Q:

How does birth control work?

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Quick Answer

Several types of birth control exist, all of which work by preventing the onset of pregnancy, which begins when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. According to the U.S. Department of Health, different methods arrive at that goal in different ways, but most fall into one of these birth control categories: natural, barrier, hormonal, implantable or permanent.

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Full Answer

The Department of Health describes abstinence as the only sure way to prevent pregnancy. However, abstinence is only sure to work when the practitioner avoids all sexual contact with other people. Natural methods of birth control, such as the rhythm method, generally entail abstinence when a woman is most fertile. This type of modified abstinence is not effective enough to be a sure form of birth control.

Barrier methods include contraceptive sponges, condoms and diaphragms. These work by physically blocking sperm and thereby preventing them from reaching the egg. Some barrier methods employ a spermicidal agent for extra protection.

Hormonal methods include oral contraceptives and injectable drugs. These alter the hormone levels in the woman's body to prevent the release of an egg. The "morning after" pill also works in this way, despite its classification as emergency contraception.

Implantable methods include several types of intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and work by a combination of contraceptive hormone or copper delivery, which stops either the egg or the sperm. They also physically block implantation, if necessary.

Permanent methods of birth control include implantable or surgical sterilization. These work by irreversibly disabling the reproductive system by cutting or blocking access for eggs or sperm.

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