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How Birth Control Works

written by: Jimmetta Carpenter • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 2/28/2011

Interested in how birth control works? Learn about how barrier methods, contraceptives and sterilization work to prevent pregnancy.

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    The Purpose of Birth Control

    Birth control is a way of preventing pregnancy in women. Some methods also protect against STDs, but not all, so discuss your birth control method with a physician before engaging in intercourse. Contraception consists of many different methods that a woman, or even a man, can use in order to avoid the situation of an unwanted pregnancy. The method of birth control that a woman selects should be made with her health in mind, especially if she has any pre-existing conditions.

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    Methods of Birth Control

    There are three methods of birth control, so you need to know what they are before you learn how birth control works. Barrier methods are meant to prevent pregnancy by blocking the sperm from getting into the uterus. Included in this method are the diaphragm, the cervical cap, contraceptive sponges, and condoms. In order for these particular types of birth control to be completely effective, they must be used every time you have sexual intercourse.

    Hormonal methods prevent the ovulation process altogether. These methods include the birth control pill, the patch, the vaginal ring, hormone shots or implants, and the intrauterine device (IUD). These forms must be prescribed by your doctor. The effectiveness of these methods depends on the one selected. For instance, the birth control pill must be taken every single day for it to work. However, once a doctor inserts the IUD, it can last anywhere from five to 12 years.

    Sterilization is the most aggressive of the three methods. It requires surgery, such as tubal ligation or a vasectomy, to permanently prevent pregnancy. It is only recommended if the woman already has a child or is positive she does not want one.

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    Side Effects

    Depending on what method of birth control a woman uses, the side effects will vary. Barrier methods such as a diaphragm, cervical cap or contraceptive sponge, if not fitted properly by a doctor, can cause urinary tract infections or allergic reactions in some women. Condoms can also cause vaginal irritation and increase the risk of contracting an STD. With hormonal methods, the side effects can include nausea, high blood pressure, headaches, heavier bleeding, weight gain or depression. With methods like the patch or the vaginal contraceptive ring blood clots are also a possible side effect. Of course, there are cases where no side effects occur. If side effects become too severe, consult a doctor. The doctor may suggest an alternate method of birth control.

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    How well birth control works for you will depend on choosing the method that works the best. Whatever method you choose should be used as instructed for the best results. Always follow the directions on the package or product insert, and let your physician know if you experience any adverse side effects.

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    References

    Revolution Health: Birth Control

    FamilyDoctor.org: Birth Control Options