Understanding How Does Birth Control Work: Decoding Birth Control

Dinesh Patel
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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how does birth control work

Birth control methods have revolutionized family planning, offering a spectrum of options catering to diverse needs and preferences. 

According to NCBI, 25% of women aged 15-44 use combined birth control pills as their birth control choice. 

Understanding how these methods work is crucial in making informed decisions about reproductive health. 

From hormonal interventions to barrier methods and natural approaches, each form of birth control operates uniquely to prevent pregnancy.

This article will look at different forms of contraception methods and how does birth control works. 

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)

It works by introducing specific mechanisms that create a hostile environment for sperm and interfere with the reproductive process.

There are different types of LARCs, including copper Intrauterine devices (IUDs), hormonal IUDs, and contraceptive implants.

Fact:
According to the CDC, the use of LARCs was higher among 20-29 age women compared to women aged 40-49.

Copper IUDs

Copper IUDs trigger an immune response in the uterus, causing inflammation. 

The inflammation makes it challenging for sperm to survive within the uterus.

They also thin the uterus lining, preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

Hormonal IUDs

They induce an immune response similar to copper IUDs and release a small amount of the Progestin hormone Levonorgestrel over time.

Levonorgestrel thickens cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach the fallopian tubes.

Hormonal IUDs also thin the uterine lining and partially suppress ovulation, reducing the likelihood of releasing an egg each month.

Implants

Contraceptive implants release a small amount of Etonogestrel, a form of Progestin, over time. Etonogestrel prevents ovulation, inhibiting the release of an egg.

Similar to hormonal IUDs, implants cause changes in the uterus, contributing to a less favorable environment for sperm.

Short-acting hormonal methods

Woman holding birth control pillsSource: towfiqu_ahamed_barbhuiya
Woman holding birth control pills

This method of contraception works by introducing hormones to the body. 

It is either a combination of Estrogen and Progestin or Progestin alone. 

The different forms of short-acting hormonal methods are:

  • Combination oral contraceptives 
  • Oral contraceptives (Progestin-only)
  • Patch
  • Vaginal contraceptive ring
  • Contraceptive Injection (Progestin Shot/Depo-Provera)
  • Emergency contraception

These methods interfere with the natural reproductive processes. 

They primarily work by inhibiting ovulation and preventing the release of eggs from the ovaries. 

It also thickens cervical mucus, impeding sperm movement towards the egg.

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Barrier methods

This works by physically preventing sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. 

These methods act as a physical barrier between the sperm and the egg, and they include various devices that are used during sexual activity. 

Here’s an overview of how each barrier method works based on the provided information:

  • Diaphragm with spermicide: It is a dome-shaped flexible disk made from silicone, covering the cervix. The application of spermicidal jelly, cream, or foam on the inside of the diaphragm blocks the sperm from entering the cervix, preventing fertilization
  • Sponge with spermicide: It is a disk-shaped polyurethane sponge with spermicide (N9). The sponge contains spermicide for additional contraceptive effect and blocks sperm from entering the cervix
  • Cervical cap with spermicide: It covers the cervix which prevents sperm from joining an egg. The application of spermicide inside the cap makes the barrier method more effective
  • Male condom: The thin film sheath is placed over the erect penis. It forms a physical barrier, preventing sperm from entering the vagina
  • Female condom: It is a thin, lubricated pouch placed into the vagina which creates a barrier, preventing sperm from reaching the cervix
Warning:
Barrier methods containing latex may cause skin irritation, swelling, or breathing difficulties. While spermicide sensitivity can result in genital irritation or itching. If you get an allergic reaction, seek medical advice and consider alternative birth control methods.

Sterilization surgery

Both female and male sterilization surgeries effectively prevent pregnancy by interrupting the path of sperm or eggs.

Tubal ligation (women)

This surgery involves tying and cutting tubes, sealing them with electrical current, using clips, clamps, or rings, or removing a small piece of the fallopian tubes.

With the fallopian tubes blocked or sealed, the egg and sperm stop from meeting. It is intended to be permanent, as the blocked tubes impede the natural reproductive process.

Vasectomy (men)

concept of vasectomy and male sterilizationSource: Signature_images
Vasectomy

This surgery blocks the vas deferens, the tubes carrying sperm from the testes.

Blocks vas deferens, prevents sperm from being present in the semen. It takes about three months for sperm to clear from the system. 

Additional contraception is needed until a test confirms the absence of sperm in the semen.

Natural rhythm methods

Natural rhythm methods rely on understanding the menstrual cycle to identify fertile days and avoid intercourse during this window or use alternative birth control methods. 

By tracking ovulation and avoiding unprotected sex during the most fertile phase, individuals aim to reduce the risk of pregnancy without using hormonal or barrier methods.

Conclusion

There are many birth control methods that provide individuals with diverse choices to suit their needs and preferences. 

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like copper IUDs, hormonal IUDs, and implants work by altering the reproductive environment, making it inhospitable for sperm or eggs. 

Short-acting hormonal methods, such as oral contraceptives, patches, rings, and injections, primarily inhibit ovulation and alter cervical mucus consistency, impeding sperm movement.

Barrier methods like diaphragms, sponges, condoms (male and female), and cervical caps create physical barriers, preventing sperm from reaching the egg during intercourse.

Sterilization surgeries for both women (tubal ligation) and men (vasectomy) interrupt the path of sperm or eggs, offering permanent contraception.

Each method has its benefits and considerations, and consulting with healthcare professionals can aid in selecting the most suitable option.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the process of birth control?

Hormonal birth control, like birth control pills, patches, injections, and IUDs, alters the body’s hormonal balance to stop ovulation or create a hostile environment for fertilization. Non-hormonal methods like condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps prevent sperm from reaching an egg. Additionally, there are permanent methods like tubal ligation and vasectomy.

Does birth control stop periods?

While some hormonal birth control methods alter the menstrual cycle, they typically do not completely stop periods. Many contraceptives mimic a regular menstrual cycle. However, some women on certain types of birth control, especially those with continuous hormone dosages, may experience lighter or less frequent periods.

What is the safest birth control method?

Determining the safest birth control method depends on individual health, preferences, and lifestyle. No single method is universally superior, but some consider long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like IUDs or implants to be highly effective. They require less user adherence than daily options like pills.

Can you get pregnant when on the pill?

When taken correctly, birth control pills are highly effective in preventing pregnancy. However, no contraceptive method is fully effective, and missing a pill can increase the risk of pregnancy. It is crucial for individuals using oral contraceptives to take them consistently and as directed by their healthcare provider.

Citations:
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