The term “male contraception” is usually left out or not as important when it comes to contraceptives. When the term ‘contraception’ is heard, we usually think about female contraception, such as ‘the pill’, or IUD. However, while there are fewer options when compared to female contraception, male contraception methods are available. This article gives you a complete overview of all contraception methods, including male and female contraception.
Conception and Contraception
In simple terms, conception is when a sperm cell from a man and the egg from a woman join together. It is also known as fertilization. Once fertilized, the egg gets implanted in the uterus and marks the onset of pregnancy. On the contrary, contraception is the complete opposite of this process – meant to avoid pregnancy by preventing the natural process of ovulation, fertilization and implantation.
How do contraception methods work?
Each method works in different ways to prevent pregnancy. They each affect various parts or multiple parts in the process that would normally lead to pregnancy. Some ways that contraception work are:
- Prevent sperm from reaching the egg
- Inactivate or destroy sperm cells
- Prevent the release of egg monthly
- Change the composition of the uterine lining to prevent implantation
- Change the consistency of the vaginal, cervical mucus to prevent the entry of sperm
Classification of contraception
Contraception is available for both males and females. The methods can be classified under various aspects.
Depending on the way it works – Natural and unnatural
As the name implies, natural conception does not involve any mechanical or hormonal manipulation. On the other hand, unnatural methods include physical, medical and surgical techniques. Physical methods include the barrier methods, and medical contraception consists of hormonal manipulation. Surgical procedures permanently prevent conception. The physical, medical and surgical methods can be renamed barrier method, hormonal, sterilization, respectively. Or they can be hormonal and non-hormonal in a broader sense.
Reversible and irreversible
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the natural, physical and medical methods are reversible, while surgical methods are not.
Depending on the system it works on – Male and female
If the mechanism preventing the pregnancy is solely involving male physiology, they are male contraception methods. Similarly, the female contraception methods impact the female physiology to avoid pregnancy. This article will primarily focus on this classification.
Depending on the time or duration – emergency, short-term and long-term contraception
Emergency contraception is something that immediately acts to prevent fertilization. Short-term contraceptives are used on a very frequent basis, daily, weekly or monthly. On the other hand, long-term methods involve replacement for a long time. They can last for a few years to up to ten years.
Male Contraception Methods
The typical male contraception methods include natural methods (outercourse, withdrawal), barrier method (condoms) and surgical (vasectomy).
As the name implies, it is the opposite of ”intercourse”; no penetration happens here. Outercourse includes numerous sexual activities, including foreplay, but the penis does no enter the vagina. Outercourse can mean anything; acts of kissing, fondling, masturbating, dry humping or grinding and oral or anal sex. The downside of outercourse is that you cannot have vaginal sex. Furthermore, if you engage in oral or anal sex, you will have an increased risk of getting a STI.
It is the simplest, most inexpensive, but least effective of male contraception methods since ancient times. Withdrawal means the man is withdrawing his penis from the vagina before ejaculating. This is also known as “pulling out”. Withdrawal always comes with a risk of pregnancy if you do not time it correctly. Additionally there is always an increased risk of you or your partner getting a STI.
They are an example of the barrier method of male contraception. Condoms are capable of preventing conception up to 98%. However, an improperly worn condom would increase the risk of accidental pregnancy to a whopping 25%. Also, they protect you from several sexually transmitted infections. Consistent and correct latex condom use by males reduces the risk for HIV infection and other STIs.
Use condoms made of latex or polyurethane, stored in a cool and dry place. Use lubricants water-based or silicone-based lubricants. They break the condom comparatively less than oil-based lubricants. Always check the condom wrapper to make sure that your condom is not expired. Some condoms, for example, lambskin condoms, are porous and do not protect you against HIV and other viruses. Do not carry condoms in your wallet since heat, pressure, and friction can damage them.
The most effective method of male contraception is vasectomy. It is the surgical procedure to achieve male sterilization, which is permanent usually irreversible. The surgery results in cutting and ligating the tubes which pass sperm from the testicles to the penis. Subsequently, there won’t be any sperm in the ejaculate. Results are usually seen around 3 months post surgery. Statistics reveal a minor failure rate after one year of surgery—15 in 10,000. The reversal of vasectomy can be attempted but does not always work.
The usual minor side effects associated with any surgery might occur with the vasectomy as well. Such non-serious side effects include pain, bleeding, swelling and wound infections.
