Overview of Birth Control
Evidence of contraception exists in some of the earliest written records. Many birth control methods have been used for hundreds of years: the condom since the 16th century; cervical cap since the 1820s; the diaphragm and vaginal spermicide since the late 19th century; and intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUCDs or IUDs) since the early 20th century.
Contraceptive options include the following:
- drug-free, cost-free "natural" rhythm methods and coitus interruptus
- barrier methods, which offer protection from STDs and unwanted pregnancy: condoms, diaphragms, and the cervical cap, commonly used in combination with vaginal spermicides
- hormones: oral contraceptives (the pill), injectable hormones, subdermal implants, and the emergency contraceptive pill
- sterilization (male and female)
Intrauterine devices and implants are classified as long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) optionsconsidered to be the most effective type of reversible birth control. Depending on the method, these types of birth control can prevent pregnancy for 3 to 10 years. Used alone, LARC methods do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
According to our sister publication Diabetes Focus Spring 2013, if you're overweight and you use long-acting reversible contraception in the form of skin implants or a progestin-releasing IUD, you might want to reconsider your birth control choice. A study in the journal Contraception found that obese women who used these methods had higher blood glucose levels than women who used non-hormonal birth control methods, possibly putting them at increased risk for diabetes.
Consequences of Unwanted Pregnancy
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 200 million pregnancies occur every year75 million of these pregnancies are unwanted.
Unwanted pregnancies can threaten the mother's health and well-being in those who have existing health problems and in those who do not have enough family, financial, or emotional support.
In places where women do not have access to safe abortion services, they may resort to unsafe procedures that can lead to death or disability. Researchers estimate that nearly 80,000 maternal deaths and hundreds of thousands of disabilities occur around the world each year because of unsafe abortions. The proper use of contraception can prevent the need for abortion.
The process of choosing a birth control method is influenced by age, race, education, socioeconomic status, religion, and experience with a particular type of contraception. Whichever method is chosen, proper use is critical to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
In addition to personal preference, women should consider the health risks and complications associated with the method, as well as the health risks from pregnancy should the method fail. The risks associated with a particular birth control method vary. Women who are considering contraception should consider the advantages and disadvantages associated with each method for women in their age group, and seek information from their health care provider.