A variety of contraceptives are on the market today, available both by prescription and over the counter. These options can be broken down into several basic types: barrier methods, hormonal contraceptives and chemical options. Learn the facts about the different types of contraceptives and how they work to make the choice that works best for your body, needs and lifestyle.
Barrier methods, including condoms, the female condom, diaphragms, cervical caps and sponges, physically block sperm from passing through the cervix and reaching the uterus. The male condom is the most effective and easy to use of the barrier methods. According to Contracept.org, with perfect use, the condom is 98 percent effective. Actual use failure rates are close to 15 percent. Condoms also provide a substantial degree of protection against many sexually transmitted diseases. Barriers that fit over the cervix are substantially less effective after a pregnancy. All barrier methods work best if used alongside a chemical contraceptive, or spermicide.
Chemical Birth Control
Chemical birth control consists of spermicides, or products designed to kill live sperm. Gels, foams and films are available. Alone, these products offer only a limited level of contraceptive protection, so they are most commonly used with a barrier method. Condoms are frequently sold already lubricated with a chemical spermicide like Nonoxynol-9. Some people may find spermicides irritating to the skin, and allergies are a possibility. According to the Children’s Hospital, Boston, frequent use of spermicides may increase the risk of contracting HIV due to vaginal irritation.
Hormonal methods of birth control use progesterone or a combination of estrogen and progesterone to alter a woman’s natural cycle. The hormones in the pill, shot, patch or NuvaRing prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus and thin the uterine lining. Hormonal birth control is one of the most effective options, offering excellent prevention against pregnancy. Unlike barrier methods or chemical contraceptives, hormonal birth control comes with a range of side effects. Some of these, like lessened menstrual flow, may be appreciated. Other side effects include a higher risk of blood clots or strokes, headaches, queasiness and weight gain. Sometimes changing to a different pill or switching from the pill to the patch or ring can reduce side effects.