Female Contraception Methods
On the contrary to male contraception, the options available for female contraception are numerous. Female contraception methods can be either natural, barrier, hormonal or surgical. They are described below.
Ovulation Predictor Kits
Women use these kits to identify the window when they are most fertile to become pregnant. We use the same method here, but to determine when not to engage in sexual intercourse.
This kit comes with a simple urine test. When you are about to ovulate – around 24–36 hours before ovulation, you will have a hormonal surge. This is the perfect time to try to get pregnant. But if you do not want to get pregnant, this is the right time to abstain from sexual intercourse.
It is inexpensive; no chemicals or drugs, or hormonal manipulation are involved. But, the chances of getting pregnant are high, as well as increased risk of contracting a STI.
Spermicides contain a chemical that destroys sperms. Spermicide comes in various forms – foam, cream, jelly, or film and are relatively inexpensive. The spermicide has to be applied to the vagina before sex. Frequent use of spermicide might irritate the vaginal structures and make infections and STIs more likely. Spermicides are usually used alongside other types of birth control to help reduce the chances of pregnancy. The failure rate is as high as 29% during the first year of use.
Female condoms are thin plastic pouches. A woman can insert it to line the vagina hours before sex. Application is pretty tricky – to apply, the flexible plastic ring is grasped at the closed end and inserted into position. It doesn’t work as effectively as the male condom. Similar to male condoms, it also protects against some STIs in addition to preventing pregnancy. They are widely available and inexpensive. Do not use in combination with a male condom as it can lead to rupturing of either or both condoms from the friction.
A diaphragm is a rubber lid that is inserted over the uterine cervix before sex. Use of a spermicide in combination with a diaphragm is recommended. Failure rates of diaphragm use are high. They are inexpensive but should be inserted by a physician to help prevent any injury. Diaphragms do not protect you from STIs.
A cervical cap is comparable to a diaphragm in shape but smaller in size. The cervical cap is applied over the cervix, along with a spermicide. It is inexpensive but should be applied by a physician. Once applied, it can stay in place for 48 hours. It also doesn’t protect you against STIs.
Birth Control Sponge
The birth control sponge is made of foam. It has spermicide on the sponge and it’s goal is to kill sperm cells. Women should place it against their cervix before sex to prevent pregnancy. But unlike the diaphragm, you don’t need a physician to apply it. This doesn’t require a prescription and is effective immediately. It needs some practice to put in place and does not protect you against STIs.
Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP)
The hormones involved in pregnancy-related events are estrogen and progesterone. The most common oral contraceptive pills use a combination of these hormones to prevent ovulation. The tablet should be taken as instructed and can be very effective if taken properly. You’ll need a prescription for it. Your periods will be altered with the use of OCPs. Depending on the type of drug, you might have comparatively lighter, regular periods, or maybe no periods. Cramps you experience during periods will be reduced.
Oral contraceptive pill do not protect against STIs. Side effects include breast tenderness, spotting, blood clots, and raised blood pressure.
Birth Control Patch
Women with busy schedules might forget to take their OCPs regularly. They have an alternative and convenient option, a birth control patch. The basis of the patch is similar to the OCPs. Patches release hormones like OCPs do. It is applied to the skin once a week for three weeks and a week without it. You might experience lighter, more regular periods with less cramping. Side effects are also similar to the OCPs, and sometimes skin irritation may result. Birth control patches do not protect against STIs.
It is a soft, plastic ring applied inside the vagina, which has the same hormones as the pill and patch. It works efficiently to prevent pregnancy. Depending on the types, the replacement frequency differs. You might experience lighter, more regular periods. Side effects are vaginal irritation and similar to pills and the patch. It doesn’t protect against STIs.
Birth Control Injection/Shot
It’s widely known as Depo or Depo-Provera. This is also a hormonal therapy like pills and rings. But the shot protects against pregnancy for up to 3 months. The birth control shot can be highly effective, and less troublesome.
Side effects are similar to those of pills, may cause spotting and other side effects. This method also doesn’t protect against STDs.
Birth Control Implant
Birth control implants are rods similar to a matchstick-sized. A physician implants it under the skin of a woman’s woman’s upper arm. It contains the same hormones identical to the birth control shot. The failure rate is less than 1%. The implant protects against pregnancy for three years, and then you can remove it. It is highly effective. Since it is a procedure done by a physician, the implant is comparatively more expensive. It may cause side effects, including irregular bleeding. This method also doesn’t protect against STDs.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
The IUD is placed inside a woman’s uterus. A non-hormonal copper IUD works as a sperm killer. It lasts for as long as ten years. The replacement time for hormonal IUDs must be 3-5 years. Both types are capable of preventing the sperm from fertilizing the egg. Hormonal IUDs can change periods into shorter and lighter. But there are chances to have irregular or heavier periods. Copper IUDs can make periods more painful. The expensive procedure may slip out, may cause side effects and does not offer protection against STIs.
