Many couples choose to delay or forgo having children. Some couples choose to use natural methods of family planning, such as the fertility awareness method or abstinence. Many others choose to use artificial methods of family planning. When choosing a birth control method, it's important to consider the effectiveness and health risks that may pertain to each method. Talking to your OB-GYN can help you to make the best decision for your unique circumstances.
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Barrier methods of birth control physically stop the sperm from getting to the egg. Condoms, the sponge, diaphragms and spermicides are all barrier methods. Male and female condoms can help prevent the transmission of sexually transmissible diseases, including HIV, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Male and female condoms and spermicides are available at any pharmacy and many discount stores and are relatively low in price. Diaphragms are available only with a prescription.
Some birth control works by altering the woman's hormones to make pregnancy unlikely or impossible. The birth control pill, the birth control shot (Depo-Provera), the birth control patch, the vaginal ring and some IUDs are examples of hormonal family planning options. These all require a doctor's prescription and a medical exam before use. Hormonal birth control is very effective when used correctly, but some women cannot use them for health reasons.
Surgical birth control is considered permanent, and is only for people who do not want any or any more children. Men can have a vasectomy, which is a procedure that is done on an outpatient basis in a doctor's office. Women can have a tubal ligation, which is done under general anesthesia in a hospital. A newer method of non-surgical permanent sterilization for women is called Essure. This procedure can be done in the doctor's office in many cases (see Resources).
If you do not use birth control, or if your birth control method fails, you have the option of utilizing emergency contraception in the days immediately following unprotected sex. This usually consists of taking a large dose of hormones that are found in many birth control pills. Some brands are available over the counter at your pharmacy, and others are available only with a doctor's prescription.