Planning a family involves sometimes preventing pregnancy and desperately seeking to conceive at other times. For those who are unable to conceive, there are alternative methods such as female egg donation. For those who choose female egg donation (learn more about the egg donation process), they’ll want to ensure the person who is donating the eggs is healthy. The term “family planning” most often refers to birth control and therefore, pregnancy prevention.
When deciding not to get pregnant, whether a temporary or permanent choice, there are a myriad of birth control options available, depending upon your medical history and lifestyle.
Hormone Related Options
Birth control pills (BCPs): This is the most popular method of contraception. There are a wide variety of BCP choices that contain differing amounts of hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone.
Birth control patch: A hormone-embedded skin patch is worn for three weeks a month. The hormones are slowly absorbed through the skin and migrate into the blood. The skin patch is changed weekly and is removed for one week per month to allow a menstrual period.
Hormone Shots and Implants: Hormone shots are given by a physician and provide three months of effective birth control. A matchstick-size plastic implant, which is impregnated with hormones, is placed in the upper arm by a trained physician for up to three years of birth control coverage.
Contraceptive ring: This hormone-impregnated ring is manually inserted into the vagina by the patient and is left in place for 3 weeks per month. The ring is removed for one week during the month to allow a menstrual period.
Intrauterine Devices (IUD)
An IUD provides 5 to 10 years of contraception, depending upon the device choice. The T-shaped IUD is inserted into the uterus by a physician. It works on the premise that the copper-releasing IUD prevents sperm from getting through the uterus to fertilize the woman’s egg.
One brand of IUD, Mirena, does contain the hormone, progestin. Mirena slowly releases the progestin, which dramatically thickens the cervical mucus making it difficult for sperm to fertilize the egg.
Barrier Methods of Contraception
Diaphragm, Sponge, Cervical Cap: These methods of birth control are all placed in the vagina, against the cervix, before intercourse. They are used with a spermicide to obliterate the sperm. Each method has specific directions about how long before and after each act of sexual intercourse it should stay in place and/or more spermicide be reapplied.
Vaginal contraceptive film: This spermicidal film is inserted in the vagina, as close to the cervix as possible, by the wearer. It dissolves immediately in the vagina but must be in place for 15 minutes before intercourse and is effective for about one hour. It must be repeated before each act of intercourse.
Condoms: A condom is a latex or plastic sheath worn over the penis during intercourse. It acts as a receptacle for the ejaculated semen. Condoms are the only effective method of preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Natural Birth Control
Rhythm Method or Natural Family Planning: Basal body temperature and vaginal discharge characteristics are important factors to determine a woman’s fertile days, when choosing the rhythm methods of birth control. Once established, intercourse should be avoided on the days before and during the woman’s fertile period.
Withdrawal: Withdrawal is when the man pulls his penis out of the woman’s vagina before ejaculating. The fluid that leaks out of the penis before ejaculation does contain sperm and can result in pregnancy.
Tubal ligation: The woman’s fallopian tubes are sealed (blocked, cauterized or severed) during tubal ligation surgery. This prevents the woman’s egg from reaching the uterus, where it can be fertilized. This is a permanent method of birth control and is effective immediately after surgery. If you have eggs you won’t be using, consider female egg donation so that a couple who is looking to have a child may benefit from your eggs.
Vasectomy: The male’s vas deferens or sperm ducts are sealed during this surgery. This prevents sperm from being ejaculated in the semen. After a vasectomy, semen is still ejaculated during intercourse but will be sperm-free after 10-20 ejaculations or 1-2 months. An alternative method of birth control should be used until lab analysis confirms that there is a zero sperm count in the semen. This is considered a permanent form of birth control.
Birth control is a personal choice with many different options. It is important to discuss your safest, most effective method of birth control with your physician.