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Understanding Hormonal versus Barrier Approaches to Birth Control

About two-thirds of American women from the ages of 15 to 49 use some type of birth control. Since the 1960s, when contraceptives began to be widely prescribed in the United States, women (and men) have embraced birth control as a way of controlling their lives and their futures.

Today, plenty of birth control options are available; sometimes, those options can be a little confusing. At The Women's Center at Life Point Medical, we know that selecting a birth control method is a very personal decision and offers a wide array of birth control methods, helping each patient choose the one that’s best for her needs. If you’re looking for a new form of birth control or you’re wondering if there might be a better one for your lifestyle, here’s the difference between the two main categories.

Birth control: hormonal vs. barrier methods

Regardless of the specific method they use, all birth control methods have the same goal: to prevent unintended pregnancy. Choosing the best strategy for your lifestyle means you’re more likely to use it properly — and that’s the only way to make sure your method of birth control works the way it’s supposed to.

Hormonal contraceptives

As the name implies, hormonal contraceptives use hormones — typically estrogen and progesterone (or their lab equivalents) — to alter the pregnancy cycle. Most hormonal methods of birth control change ovulation, preventing an egg from descending into the uterus. Some methods may also thicken the mucus layer at the cervix (the uterine opening), making it harder for sperm to enter, while others alter the uterine lining.

The birth control pill was the earliest type of hormonal birth control to become widely available. Today, there are lots of other options, too, including:

One of the most significant advantages of hormonal contraceptives is convenience. Many methods only need to be administered or replaced every few months, while some — like IUDs — can remain in place for years. Birth control pills need to be taken every day, making them less convenient than other hormonal options. However, unlike barrier methods, none of these options requires interrupting sexual activity to “remember” to use it.

Barrier contraceptives

Barrier contraceptives work by preventing sperm from entering the uterus. While these methods may not be as widely used as hormonal types of birth control, they can still be a great choice, depending on your specific lifestyle and health needs. 

Barrier methods are only used when needed so that you won’t be altering your body’s normal hormonal levels. Barrier birth control methods include:

Bonus: Proper condom use can also help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Perhaps the most important thing to know about barrier contraceptives is that they are not nearly as effective in preventing pregnancy as are contraceptives that use hormones. In fact, from 18 to 28% of women become pregnant each year when using barrier methods of birth control. You can increase their effectiveness by using a spermicide along with the barrier method and, of course, by making sure you’re using the technique correctly.

Choose the method that’s right for you

The correct birth control method can make your life a lot easier, giving you significant control over your health and future. 

To schedule an appointment at The Women's Center at Life Point Medical, call 706-250-7306

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