Contraceptives are a fact of life for most women from their teens through menopause. Effective birth control, used correctly, is critical to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Access to birth control has revolutionized women’s rights, but finding a contraceptive that works and has minimal side effects still remains difficult, even in today’s world.
Avoiding pregnancy has been a concern for as long as the basic mechanics have been understood. Early attempts at contraception were largely barrier methods, either applied to the penis, like a condom, or to the cervix, like a diaphragm. By 1838, vulcanized rubber condoms and diaphragms were available, and Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in 1916. The introduction of the birth control pill in 1960 revolutionized women’s options.
Birth control allows women to control when or if they become pregnant. Pregnancy and motherhood limit women’s options, cause financial burdens and may reduce employment options. The introduction of the reliable and effective oral contraceptive pill in 1960 offered women the option of increased sexual freedom and participation in the public sector.
Contraception can work in several ways. Hormonal contraceptives, including the birth control pill, patch, shots and implants use estrogen, progesterone or a combination of the two to prevent ovulation, thin the uterine lining and thicken cervical mucus. Barrier methods, including condoms and diaphragms, prevent sperm from reaching the uterus. Chemical contraceptives are often combined with a barrier method and work by killing sperm in semen. Finally, intrauterine devices (IUDs) prevent pregnancy by impacting the uterine environment in several ways, depending upon the type of IUD.
Different types of birth control may be more or less effective. Birth control of any type must be used correctly, every time, in order to prevent pregnancy. Barrier methods can be combined with spermicide, and women who have had children should realize that diaphragms, cervical caps and the sponge are less effective after childbirth. Combine more than one type of contraceptive to further reduce the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
Latex allergies, health concerns and other factors can make it difficult to find a birth control choice that works for you. If you have allergies to latex, consider polyurethane condoms as an alternative. Side effects to oral or other hormonal birth control may be reduced if you try a different brand, but some women should avoid these contraceptives due to high blood pressure, smoking or other risk factors. Barrier methods typically offer the fewest side effects but are less effective.