Common Contraceptives

Types of Common Contraceptives

Contraceptives are drugs or devices used to avoid pregnancy. Today, there are many different contraceptive options available to sexually active couples and individuals who want to reduce the risk of getting pregnant. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, as well as degree of effectiveness in prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Some are completely natural, like abstinence and fertility awareness, whereas some are permanent, like surgical sterilization. Other forms of contraception are available by prescription, such as birth control pills, hormonal patches, and rings. Many common contraceptives are easily purchased at pharmacies or department stores, including condoms, spermicides, emergency "morning after" pills, and contraceptive sponges. The particular method a couple chooses for contraception will be dependent on certain factors, including their individual lifestyles and relationship situations. Eight commonly used contraceptive options are briefly described here. Find out about abstinence, birth control pills, "morning after" pills, birth control patches, birth control rings, birth control sponges, condoms, and spermicides.


Abstinence can be defined in different ways. It can be considered refraining from vaginal intercourse while engaging in other types of sex play, such as oral sex or masturbation. Any technique of abstaining that does not lead to pregnancy is considered abstinence. This would better be described as "outercourse."

Another definition of abstinence is not having vaginal intercourse when a woman is fertile and could possibly conceive. This should more correctly be referred to as periodic abstinence, a fertility awareness birth control method. On the other hand, total abstinence is considered to be not engaging in any sort of sexual activity. This is the only contraceptive method that is 100 percent foolproof, when it comes to preventing pregnancy. However, it can be difficult to maintain for extended periods of time.

Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills commonly contain both estrogen and progesterone. However, there are birth control pills that contain progesterone alone. Both of these hormonal contraceptive methods stop a female's eggs from being expelled from her ovaries and thicken the mucus of the cervix, keeping a male's sperm from entering into the uterus. These pills also cause thinning of the uterine lining which significantly decreases the probability of implantation of a fertilized egg.

The majority of birth control pill packages contain a three week supply, which should be taken daily and at the same time in order to be as effective as possible (92 to 97 percent). A menstrual period will occur in the fourth week when no hormones are taken. Other brands of birth control pills include taking hormonal pills during week four. In this case, periods are either reduced in number or completely eliminated.

"Morning After" Pills

Emergency contraceptive options, such as the "morning after" pill, aid in the prevention of pregnancy after a woman engages in sexual intercourse without any protection. While forms of emergency contraception are not intended to replace other planned birth control methods, it is a good alternative in the case of unprotected sex, failure of other contraceptive methods, and/or a missed prescription birth control pill dosage. A "morning after" pill can be taken up to five days after unprotected sexual intercourse. However, in order to be most effective (90 percent), it should be taken as soon as possible afterwards (within 72 hours).

Common ContraceptivesSource:

Birth Control Patch

A birth control patch continuously releases estrogen and progesterone through a woman's skin for seven days. During the course of a month, a single birth control patch is used weekly for three weeks. On the fourth week, no patch is worn, and a menstrual period will occur. Patches can be applied to the lower abdominal area, upper body (other than the breasts), upper arm, or buttock region. This contraceptive method is considered to be 92 percent effective in pregnancy prevention.

Birth Control Ring

A hormonal birth control ring is inserted into the vagina and left there for a period of three weeks, giving continuous monthly contraceptive protection. The ring should be removed on the first day of week four, and a menstrual period will result. Exact positioning of the birth control ring within the vagina is not critical for optimum effectiveness. This method is around 92 percent effective.

Birth Control Sponge

A birth control sponge is comprised of disposable, soft foam material, which is filled with spermicide. This type of contraceptive device is inserted into the vagina just before sexual intercourse. It performs two functions: preventing any sperm cells from entering into the uterus and killing the sperm. The birth control sponge should remain in the vagina for a minimum of six hours and a maximum of 30 hours post intercourse. Contraceptive sponges are only considered to be 60 to 80 percent effective against possible pregnancy.


A condom is athin sheath that functions as a contraceptive device by covering the male penis. Thus, it collects sperm and prevents it from entering the vagina. This common contraceptive is 84 percent effective. Single use, disposable, male condoms are typically made out of latex or polyurethane. However, natural lambskin types (made from lambs' intestinal membranes) are also available. Synthetic condoms (not lambskin) significantly reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as well. There are also single-use, disposable, plastic female condoms, which are inserted into the vagina just prior to sex. They also protect against STDs.


Spermicide kills sperm cells. It can be used either alone or in combination with barrier type contraceptive devices, like diaphragms or cervical caps. Nonoxynol-9 (N-9) is the most commonly used spermicidal agent, and it is available in various concentration creams, foams, jellies, and suppositories. In order to act at its optimal effectiveness (only 75 percent when used alone), a spermicide needs to be inserted into the vagina, as close to the uterus as possible, no more than 30 minutes before sexual intercourse. In addition, it should not be removed until six to eight hours post intercourse.


  • American Sexual Health Association (2013) Birth Control Method Comparison Chart. Retrieved from:
  • Mayo Clinic (2013). Birth control. Retrieved from:
  • National Institute of Health (2013). What are the different types of contraception? Retrieved from:

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