners 75 to 99 percent
intrauterine device (IUD) female prescription only; health-care provider must insert requires no attention once inserted
can stay in the UTERUS for 5 to 12 years, depending on type
99 percent
oral contraceptives female prescription only daily or weekly pill 99 percent
spermicide female OTC must apply before each sexual act 70 to 85 percent
tubal ligation female requires surgery requires no effort after OPERATION
nearly 100 percent (1 in 300 failure rate)
vasectomy male requires in-office operative procedure requires no effort after operation
nearly 100 percent (1 in 500 failure rate)

Common forms of contraception include barrier methods, hormonal methods, mechanical methods, chemical methods, surgical methods, timing methods, and continuous abstinence. Some methods, such as oral contraceptives (birth control pills) and diaphragms, require a doctor’s prescription. Others are invasive, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), TUBAL LIGATION, and VASECTOMY. Still other methods of contraception are available for purchase without prescription or physician approval, sold in locations from grocery and drugstores to dispenser machines in public bathrooms. Most public health departments freely hand out over-the-counter (OTC) methods of contraception, notably condoms.

Contraceptive effectiveness relies primarily on proper use of the method and varies widely among methods as well as within a particular method. The most reliable methods of contraception are those that are in place or effective without any effort at the time of sexual activity. Methods that have the ability to provide nearly 100 percent prevention of pregnancy may actually result in much lower prevention when not used properly. Only about 40 percent of women take oral contraceptives precisely as the label instructions direct, for example, raising the risk for unintended pregnancy.

Many people combine methods to optimize protection from pregnancy, for example using barrier contraception (condom or diaphragm) with chemical methods (spermicides). Only condoms (male or female) also provide protection against SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES (STDS). A woman who takes oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy but has more than one sexual partner also needs the protection of a condom. Partners also should wear condoms for sexual activity during outbreaks of GENITAL HERPES and if they are HIV positive or have HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS (HPV) or HEPATITIS B or C.

Emergency contraception is available through pharmacies in the United States without a doctor’s prescription. Emergency contraception, also called the “morning after pill,” is a high DOSE of an oral contraceptive. The hormones in the medication alter the environment within the UTERUS such that a fertilized ovum (egg) cannot implant. The woman must take emergency contraception no later than 72 hours after unprotected SEXUAL INTERCOURSE.


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