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What is Contraception?

Contraception refers to the method used to prevent pregnancy, and contraceptives are the devices that are used to help avoid pregnancy. Contraception is achieved either by prevention of fertilization of the female egg by the male sperm or by prevention of implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus.1

What are the Commonly Followed Methods of Contraception?

The various contraceptive options that are available include:

  • Natural family planning methods
  • Barrier devices
  • Hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices
  • Sterilization

All the methods except sterilization are temporary contraceptive options that can be practiced as long as pregnancy is not desired.1,2

What are the Natural Family Planning Methods?

Natural family planning methods are the techniques that are followed without the use of medications, devices or surgery to prevent pregnancy. These include:

Periodic abstinence

Most commonly followed method. In women with regular 28-day cycle, the unsafe period is from day 7 to day 21 of the menstrual cycle and there is a minimum chance of pregnancy when intercourse is avoided during these days. Rhythm method or calender method

Monitoring the basal body temperature

A special thermometer called the basal body thermometer is used to record the temperature variation during ovulation and avoid sexual activity during the periods of fertility. Basal body temperature for natural family method

Cervical mucus method

The mucus secreted from the cervix is usually thick during the fertile period and the couple should abstain from sex as soon as the first sign of mucus appears and for 3 days after the peak day (the last day of presence of wet mucus). Cervical mucus method for natural family method

Withdrawal method (coitus interrptus)

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Involves the withdrawal of the penis during coitus before ejaculation occurs. Withdrawal method or Coitus interrptus

Lactation amenorrhea

Breastfeeding the baby both during the day and at night (at least once at night) with no regular supplemental feedings of any type helps to prevent pregnancy until the return of menstrual periods.

It must be remembered that these methods are not 100% safe to prevent pregnancy. Consult the family doctor for more details about these methods and their advantages and disadvantages.2

What are Barrier Devices?

Barrier devices are mechanical barriers between the sperm and the egg. 

The common barrier devices include

  • Male condom,
  • Female condom
  • Diaphragm

Male condom

Male condom is a thin tube like material made of latex or polyurethane that is rolled over the erect penis before intercourse.

Female condom

Female condom is a 7-inch long polyurethane pouch with two flexible rings, which is inserted into the vagina before intercourse.


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Diaphragm is a small dome-shaped latex cup with a flexible ring, which fits over the cervix. The male condom is the most effective barrier device with a failure rate of 3–14%.2,3

What are Hormonal Contraceptives?

Hormonal contraceptives contain hormones known as estrogen and progesterone that prevent pregnancy by altering the natural levels of these hormones in the body.

They are used in many forms:

Proper guidance is required before the use of hormonal contraceptives, as they are contraindicated in a number of cases.4,5

What is Female Sterilization?

Female surgical sterilization (also called tubal sterilization, tubal ligation and tubal occlusion) is a low-risk, highly effective one-time procedure that offers lifelong protection against pregnancy. This procedure blocks the fallopian tubes and thereby prevents sperm from reaching and fertilizing the eggs. The ovaries continue to function normally, but the eggs they release break up and are harmlessly absorbed by the body. Tubal sterilization is performed in a hospital or outpatient clinic under local or general anesthesia using various techniques. Menstruation continues as before, with usually very little difference in length, regularity, flow or cramping.6

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception is available to prevent pregnancy:

After sexual assault

After consensual intercourse in which contraception is not used

When contraception is used but fails (for instance, when a condom breaks or a diaphragm dislodges)

Emergency contraception may either be achieved by consuming the emergency contraceptive pills within 24–72 h of the intercourse or the insertion of an IUD by a doctor within 5 days of the unprotected intercourse. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECP) are also known as ‘the morning after pill’, ‘interception’, ‘postcoital contraception’ or ‘vacation pill.’5,7

You May Also Like To Read

Myths and facts of contraception

FAQ about birth control


1. Herndon EJ, Zieman M. New contraceptive options. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(4):853–860.

2. Sharma RS, Rajalakshmi M, Jeyaraj DA. Current status of fertility control methods in India. J Biosci. 2001; 26(4): 391–405.

3. Greydanus DE, Patel DR, Rimsza ME. Contraception in the adolescent: An Update. Pediatrics. 2001; 107(3); 562–573.

4. Lesnewski R, Prine L. Initiating hormonal contraception. Am Fam Physician. 2006; 74(1): 105–12.

5. Canavan TP. Appropriate use of the intrauterine device. Am Fam Physician. 1998; 58(9): 2077–2084, 2087–2088.  

6. Pati S, Cullins V. Female sterilization. Evidence. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2000;27(4):859–899.

7. Weismiller DG. Emergency contraception. Am Fam Physician. 2004; 70(4): 707–714.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 18, 2015

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