How Does Birth Control Work?

Birth control is any method used to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control including condoms, IUDs, birth control pills, the rhythm method, vasectomy, and tubal ligation. Here are some of the most common birth control methods and what to expect from each one.

How Does Birth Control Work?

There are numerous types of birth control that are suitable for both men and women. One of the most common forms of birth control is “the pill,” a tiny pill taken by mouth every day that serves to prevent ovulation. However, this doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases. The best methods for that are “barrier methods,” such as the condom.

1. Birth Control Pills

This is a very common form of birth control. There are typically two kinds of pills a woman can take. One contains estrogen and progestin, and is called the “combination pill.” There is also one that contains progestin only, known as the “mini pill.” The combination pill is by far the most popular, as it doesn’t have as many side effects and tends to be more effective in preventing pregnancy.

How it works:

This method works by giving the woman a particular hormone that prevents an egg from being released during the ovulation cycle. It also changes the cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to get to an egg. It changes the womb lining to make it less hospitable to a fertilized egg, and it changes the Fallopian tubes, making it more difficult for fertilization to happen. All of these actions result in protection against pregnancy.

Possible side effects:

These vary from one woman to another. Some women might experience nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, weight gain, changes in their mood, changes in their sex drive, and spotting between periods. Some women might react so strongly to the pill that they actually miss a period or two.

Learn how to take birth control pills in the right way to improve its effectiveness in contraception:

There are more birth control methods besides the pill. It depends entirely on the method to answer the question like how does birth control work.

2. Spermicide

This comes in a gel or foam, which is easy to apply before sexual intercourse. It is designed to be used on its own or with a condom, and can be a very convenient way to prevent pregnancy – though some complain that spermicides can be messy.

How it works:

Spermicides work by blocking and killing off the sperm that is trying to reach the egg. When used properly, the sperm are trapped by the gel or foam, which then leads to their quick demise. This prevents them from reaching the egg during the ovulation cycle.

Possible side effects:

There are very few disadvantages to this method, though some do complain that it is messy. If you are allergic to any ingredients, you might suffer itching or a rash after use. In some women, the spermicide can trigger urinary tract infections or yeast infections.

3. Vaginal Ring

This tiny, flexible ring is inserted into the vagina, where it presses up against the cervix. It contains hormones that help prevent pregnancy. It can be worn for up to three weeks at a time, and can provide adequate protection against conception.

How it works:

The ring contains estrogen and progestin, the same things present in birth control pills. It is inserted after your period ends, and stays until the next period, which is usually three weeks later. It continuously releases hormones, which prevent you from ovulating.

Possible side effects:

These might include nausea, breast tenderness, irritation in the vagina and spotting between periods. Some women complain that the ring can fall out when they use the bathroom, which might make it much less effective for some.

4. Tubal Ligation

This is a permanent form of birth control that has been proven to work very well for women of all ages. This is a surgical procedure that is often performed right after a woman has had a child and determined that she doesn’t want to have any more. Another option is tubal implants, which are a less invasive procedure.

How it works:

Tubal ligation or implants are completed by a gynecologist or surgeon, usually as an outpatient procedure. Ligation involves cutting and burning the fallopian tubes; implants involve an insert that eventually scars and closes the tubes. This is permanent birth control that, in most cases, cannot be reversed.

Possible side effects:

There are very few complications associated with either method, and side effects are almost nonexistent. They might include some pain after the ligation or implant procedure, which goes away relatively quickly. Some women might be at higher risk for ectopic pregnancy.

5. Birth Control Patch

This tiny patch sticks to the skin and delivers a certain amount of hormones each day, usually estrogen and progesterone, which can help prevent pregnancy. This method is very easy to apply and stays on for three weeks, then is removed and replaced with a new patch.

How it works:

This works by releasing a continuous stream of daily hormones into the body. It does the same thing that the birth control pill does, but the advantage is that you don’t have to remember to take a pill – you just have to put on a patch every three weeks or so.

Possible side effects:

As with any other hormonal method, you might experience mood swings, headaches, breast tenderness, irregular menstrual bleeding and the like. The patch might also cause skin irritation where it is applied.

6. Other Birth Control Options and How They Work

Besides the methods above, there are more options for people who are looking for the suitable birth control methods and want to know more about how does birth control work.Take a glance at the methods in the chart below and then ask your doctor which options are best for you.

Birth Control Method

How It works

The Pregnancy Rate

Birth control implant

Small hormonal implant placed under the skin every three years.

Less than 1% get pregnant


Intrauterine device placed by a doctor that releases hormones; available in 5-year and 10-year versions.

Less than 1% get pregnant


Surgical closing of the tube that introduces sperm into semen.

Less than 1% get pregnant

Tubal implants

Outpatient surgery to insert implants that prevent fertilization.

Less than 1% get pregnant

Birth control shot

Hormonal injection that protects against pregnancy for three months.

3% get pregnant

Male condom

Worn on the man’s penis during sex to prevent sperm from entering vagina.

About 15% of users get pregnant in a given year

Cervical cap

Similar to a diaphragm, but smaller and used the same way.

15% of those who have never had children get pregnant; rate goes up to 30% for those who have


A rubber dome placed over the cervix to block sperm.

16% of users get pregnant

Birth control sponge

Placed against the cervix to prevent sperm getting in; used with spermicide.

16% of those who have never had children get pregnant; rate goes up to 32% for those who have


The man withdrawing his penis from the vagina before ejaculation.

About 18% get pregnant

Female condom

This condom “pouch” is placed in the vagina and prevents sperm from entering.

About 21% of users become pregnant.

Fertility awareness

Avoiding sex when the woman is most fertile. No sex during ovulation.

25% of typical users get pregnant.


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