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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Reversible Methods Of Birth Control

Reversible contraception is a term used to describe birth control that does not permanently alter or prevent pregnancy. Fertility, the ability to become pregnant, returns shortly after the reversible method is discontinued. The rate at which fertility returns will vary with each method.

Behavioral Methods

Behavioral methods of birth control require no use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

Abstinence requires strong resolve and self-discipline. It involves refraining from all sexual relations. This includes intercourse, as well as oral and anal sex.

Natural family planning and periodic abstinence (also called fertility awareness) rely on physical signs related to hormonal changes in the body to prevent pregnancy. A woman learns to identify her fertile days each month based on certain common signs and symptoms. For example, knowing the length of your shortest and longest menstrual cycles can help you predict ovulation (that is, when you are most likely to become pregnant).

There are several ways to practice natural family planning:

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods provide a physical barrier between the cervix and the penis, preventing sperm from uniting with an egg and fertilizing it. Barrier methods do not have a long-lasting or permanent effect on your body's natural ability to conceive.

Barrier methods allow couples to share the responsibility of birth control. These methods are most successful when used during every sexual encounter. You can improve your success rate even more through open, honest conversation with your partner or potential partner. Barrier methods are available over the counter, so they are easy to purchase and keep around, making them available should sexual intercourse occur spontaneously.

Hormonal Methods

Hormonal methods use female hormones in amounts known to prevent ovulation and help to thicken the mucus inside the cervix. Sperm and bacteria become trapped in this thick mucus, and, unable to travel through the cervical canal, they cannot enter the uterus. Harmful bacteria, therefore, cannot easily infect organs inside the pelvis such as the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, but these bacteria still can harm the cervix and vagina and spread to the male partner.

When used regularly, hormonal methods of birth control effectively prevent pregnancy. Because hormonal methods do not protect the outer genital skin, the vagina or cervix against viral or bacterial infection, it is best to also use a latex condom to protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception, also called postcoital contraception, is birth control given shortly after, rather than before, sexual intercourse.

Emergency contraception is used when a regular birth-control method was not used, used improperly (for example, a skipped birth-control pill) or used correctly but failed (for example, a broken condom), and a pregnancy is undesirable.

There are several options to help couples to deal with this emergency: an emergency toll-free hotline phone number, (800) 230-PLAN (7526) provides information and assistance to couples who cannot reach or do not have a health-care provider and are in need of emergency contraception.

The two emergency approaches used to prevent pregnancy after intercourse include:

Last updated September 10, 2010




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