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Overview of Contraception

By

Frances E. Casey

, MD, MPH, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Did You Know...

  • The effectiveness of certain contraceptive measures, such as the pill or rhythm methods, depends a great deal on how well instructions are followed.

There are several methods of contraception. None is completely effective, but some methods are far more reliable than others. Effectiveness often depends on how closely people follow instructions. Following instructions for some methods is easier than for others. Thus, the difference in effectiveness between typical use (how most people use it), which is often inconsistent, and perfect use (following the instructions exactly) may vary greatly from one method to another. For example, oral contraceptives are very effective with perfect use. However, many women forget to take some doses. Thus, average use of oral contraceptives is much less effective than perfect use. In contrast, contraceptive implants, once inserted, require nothing more (and are thus used perfectly) until they need to be replaced. Thus, typical use is the same as perfect use (until implants need to be replaced). People tend to follow instructions more closely as they get used to using a method. As a result, the difference between effectiveness with perfect use and that with typical use often decreases as time passes.

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Besides its degree of effectiveness, each contraceptive method has other advantages and disadvantages. For example, hormonal methods have certain side effects, which may increase or decrease women’s risk of developing certain disorders, including cancer of the ovary or uterus. Choice of method depends on lifestyle, preferences, and the degree of reliability needed.

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More Information

  • Planned Parenthood: This web site provides information about birth control, abortion, and other subjects related to reproduction.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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