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Birth Control - Overview

Is this topic for you?

Sometimes a woman may not use birth control, or her method may fail. If this happens to you, you may still be able to prevent pregnancy if you act quickly. For more information, see the topic Emergency Contraception.

What is birth control?

Birth control is any method used to prevent pregnancy. Another word for birth control is contraception (say "kon-truh-SEP-shun").

If you have sex without birth control, there is a chance that you could get pregnant. This is true even if you have not started having periods yet or you are getting close to menopause.

The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. But finding a good method of birth control you can use every time can help you avoid an unplanned pregnancy.

What are the types of birth control?

There are many different kinds of birth control. Each has pros and cons. Learning about all the methods will help you find one that is right for you.

  • Hormonal methods camera.gif include birth control pills, shots, the skin patch, the implant camera.gif, and the vaginal ring. There is also a hormonal IUD that releases a small amount of hormone. Birth control that uses hormones is very good at preventing pregnancy.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs) camera.gif are inserted into your uterus. IUDs work very well and are very safe. There are two main types of IUDs: copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs.
  • Barrier methods camera.gif include condoms, diaphragms, and sponges. In general, these do not prevent pregnancy as well as IUDs or hormonal methods do. Barrier methods must be used every time you have sex.
  • Natural family planning (also called fertility awareness) can work if you and your partner are very careful. You will need to keep good records so you know when you are fertile. And during times when you are fertile, you will need to skip sex or use a barrier method.
  • Permanent birth control (sterilization) gives you lasting protection against pregnancy. A man can have a vasectomy, or a woman can have her tubes tied (tubal ligation). But this is only a good choice if you are sure that you don't want any (or any more) children.
  • Emergency contraception is a backup method to prevent pregnancy if you forget to use birth control or a condom breaks.

For hormonal or barrier methods to work best, you have to use them exactly the way your doctor or the package instructions say. Even then, accidents can happen. So it is a good idea to keep emergency birth control on hand as backup protection.

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