Birth control, also known as contraception, refers to any activity, medication, or equipment used to prevent pregnancy.

Choosing a method of birth control is highly personal. Factors to consider include your health, age, frequency of sexual activity, desire to have children in the future, and family medical history. It's important to consult your doctor when choosing a method, whether or not your choice requires a prescription.

Methods of Birth Control

Birth control methods vary in effectiveness and work in different ways. They can kill sperm or block it from reaching the egg. Some methods prevent eggs from being released by the ovaries. Others change the cervical mucus to hinder sperm from moving into the uterus, or alter the tissue lining the uterus so that a fertilized egg can't implant.

Some contraceptive methods that don't require a prescription include spermicides, male and female condoms, and periodic abstinence (for example, natural family planning), which includes a number of methods designed to help avoid having unprotected sexual intercourse during the most fertile times of a woman's menstrual cycle.

Methods that require a visit to your doctor include the following:

  • Oral contraceptives (birth control pills): Medications taken daily that prevent ovulation by controlling pituitary hormone secretion. Usually, oral contraceptives contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. They also help regulate menstrual cycles and decrease the amount and length of menstrual periods.

  • Mini-pill: This daily pill has only one hormone, progestin. It thickens cervical mucus and prevents the sperm from reaching the egg. The mini-pill also can decrease the flow of your period.

  • Norplant: Capsules containing the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, implanted under the skin in the upper arm, which continuously prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg for up to five years.

  • Depo-Provera: A progesterone-like drug given by injection that stops ovulation. The effects last for about three months.

  • Monthly injections: Combines two types of hormones, estrogen and progestin, which work to prevent ovulation.

  • Skin patch: Releases the hormones estrogen and progestin into the bloodstream.

  • Diaphragm or cervical cap: A dome-shaped rubber cup with a flexible rim that's inserted through the vagina to cover the cervix before sexual intercourse.

  • Hormonal vaginal contraceptive ring: A ring that's placed inside the vagina around the cervix. It releases the hormones estrogen and progestin.

  • Intrauterine device (IUD): Devices placed in the uterus through the cervix by a doctor. The IUD prevents an egg from being fertilized in the tubes or from attaching to the uterine wall.

  • Intrauterine system (IUS): A small T-shaped device that's placed inside the uterus by a doctor. It releases a small amount of hormones each day to prevent pregnancy.

  • Nonsurgical sterilization: A thin tube is used to thread a tiny, spring-like device through the vagina to the uterus into each fallopian tube. A material in the device causes scar tissue to develop and permanently plug the tubes.

What to Remember About Birth Control

  • Choose a type of birth control that is easy for you to use.
  • Read the package to learn to use your birth control the right way.
  • Most forms of birth control do not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • To protect against STIs, always use a latex condom.


Surgery that results in the inability to become pregnant includes the following:

  • Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus and usually the ovaries and fallopian tube. This is a permanent form of birth control.

  • Tubal ligation or tubal occlusion: Surgery to cut, cauterize, or band the fallopian tubes to prevent the egg from being transported to the uterus. Tubal ligation is designed to be permanent, although certain types sometimes can be reversed.

  • Vasectomy: Cutting or clamping the vas deferens, the tubes that carry the sperm from the testes. The testes still produce sperm, but the sperm die and are absorbed by the body. This is a permanent birth control measure.

Methods that have been suggested as preventive, but that may actually present a high risk for pregnancy, include withdrawal before ejaculation and sexual intercourse during menstruation.

Medical Reviewer: Mukamal, Kenneth MD Last Annual Review Date: 2009-12-09T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © 2000-2010 The StayWell Company, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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Which of the following is the least effective method of birth control?