Preventing Pregnancy

Contraception, or birth control, helps prevent pregnancies and plan the number and spacing of children. There are many options to choose from to prevent pregnancy. Some methods are more effective than others, and no one product is best for everyone.

Birth Control Methods

Birth control falls into two broad categories: reversible and permanent. Reversible methods allow individuals to stop birth control when they would like to become pregnant. Permanent methods cannot generally be undone once completed. The Food and Drug Administration has information about approved medical birth control options in English and in Spanish.

Reversible Methods of Birth Control

Long-acting Reversible Contraceptives

These contraceptive methods allow individuals to prevent pregnancy for multiple years.

  • Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD) – The copper IUD contains no hormones and is made with copper and plastic. The copper acts as a spermicide (substance that kills sperm) and prevents sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg.
  • Hormonal IUD – Hormonal IUDs contain the hormone progestin levonorgestrel. The progestin causes cervical mucus to thicken and the lining of the uterus to thin, which keeps the sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg.

Contraceptive Shots

The contraceptive shot is an injection of progestin, one of the hormones found in birth control pills. Individuals using this method get the shot from their doctor once every three months.

Short-acting Hormonal Methods

These contraceptive methods use hormones to keep the ovaries from releasing eggs and possibly prevent the sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg.

  • Birth Control Pill – This method is also known as oral contraceptive or “the pill.” There are two main kinds: combined pills, which contain estrogen and progestin, and mini-pills, which only contain progestin.
  • Birth Control Patch – The birth control patch is a thin, beige plastic square about two inches across that delivers hormones. Patches are used on a four-week cycle (three weeks on and one week off).
  • Vaginal Ring – This small, flexible, plastic ring is inserted in the vagina and contains the same hormones (progestin and estrogen) found in most birth control pills.

Barrier Methods

There are several birth control methods that involve using a physical barrier to block the sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. When deciding how to prevent pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages couples to consider methods that offer dual protection from risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • Male Condom – A male condom is a thin film cover that is placed over the penis and keeps sperm from entering a partner’s body. Using a male condom consistently and correctly reduces the risk for HIV infection and other STIs.
  • Diaphragm and Cervical Cap – The diaphragm and cervical cap are silicone cups that are used with spermicide gel or cream. It is inserted into the vagina and over the cervix to keep sperm from entering the uterus.
  • Female Condom – The female condom is a thin, soft, loose-fitting pouch (or sheath) with a flexible soft ring on each end. One end of the female condom fits inside of the vagina to keep it in place, and the other stays outside of the vagina.
  • Sponge with Spermicide – The sponge is a small, disk-shaped device made of soft plastic foam that covers the cervix and contains the spermicide nonoxynol-9 (N-9). The spermicide in the sponge is placed inside the vagina, covering the cervix, prior to having sex and works by continuously releasing spermicide to kill sperm.

Permanent Methods of Birth Control

There are two options for sterilization, a form of contraception that is meant to be permanent.

If you need a form that allows individuals to provide consent for sterilization, check out our Key Resources for Title X Grantees.

  • Tubal ligation (females) – In this procedure – also known as “having your tubes tied” – the fallopian tubes are cut, sealed, clipped, or tied, so the egg and sperm can’t meet in the fallopian tube. 
  • Vasectomy (males) – This procedure involves cutting, tying, or blocking the vas deferens – two tubes that carry sperm to the penis.

Other Forms of Pregnancy Prevention

The following forms of pregnancy prevention do not require any physical or medical materials.

  • Abstinence – Sexual abstinence is defined as refraining from all forms of sexual activity and genital contact, such as vaginal, oral, or anal sex. This method is the only 100 percent effective way to protect against pregnancy, ensuring there is no exchange of bodily fluids (such as vaginal secretions and semen).
  • Natural Family Planning and Fertility AwarenessFertility awareness-based methods (FABM) help women and couples become more familiar with the signs of ovulation and the pattern of the menstrual cycle to understand how to plan sexual activity to either avoid pregnancy or become pregnant.
  • Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) – LAM is a form of natural birth control that relies on the new mother feeding her baby only breastmilk for up to six months and having no periods or spotting during that time.
  • Withdrawal – While having intercourse, before ejaculating, a person pulls the penis out of the partner’s vagina and away from the partner’s genitals (sex organs). It prevents fertilization by not allowing semen (and sperm) to enter the vagina so that sperm does not reach the egg.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is not a regular method of birth control. Emergency contraception is birth control that a person can use after unprotected sex—if you did not use birth control or if regular birth control failed. It should be used as soon as possible within three to five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraception methods are more effective the sooner they are taken. Emergency contraception does not work if the person is already pregnant. There are two main types of emergency contraception: emergency contraceptive pills and the copper T intrauterine device (IUD).