How Exactly Does Birth Control Work?

words Alexa Wang

Birth control has a long history. Modern birth control methods only began in earnest during the 1950s, and the pill wasn’t legalized for unmarried people until the 1970s. Since then, modern science has been able to advance in the field of reproductive health to provide safer, more effective birth control options.

Now there are plenty of birth control brands that offer a range of products like condoms, intrauterine devices, rings, patches, pills, and emergency contraceptives. Below, learn more about how modern birth control works.

Birth Control

The Purpose of Birth Control

Birth control is used to prevent pregnancy without abstaining from sex. Whether a couple simply wants to wait to have a child, or a single woman wants to make sure to prevent any possibility of pregnancy, birth control is used as a form of contraception. It has become a valuable resource for many reasons. Women have been able to plan pregnancies more effectively and therefore have been able to seek out more significant opportunities. Effective family planning has led to better lives for children. Finally, birth control has been instrumental in keeping the world’s oversized population down.

What Forms Does It Come In?

The first original forms of birth control were basic. Prolonged breastfeeding was used to prevent pregnancy early on, and other methods like soaking wool tampons in honey, thorn tree sap, acacia, and other plants were also an early way to prevent pregnancy. Nowadays, there are plenty of effective and safe methods of birth control.

The first proper birth control was an intrauterine device made from the colon of silkworms. Then, other methods like silphium were also used. Modern birth control didn’t begin until the 1920s when latex condoms were invented. While the birth control pill was invented in the 1950s by scientists at Planned Parenthood, it wasn’t legal until the 1960s for married couples and 1970s for individuals. Now, the pill is one form of modern birth control that uses a particular scientific process to prevent pregnancy.

How Does the Pill Work?

The birth control pill, for example, is meant to be taken daily. There are combination pills that have both estrogen and progestin, but there are also progestin-only versions. The way these pills work is by stopping the sperm from joining with an egg, otherwise known as fertilization. Hormonal pregnancy-preventing pills also safely stop ovulation, which means there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize—preventing conception. Finally, these hormone pills also thicken the mucus on the cervix. When the cervical mucus is thick, the sperm is again blocked and cannot swim to an egg.

Making it Work for You

The science of birth control pills and other methods like the birth control patch is simple, but the way it affects people varies considerably. They can lead to positive benefits like the regulation of hormonal shifts and monthly periods, but it can also lead to mood changes and other side effects. It’s also necessary to take the pill every day on a consistent schedule. Forgetting to take it could lead to risk of pregnancy.

Therefore, many women have begun using alternative forms of birth control. There is even an implant that can be placed into the arm, distributing birth control throughout the bloodstream daily. Unlike the pill, a birth control implant doesn’t require monthly prescription refills or daily reminders to take the pill. However, putting the implant in and taking it out can be quite painful.

Whether using a form of hormonal birth control, or simply using condom or a ring, the basic job of birth control is to prevent sperm from attaching itself to an egg, conceiving an embryo, then a fetus, and, finally, a baby. This can be done in many ways, but the method is often chosen based on a person’s medical history and lifestyle preferences.

Luckily, birth control has come a long way. The science has improved, and prohibition is over. The field of reproductive medicine has evolved, providing safer and more effective forms of birth control. Between condoms, intrauterine devices, the pill, the patch, the ring, and forms of emergency contraception known as “plan B” or the “morning-after pill,” there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to find the right form of birth control for your needs. 

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