Which Contraceptive Methods Exist?

January 15, 2020
In this article, you'll discover the different contraceptive methods that exist, how they work, and the criteria for choosing one among many.

Contraceptive habits have evolved over time. Today, there’s a wide variety of contraceptive methods that adapt to the different circumstances and demands of each woman.

When we talk about contraceptive methods, we’re referring to all the medicine, devices, or techniques we can use with the purpose of preventing pregnancy. 

In order to use a contraceptive method, it’s essential to seek adequate advice from a qualified health professional; midwives are the professional reference in this field.

What do I need to know about contraceptive methods?

If you want to start using a contraceptive method, it’s important to make sure that you understand all these points:

  • The contraceptive efficacy of the method.
  • How it works and how to use it properly. 
  • Which are the most common side effects, if any?
  • What benefits and risks does its use present?
  • Which signs and symptoms require you to consult your midwife or healthcare professional?
  • When are you going to regain fertility after you stop using it?
  • How should you protect yourself in order to prevent the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) during its use?

It’s crucial for a healthcare professional to advise you correctly and provide you with all the information about the available contraceptive methods. All the decisions you make in relation to them should be informed, voluntary, and free. 

Criteria for choosing a contraceptive method

When choosing the contraceptive method that best suits your current situation, it’s important to take into account a series of criteria:

  • Effectiveness. It’s the ability of the contraceptive method to prevent pregnancy.
  • Security. The ability of the contraceptive method to alter the user’s health status, positively or negatively.
  • Reversibility. Being able to recover your reproductive capacity by interrupting the use of the method.
  • The complexity of use. The intrinsic complexity of each method. It’s important to make sure that you understand its operation before using it.
  • Relationship with intercourse. It can be immediate (preservative), mediate (diaphragm, spermicides…), or distant (hormonal contraception, IUD…).
  • Price. Variable parameter according to the contraceptive method. The economic capacity of the users can also influence the choice.
Which Contraceptive Methods Exist?

Types of contraceptive methods

Barriers

These are the only ones that protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

Their functioning consists of preventing sperm access to the internal genitals of women, acting as a physical barrier.

  • Male condom. It’s a latex sheath that men place on their penis before penetration, which prevents sperm from accessing the female’s genitals.
  • Female condom. It’s a latex cover with a flexible ring at each end. One of them is placed inside the vagina and the other outside, protecting the labia of the vulva.

There are also non-latex condoms available in the market so that people who are allergic to latex can use them.

Vaginal contraceptives

They’re devices or substances that women place in the vagina before intercourse to block the passage of sperm or to destroy it to prevent it from reaching the uterus.

There are different types:

  • Diaphragm
  • Vaginal sponge
  • Cervical cap
  • Spermicide

These methods don’t protect against STDs.

Hormonal contraceptive methods

Hormonal contraceptive methods prevent pregnancy thanks to the action of the hormones that make them up, which act in different ways:

  • Inhibiting ovulation.
  • Altering the permeability of cervical mucus.
  • Hindering the actions of sperm.

They may contain two hormones (estrogens and gestagens), which are called combined hormonal contraception; they may also only have one (gestagens).

Combined hormonal contraceptives

  • Anticonceptive pill. There are different versions on the market, and its use requires you to take a pill every day at approximately the same time. It’s important not to forget the pills, as you may risk getting pregnant. If you experience vomiting or diarrhea, or if you have to take other medications (antibiotics…) consult your midwife because its contraceptive efficacy may also diminish.
  • Vaginal ring. It’s a flexible silicone ring that women place in the vagina for three weeks in a row. During the fourth week, it’s removed for menstruation to take place. It progressively releases hormones that are absorbed through the vaginal mucosa. You should check that it’s still correctly in place after sexual intercourse.
  • Contraceptive patch. It’s a small patch, very discreet, which you attach to your skin. You use a new one each week for three weeks and then you stop in the fourth week in order for menstruation to take place. It’s important to rotate the areas of the body where you put the patch and make sure there’s no hair or wounds on these areas. You should check periodically that the patch is well attached to the skin.
Which Contraceptive Methods Exist?

Progestin-only hormonal contraceptives

  • Minipill. You should take one every day at the same hour. Try to avoid forgetting and consult a professional if you experience vomiting, diarrhea, or take other medications.
  • Subcutaneous implant. They’re small flexible rods that are inserted into the inner side of the arm and progressively release the hormone. They have a duration of up to 3 years and you can remove them whenever you wish.
  • Injectable. They’re intramuscular injections of the hormone that usually take place every three months.
  • IUD with hormones. There are intrauterine devices on the market that incorporate gestagens into their contraceptive action.

You should always consult a healthcare professional before deciding to use a hormonal contraceptive method. Since it’s a medication, you may need certain controls before and during its use.

Your midwife will advise you and recommend the most suitable choice since not all women are candidates to use hormonal contraceptives with estrogen. Remember that no hormonal method protects against STDs. 

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

These are small devices made of different materials, flexible, and with different shapes, which doctors insert into the uterus. Its contraceptive action fundamentally consists of the inflammation that they produce in the endometrium; thus, preventing implantation of the fertilized ovum. There are models that also contain gestagens.

Their duration lasts between three to five years, depending on the model. They can also be withdrawn whenever you desire. In addition, we must bear in mind that IUDs don’t protect against STDs.

Methods based on fertility awareness

These methods are advisable for women who are willing to receive an unplanned pregnancy; they can’t resort to other contraceptive methods and don’t have a regular menstrual cycle.

  • Billings or cervical mucus method. It consists of observing both the consistency and the smell of the cervical mucus. At the time of ovulation, this mucus is transparent, elastic, and abundant. It’s at that time when the chances of pregnancy are higher.
  • Basal temperature method. You have to take your temperature every day at rest, before getting up. The days on which the temperature remains lower are the days of high fertility.
  • Ogino, calendar, or rhythm method. It’s based on the fact that the life of the oocyte is 24-48 hours and sperm can last up to 92 hours; so if you don’t have sex 5 days before and 2 after ovulation, there will be no chance of pregnancy.
  • Symptothermal method. This method allows you to recognize the fertile and non-fertile days. This information comes from the Billings method, the basal temperature method, the lower fertility indicators, and the self-healing of the cervix.

None of the natural methods protect against STDs.

Which Contraceptive Methods Exist?

Definitive contraceptive methods (sterilization)

These methods are definitive and, only in very few cases, are reversible via surgery.

  • Female sterilization. It consists of ligating the fallopian tubes, preventing the passage of the ovules; thus, avoiding fertilization.
  • Male sterilization. It’s known as vasectomy. This consists of the blockage of both vas deferens, preventing the passage of sperm to semen. There will still be ejaculation, although the semen won’t be able to fertilize.

Sterilization methods don’t protect against STDs.

Surely there’s a contraceptive method that fits your needs and preferences. Remember to check with your midwife to find out which one suits you and enjoy your sex life safely.

 

  • Recomendaciones sobre prácticas seleccionadas para el uso de anticonceptivos, tercera edición. [Selected practice recommendations for contraceptive use, 3rd edition]. Ginebra: Organización Mundial de la Salud; 2017. Licencia: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  • Criterios médicos de elegibilidad para el uso de anticonceptivos, cuarta edición. Un pilar de la OMS para la planificación familiar. Ginebra: Organización Mundial de la Salud; 2009.