This matchstick-size progestin-releasing implant is placed by a doctor under the skin high up on your inner arm. The progestin thickens cervical mucus, making it tougher for sperm to reach an egg. That is, if one is released. Progestin can also halt eggs from leaving the ovaries to begin with.
Otherwise known as a vascectomy, male sterilisation involves cutting or blocking the vas deferens, the tubes sperm travel through from the testicles. If sperm are blocked from leaving a man’s body, you can’t get pregnant—simple, right?
This tiny, T-shaped device is placed in the uterus by a doctor during a 15-minute or so office procedure and left there from three to six years. Four types of hormonal IUDs have been approved by the FDA; each works by releasing progestin (just like the implant and some birth control pills). The hormone thickens cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to reach an egg, and it may also stop ovulation, so no egg is released.
Female sterilisation (or tubal ligation) means blocking or cutting the fallopian tubes, which prevents an egg from traveling to the uterus and being fertilised by sperm. This is also a permanent form of birth control (though in some cases women have had it reversed and gone on to get pregnant), and it’s a somewhat more complicated surgery than a vasectomy is for a man.
Like hormonal IUDs, the copper device is also placed in the uterus and left alone—this time for up to 10 years. The difference is, the copper version doesn’t contain any hormones. It’s the metal itself that prevents pregnancy by making the uterus inhospitable to sperm. The copper IUD can also be inserted in the first few days after unprotected sex as emergency contraception.
The birth control shot
The birth control shot is another method that relies on the hormone progestin to thicken cervical mucus and prevent sperm from ever reaching an egg. Progestin may also stop ovulation, so no eggs reach the uterus at all.
The Pill, aka oral contraception, may still be what many women think of first when we think of birth control. But there are more types of birth control pills than ever before: combination pills that contain estrogen and progestin, progestin-only pills, and extended-cycle pills that reduce the frequency of your period. A conversation with your doctor can help you find the one that’s right for you.
The birth control patch also contains estrogen and progestin and halts ovulation, same as oral contraception. But instead of having to remember to take a pill every day, you just stick on a new patch once a week (you take it out the week of your period), and you’re covered. Usually placed on the belly, upper arm, back, or butt, the patch emits hormones that are absorbed through your skin.
Another hormonal birth control option is the vaginal ring, which you wear inside your vagina for three weeks and take out for a week to have your period. It releases estrogen and progestin to stop ovulation and thicken cervical mucus; both hormones are absorbed through the vaginal lining.
This rubbery barrier fits inside your vagina and covers your cervix, preventing pregnancy by locking sperm out of your uterus. They come in different sizes (just as women do), so you’ll need to be fitted for one at your doctor’s office. And they should always be used with spermicide, which immobilises or kills sperm as they try to sneak through the diaphragm on their mission to fertilise an egg.
These latex or polyurethane sleeves act as a barrier preventing sperm from coming anywhere near your unfertilized egg. Worn properly, condoms also protect against STDs–unless you’re using a lambskin condom, which isn’t as effective at preventing microbes from spreading.
Inserted into the vagina somewhat like a diaphragm (and up to eight hours before sex!), the female condom covers the cervix to prevent sperm from entering. It’s not as effective as a male condom—and it’s not as effective at preventing STDs, either.
The birth control method most of us know as pulling out is officially called the withdrawal method—a man withdraws his penis right before ejaculation, so no sperm enter the vagina. But it’s not exactly effective, hence its other nickname, “pull and pray.”