What is birth control?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

In order for a pregnancy to occur, an ovum (egg) must be released from the ovary, a process called ovulation. Pregnancy results when the egg travels through the tube and is exposed to sperm from the male. The release of the egg from the ovary results from a very specific hormonal pattern. By taking a birth control pill every day, a woman can change that hormonal pattern and prevent ovulation. No egg, no baby. The birth control pill is one of the most popular and effective contraceptive methods available.

Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing Specialist

Birth control is the conscious attempt to avoid conception while being sexually active. Birth control has been around since men and women figured out what caused pregnancy and that they could do something about it!  Even back in ancient societies, various natural materials were used to act as a barrier or spermicide. Today, we have in-depth knowledge and means for preventing conception. Nonetheless, we still have varying numbers of unwanted pregnancies around the globe. Clearly our advanced methods still do not work unless they are available, understood and used properly. Even then, they are not 100 percent reliable. No method is. 

Sexual activity close to but not quite intercourse can result in pregnancy. It rarely happens but if ejaculation occurs and whatever material between the penis and vagina is wet and thin, sperm can cross that barrier. Be smart. Be prepared. You can get pregnant the first time if you aren't.

There are various types of birth control to choose from:

  1. Pharmaceutical — such as the pill or patch, etc.
  2. Chemical — such as the spermicidal creams, jellies and that added to condoms
  3. Abstinence — such as maintaining virginity or the rhythm method.
  4. Barriers — such as condoms, sponges, diaphragms, etc.

In Canada, all Public Health Units are listed in the local telephone directory and have staff and clinic times so you can consult face-to-face to get advice on what method is best for you. You can also go on-line to find legitimate advice on birth control from reliable websites, such as Sharecare. For parents trying to answer or advise their children, the same resources are available.

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

Birth control pills prevent pregnancy. Most pills have the two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in them. In a natural menstrual cycle, the changing levels of these two hormones allow an egg to mature, to ovulate and to prepare for pregnancy. Birth control pills keep the hormone levels the same everyday to prevent the egg from maturing and ovulating. Sometimes the dose of progestin changes a little each week while the estrogen dose stays steady. Typically pills with hormones are taken for 21 to 24 days each cycle. These pills are followed by placebo pills which don't contain any medication. The woman will have bleeding during the placebo pills. Other patterns of pill use are to continue on the hormone containing pills for a longer time and have fewer bleeding periods.

Dr. Theresa Lohman
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Birth control is anything that controls the onset of pregnancy. It is also called family planning. There are many methods of birth control. Some contain hormones and are taken orally, injected, place on the skin in the form of a patch, placed in the vagina or inserted under the skin. There are more mechanical forms that are placed in the uterus, in the vagina or on the male penis (condom). Not having sex or not having sex during your most fertile time in the month is also birth control.

The web has many resources for birth control information. Make sure you access a legitimate source. It will usually end in .org or .gov. Web MD and Mayo clinic have good web sites. You can also make an appointment with your OBGYN provider for more information and to discuss what would be right for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.