An Introduction to Contraception and Contraceptives
Simply put, contraception is a method which prevents pregnancy and is a part of family planning. Major types of contraception either focus on creating a barrier which prevents sperm and egg from uniting, use chemicals to shut down ovulation or slow sperm down. Although not as common, some contraceptive methods surgically prevent sperm from being released or prevent an egg from being able to be fertilized or from keeping a fertilized egg from adhering to the uterus and developing into a fetus.
Although one of the least effective methods, there are strategies to employ “natural” means to prevent pregnancy. These methods revolve around having intercourse when a woman is not ovulating so that pregnancy isn’t likely to happen.
Being one of the most common forms of contraception, barriers like condoms made of latex, polyurethane, polyisoprene, or sheepskin prevent sperm from being reaching the uterus where they might unite with an egg. When used correctly, barriers are highly effective though animal condoms only prevent pregnancy and do not shield from sexually transmitted infections, unlike synthetic condoms.
Marketed hormonal contraception is designed exclusively for women and is the most common type of female contraception. Whether it’s an intrauterine device, the pill, an implant, or the patch, all of these methods consistently release a combination of estrogen and progestin to trick the body into thinking that it is already pregnant. By doing this, a woman’s body will not release new eggs so she cannot get pregnant.
In addition to suppressing ovulation, some forms of hormonal contraceptives increase the mucosal lining around the cervix to physically prevent sperm from meeting with an egg.
A different form of hormonal contraception is emergency contraception which are intended to be used in the event that a woman may suspect that her contraceptive didn’t work, failed or she forgot to use one. These contraceptives are highly effective too, but must be taken within three to five days after intercourse. It’s worth noting that emergency birth control should only be used in an emergency since the side effects can be quite severe.
It is worth noting that male hormonal contraceptives which focus on preventing sperm production are being developed, although it is not yet commercially available.
Similar to hormonal birth control, ion contraceptives consistently release chemicals into the body to make the body think that it is already pregnant. Further, the copper ions, while not harmful to the woman’s body, kill invading sperm so that they don’t fertilize an egg even if it has been released. Even if an egg is somehow fertilized, additional copper ions will prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on to the uterine wall.
Ion contraception releases copper ions into the body and, despite what you might suspect, is actually more effective and can even be safer than hormonal contraceptives. In fact, copper-based contraceptives last longer and have fewer side effects in most women.
In addition to the myriad reversible forms of contraption, there are also permanent methods available for those who are certain that childbearing is not for them.
Also commonly referred to as a vasectomy or a man “getting his tubes tied,” male sterilization is a potentially permanent form of male contraception. We say potentially because there are some vasectomies which aren’t 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. Further, it is possible to have a vasectomy reversed.
That said, most vasectomy procedures are both completely safe and a good way to prevent pregnancy for a lifetime. Compared to female sterilization, a vasectomy is an incredibly simple procedure which can be performed a number of different ways and requires very little downtime.
No matter what kind of specific procedure is used, a vasectomy severs the tubes which connect the testes to the prostate which means that sperm cannot be released in the ejaculate and thus cannot get a woman pregnant.
For those who may wish to consider having children at a later date but don’t want to put off getting a vasectomy, sperm can be stored and kept viable for up to twenty-eight years.
Also referred to as tubal ligation, this form of sterilization is a bit more involved compared to a vasectomy, but is still generally safe and completely effective. As the name would suggest, this method involves a surgeon either blocking the Fallopian tubes by severing them shut or cutting and sewing them so that an egg cannot descend into the uterus. If a uterus cannot be released into the womb, fertilization and implantation cannot occur.
Keep in mind, unlike male sterilization, tubal litigation cannot be easily reversed and generally is not advised. However, a woman can still get pregnant with a donor egg so long as her uterus is still intact.
While tubal litigation is quite effective, some women may elect to have their ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and uterus removed entirely. In addition to removing any possibility of pregnancy occurring, women may get this procedure because they suffer from incredibly heavy periods, or as a result of uterine fibroids, uterine prolapse, or similar rare afflictions.