Contraception allows for the prevention of pregnancy and for planning the timing of pregnancy. Some methods can also protect against infections. Modern methods of contraception include oral contraceptives (such as birth control pills), contraceptive vaginal rings, condoms, intrauterine devices (also called IUDs), injectable and implantable products, and sterilization.
About Contraception and Birth Control
Contraception is the prevention of pregnancy. Contraception, or birth control, also allows couples to plan the timing of pregnancy. Some methods can also protect against infections. Choosing a particular method of birth control depends on many factors, including a woman’s overall health, age, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, desire to have children in the future, and family medical history. Individuals should work with their health care provider to choose a method that is best for them. It is also important to discuss birth control methods with one’s sexual partner.
General methods of contraception include:
- Barrier—physically interferes with conception by keeping the egg and sperm apart
- Hormonal—regulates ovulation by changing the balance of hormones related to development and release of the egg; changes cervical mucus to impair sperm function or transport
- IUDs—small devices inserted into the uterus that change the conditions in the cervix and uterus to prevent pregnancy as well as inhibiting the transit of sperm from the cervix to the fallopian tubes.
- Sterilization—surgical procedures that make a woman permanently unable to get pregnant and a man unable to get a woman pregnant
Some forms of birth control combine methods, such as IUDs that also release hormones.
Some types of birth control may carry serious risks for some individuals. For specific information about birth control, individuals should talk to their health care providers.
What are the different types of contraception?
There are many different types of contraception, but not all types are appropriate for all situations. The most appropriate method of birth control depends on an individual’s overall health, age, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, desire to have children in the future, and family history of certain diseases.
How effective is contraception?
Different methods of contraception have different rates of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy.
Contraception is most effective when used correctly and consistently. The failure rate increases if a method of contraception is used incorrectly or inconsistently.
Only male and female condoms are effective at reducing the spread of STDs.
For details about the effectiveness of specific methods of contraception, as well as potential side effects and risks, visit the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health.1
Can contraception reduce the risk of getting an infection?
Only condoms have been proven to reduce the risk of getting some STDs.
According to the HHS Office on Women’s Health, the male latex condom is the best method for protecting against STDs, including HIV/AIDS.1 Polyurethane condoms are an effective alternative if either partner has a latex allergy. Natural/lambskin condoms do not prevent the spread of STDs because of the presence of tiny pores (holes) that may allow viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B, and herpes to spread.
The female condom has properties similar to the male condom, but researchers have not studied its effectiveness in reducing the spread of STDs as much as they have studied the male condom.
The most common STD is the human papilloma (pronounced pap-uh-LOH-muh) virus, or HPV. No method of contraception can fully prevent the transmission of HPV, because it can infect areas not covered by a condom. However, using a condom with every sex act can lower the risk of transmission.2
If you have questions about birth control and STDs, talk to your health care provider.
If you think you may have an STD, you should see your health care provider. NICHD provides additional information on the symptoms and treatment of STDs.
NICHD Contraception and Birth Control Research Goals
Controlling one’s own reproduction involves not only the desire to have children, but also the ability to have them at a time and in a manner that best promotes the future health of the child, the family, and the community. NICHD research on contraception and birth control addresses a range of goals, including using advances in genetics to identify novel contraceptive leads, understanding their effectiveness and factors that influence effectiveness, and identifying new strategies for improving contraception use.
Some specific NICHD research goals related to contraception include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Discovering associations of gene expression related to male fertility
- Exploring gene function at the cellular level as a way to control fertility
- Studying the effects of contraceptive molecules at the organism level using knockouts and transgenesis
- Developing targeted nonhormonal contraceptive methods with minimal side effects
- Identifying specific hormonal agents, targeting their delivery, and supporting research to formulate methods of contraception delivery
- Designing new nonhormonal contraceptive approaches that capitalize on the biology of the testes and epididymis
- Increasing knowledge about the factors that control spermatogenesis to design specific compounds for male contraception
- Analyzing long-term health effects, including effects on the prostate and on bone mass, of new agents for male contraception
- Studying couples regarding their perspectives on gender roles, sexual access and function, fertility management, and parenting responsibilities
- Examining males’ influence on females’ access to and use of reproductive services
- Studying the effects of larger cultural factors on use of contraception and perceptions of self-fertility management
- Examining the effects of contraceptive experiences on individual risk-taking, partner relationships, risks for STDs, and pregnancy prevention across the lifespan
- Researching the delivery of family planning services
- Studying the sustained use of contraception and the reasons for discontinuation, inconsistent use, and method switching
Contraception and Birth Control Research Activities and Advances
NICHD relies on several organizational units to study different aspects of contraception, from the biological mechanisms of different methods to the relevant decisions and behaviors of individuals and couples. The information below describes a few of these activities.