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What Are the Different Family Planning Methods?

Couples have many choices when it comes to family planning methods. Learning more about your family planning options–and which method will best fit your health and lifestyle–can help you to make the right contraceptive choice. Family planning methods include hormonal contraceptives (like the pill), intrauterine devices, barrier methods, and sterilization.

Hormonal Contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives include all types of birth control pills, hormonal contraceptive implants, contraceptive injections, patches, and vaginal rings. All rely upon estrogen and progesterone–or progesterone alone–to prevent pregnancy. Hormonal contraceptives are highly effective when taken as prescribed, but they do come with systemic side effects. Some women will experience weight gain, morning sickness like queasiness, and moodiness on hormonal family planning methods. More seriously, these can also increase the risk of blood clots; your doctor should assess your personal risk factors. Some hormonal contraceptives can reduce the symptoms of premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, improve acne and regulate the menstrual cycle.

Intrauterine Devices

A new IUD on the market has made this a more popular option recently. The Mirena IUD releases a very low dose of hormone over a five-year period, providing extremely effective contraception as well as lighter, shorter periods. Side effects to the low amounts of hormones are minimal, and most women tolerate this IUD very well. Traditional copper IUDs are also an option and offer an effective, reversible contraception method that is good for ten years. These IUDs may cause heavier bleeding and more menstrual discomfort, but they can be ideal if you would like a long term, reversible contraceptive without any possibility of hormonal interference.


One of the most basic family planning methods is available over the counter at any drugstore. Condoms are easy to use, affordable and prevent pregnancy. They also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Condom effectiveness rates are lower than hormonal contraceptives, but–when used properly and combined with a spermicidal gel or foam–they can be a very good family planning option. Latex and polyeurethane condoms both provide pregnancy and STD protection.

Cervical Barrier Methods

Diaphragms and cervical caps work by keeping sperm from reaching the cervix. These typically must be fitted by a physician, but they can be washed and reused for several years. In both cases, spermicide is applied to the cap or diaphragm, and it is inserted over the cervix prior to sexual intercourse. Failure rates are somewhat higher with these barrier methods, but they can act as a good backup for condoms. They may be acceptable if you are less concerned about a potential contraceptive failure.

Natural Family Planning

Today’s natural family planning method or NFP does not rely on a calendar and should not be compared to the rhythm method. NFP requires careful monitoring of fertility signs, including cervical position, cervical fluid and basal body temperature. Couples can then choose whether to have intercourse based on potential fertility. While this method is typically quite effective if practiced carefully, the risk of user error is rather high, and it does require substantial commitment to abstain during fertile periods.


Couples who are done with their families may opt for surgical or other permanent sterilization. Vasectomies are usually an easy, outpatient procedure during which the vas deferens are severed and tied off or cauterized. Tubal ligations cut and cauterize or tie off the fallopian tubes, but the procedure is somewhat more invasive. Essure, a new option on the market, offers permanent sterilization without surgery. A small, spring like implant is inserted into the fallopian tubes in an outpatient procedure. Scar tissue grows to surround the implant, permanently preventing the released egg from reaching the uterus. While surgical sterilization may be reversible, these procedure are best chosen only if you feel quite confident that you will not want another child.

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