Contraception comes in many forms, can be confusing

contraception photo

Looking for the right form of contraception can be very confusing. There are so many options on the market, most requiring a prescription but some not, that it’s difficult to know which product is right for you. Oftentimes society’s pressure can make it hard for you to even bring up the subject for fear of being shamed, but it’s still vital to know what choices are available to you to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

What is birth control? It’s a form of contraception to prevent pregnancy and it may work in several different ways:

  • Prevent sperm from reaching the eggs;
  • Prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs that may be fertilized;
  • Devices implanted in the uterus; and
  • Sterilization.

As far as the specific types of contraception, they may be broken down into different categories.

Long-acting reversible contraception

This consists of a device that is surgically implanted by a doctor and remains in place for multiple years, preventing pregnancy. There are two different types:

Hormonal methods

These include progestin-only methods and combined hormonal methods, which also include a synthetic estrogen. Below are various examples:

  • Injectible progestin-only: a shot given in the muscle every three months by a healthcare provider (e.g. Depo-Provera);
  • Progestin-only pills: a tablet taken every day (e.g. Heather, Jolivette, Ortho Micronor);
  • Contraceptive patch: a thin, plastic patch applied to the skin for three weeks then removed for one week (e.g. OrthoEvra);
  • Vaginal Ring: a thin, flexible ring inserted into the vagina for three weeks then removed for one week (e.g. NuvaRing);
  • Combined Oral Contraceptives (“the pill”): a tablet with both estrogen and progestin taken every day. There are multiple formulations on the market for your different needs:

Barrier Methods

As the name implies, these physically prevent the sperm from reaching the egg, are mostly available over-the-counter (OTC) and do not require a prescription. They include:

  • Male condoms;
  • Female condoms;
  • Contraceptive sponges (e.g. Today Vaginal Contraceptive Sponge);
  • Spermicides;
  • Diaphragms (traditional diaphragms require fitting by a healthcare provider, but newer ones like Caya do not); and
  • Cervical caps (require a fitting by a healthcare provider; e.g. FemCap).


A procedure that prevents either a man or a woman from being fertile, and must be performed by a healthcare provider. Generally, the procedures aren’t reversible:

  • Sterilization implant: an implant is threaded into each fallopian tube causing scar tissue, which blocks the sperm from reaching the eggs;
  • Tubal ligation: a surgical procedure where the doctor permanently blocks the path between the ovaries and uterus;
  • Vasectomy: a surgical procedure where the doctor permanently blocks the path between the testes and the urethra, so the sperm can’t reach the egg.

Now that you know the medical options available to you, only you (along with your healthcare provider) can determine the appropriate one for your needs.

But what happens if you need to prevent an unwanted pregnancy? What can you do?

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you are ever in a situation in which you forgot to take  several birth control pills in a row, a condom has broken or slipped off or you simply did not use any birth control during sex or if you have been raped, you can use emergency contraception to reduce your chances of pregnancy.

Emergency contraception

If used soon enough, emergency contraception does not cause an abortion, it prevents a pregnancy from happening. There are several different ways it does so:

  • Copper IUD (most effective): should be inserted within five days of unprotected sex and can be left in place for up to 10 years;
  • Ella: prescription-only pill; taken up to five days after unprotected sex;
  • OTC pill: most effective within three days of unprotected sex (e.g. Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose); and
  • Combined birth control pills: taking your regular birth control pills in higher-than-usual amounts as soon as possible up to five days after unprotected sex; they must be taken in two doses recommended by your health care provider.

Unfortunately, if the pregnancy proceeds before (or despite) your taking emergency contraception, your only options at that point are to carry it to term or to pursue abortion. Even if you keep the baby, Planned Parenthood offers excellent maternal care.

Learn more about birth control.

About the Author

Julie Kaplan, Pharm. D.
Julie Kaplan is a licensed pharmacist in Virginia and the District of Columbia. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from The College of William and Mary and a Doctor of Pharmacy from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has experience in patient communication from working as a retail pharmacist.