Contraception, also known as birth control practice, is prevention of pregnancy by interfering with the whole process of conception and implantation. In the current scenario, numerous methods of contraception are in practice and include barrier or hormonal method, withdrawal, natural family planning, abstinence, and sterilization (surgery). Some of these methods are confined to women and others to men, some methods are reversible and some are permanent.
- Abstinence:Abstinence means not having sexual intercourse. It is the only birth control method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases.
- Natural family planning method: Natural family planning (NFP) or fertility awareness does not require medication, physical devices, or surgery to prevent pregnancy. This method relies on the woman's body physiology to know the time of ovulation. This method involves monitoring different body changes such as basal body temperature or cervical mucus variations. The woman then abstains from unprotected sex for approximately 7 to 10 days when she may have ovulated.
- Barrier methods: These are the most common methods that form a physical barrier to obstruct the sperm from entering a woman's uterus. Barrier methods include use of male condom, female condom, spermicides, diaphragm, cervical cap, and contraceptive sponge. The male condom is a thin covering made of latex or polyurethane that is rolled over an erect penis before sexual intercourse to prevent the sperm from entering a woman's vagina. The female condom is a polyurethane (plastic) tube that has a flexible ring at each end and is inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse. Spermicides are chemicals that deactivate or kill sperm and are available as foams, suppositories, and jellies. A diaphragm is a flexible dome that covers the cervix inside the vagina. The cervical caps are smaller cups made of latex, rubber or plastic. They should be used in conjunction with a spermicidal gel and are placed in the vagina before sexual intercourse. The sponge is a soft, round barrier device made of polyurethane foam.
- Hormonal methods: In this method, synthetic hormonal preparations containing oestrogen and progesterone will be taken orally (pills), implanted into body tissue (implants), injected under the skin (injections), absorbed from a patch on the skin (skin patches), or placed in the vagina (vaginal rings). These methods work by preventing ovaries from releasing eggs for fertilisation. They also thicken the mucus around the cervix, making it difficult for sperm to penetrate. They also thin the lining of the womb decreasing its ability to accept a fertilised egg. The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small device made of copper that is inserted into the uterus. It works by thickening the mucus around the cervix and by thinning the womb's lining, making it difficult to accept a fertilised egg.
- Withdrawal: Withdrawal method involves the complete removal of the penis from the woman's vagina before ejaculation.
- Sterilisation: This method is a permanent solution and is meant for men and women who do not intend to have children in the future. Male sterilisation involves vasectomy, a surgical blocking of the vas deferens, the tubes through which sperm pass into the semen. Female sterilisation involves a tubal ligation, a surgical procedure that blocks the fallopian tubes which carry the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.
The choice of a particular method of contraception also depends on an individual's age, health, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, future pregnancy, plans to have children in the future, and certain medical conditions. Therefore, always discuss with your doctor about the choice of birth control method.
It is necessary to know that most birth control methods prevent pregnancy. However, no method of birth control offers protection against sexually transmitted diseases.