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Understanding Contraception: Your Birth Control Choices.

By Larry Denton

If a woman is active sexually and she is fertile (able to become pregnant) she needs to ask herself, "Do I want to become pregnant now?" If the answer is "No," she must use some form of contraception (birth control). Sexually active people have a wide variety of methods which may be used to reduce the possibility of pregnancy. The government estimates that there are 3.6 million unplanned pregnancies each year in the United States. Approximately half of these pregnancies occurred because the couple did not use any birth control, and the other half happened because the couple used birth control incorrectly.

Birth control methods are classified as to how fertility is reduced. There are behavioral methods, barrier methods, mechanical methods hormonal methods, and emergency contraception. Behavioral methods require no use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs. One behavioral method--abstinence--requires strong self-discipline. It means refraining from all sexual relations. Another behavioral method--periodic abstinence (sometimes called fertility awareness)--relies on physical signs within a woman related to her hormonal changes to prevent pregnancy. A woman avoids intercourse on those days on which she is most fertile.

Barrier methods provide a physical barrier between the sperm and the egg. These methods are most successful when used during each sexual encounter and include: male condoms, female condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps and a contraceptive sponge. Since most barrier methods are available over the counter at many stores, they are easy to purchase and relatively inexpensive.

Mechanical methods, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) are 99% effective at preventing pregnancies and can last for up to a dozen years. It is a small object that is inserted through the cervix and placed in the uterus during a visit to a doctor's office or clinic. An IUD may be removed at any time and the procedure is quicker and easier than the insertion. Fertility is usually restored quite quickly once the IUD has been removed.

Hormonal birth control methods use female hormones to prevent ovulation (egg production) or to thicken the natural mucus inside the cervix making it difficult for the sperm to travel through the cervical canal to reach the uterus. Such methods include--The Pill, the skin patch, injectable
hormones, vaginal rings, and implants (like Norplant).

Emergency Contraception is birth control that is given shortly after, rather than before, sexual intercourse. It is used when other forms of birth control were not used, used improperly, or used correctly but failed (broken condom), and a pregnancy is not wanted. Mistakenly referred to as the "Morning After Pill," it is not the same as an abortion pill used in Europe. It is actually a series of two pills taken 12 hours apart and within 72 hours of sexual activity.

As with nearly every human endeavor, when choosing a birth control method it is certainly not a "one-size-fits-all" situation. Every individual has their own distinctive habits and circumstances and they should be taken into consideration when adopting a method of contraception. Take your time, do some research to find out what is available and base your contraceptive decision upon the knowledge you have obtained.

About the Author

Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently V.P. of Elfin Enterprises, Inc., an Internet business providing useful and valuable information on a variety of timely topics. For a doctor's office full of information, resources and advice about birth control, visit


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