This is a definitive surgery that is irreversible. If you have decided to stop getting pregnant anymore, then this may be an option for you. In this surgery, the surgeon cuts the fallopian tube and ties both ends to close the egg’s passage. This blocks eggs from leaving the ovaries. Permanent and approximately 100% effective. Tubal ligation requires surgery, may not be reversible, and is expensive. It doesn’t protect against STDs.
Whatever the preparation or precaution you take, there is always a chance of a pregnancy occurring. For example, you may forget you last menstrual period, tentative menstrual period, forget to use a condom, or the condom ruptures. Then emergency contraception is the only option you can go for. This method helps to avoid pregnancy after sex. The drugs used for emergency contraception are available over the counter.
Choosing the right contraception method
Any couple considers contraception at least at once in their lives. Contraceptive counselling, when applicable, might be a vital contributor to the successful use of contraceptive methods.
The factors involved in choosing and using an appropriate contraception method are safety, effectiveness, usability, accessibility, and availability.
The safety of any contraceptive method is the priority. Especially when it comes to hormonal or surgical contraception, safety is the primary concern. The hormonal methods have side effects such as painful breast, vaginal bleeding in between menstruation, which mimics irregular periods, weight gain, headaches, nausea, hair and skin changes and even heavy periods. Most importantly, some have an allergy to latex material or some medical conditions that might prevent hormonal contraceptive methods.
And when it comes to surgery, of course, the side effects apart from the pain and scar would be the surgery’s effects. Since surgical methods are irreversible, you have to be very sure of your decision when opting for surgical contraception. You might go for barrier methods like condoms or hormonal methods like oral contraceptives in the short term. If you opt for more extended protection, you have options like intrauterine devices or hormonal implants.
While choosing the contraceptive method, discuss with your healthcare provider these considerations. Depending on the period you want to postpone getting pregnant, your healthcare professional will suggest the best option for you.
Just like anything else in the world, contraceptive methods also have their pros and cons. Some methods work better than others. The techniques with minimal manipulations of the consumer have lower failure rates. For example, sterilization, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and implants have lower failure rates, aka less than 1%. Oral contraceptive pills and condoms can be effective when used correctly. Meanwhile, the least effective methods are self-control, fertility monitoring and early withdrawal before ejaculation.
Unluckily, no form of birth control is perfect. All the contraception methods discussed here have their failure rates, but they are relatively low. Comparatively, one way might seem effective than the other. However, utterly reliable protection against unwanted pregnancy is abstinence – not having sexual intercourse at all.
Ease of use is another factor in picking the correct contraceptive method. Over the counter, contraceptive methods need neither prescription nor expert involvement. However, having the condoms or spermicides handy and using them correctly is not always possible in the moment of heat. Acceptance of the method by the partner is another factor.
A critical factor in usability is the effect of the contraceptive method on sexual pleasure. Women think that contraceptive pills might reduce sexual desire, but the research is not conclusive. On the other hand, men say condoms reduce penile sensitivity but delay their time to ejaculate (R).
Natural methods like early withdrawal and other approaches need knowledge and precise tracking. Tracking the menstrual cycle would help you figure out the window to either observe abstinence or use a backup, for example, a condom when you have intercourse.
Apart from the facts mentioned above, some methods might have additional advantages: protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs include chlamydial infection, gonococcal infection, trichomoniasis and HIV/AIDS. Even though hormonal contraceptives and IUDs are very effective at blocking pregnancy, they do not defend against STIs.
Availability means convenient access to contraception. For example, condoms are available in almost all shops or supermarkets, and they can be purchased over the counter. No prescription is necessary.
Meanwhile, opting for IUD, implant, or sterilization needs your time to schedule an appointment, spend time at the doctor’s office or hospital etc. Also, you need to consider the side effects such as pain. There is no surprise why condoms win over painful surgical procedures.
Some methods are less expensive, and some are not. For example, condoms are inexpensive when compared to tubal ligation or vasectomy procedures. Natural early withdrawal or cervical mucus methods don’t cost anything but have a higher risk of getting pregnant.
Questions to choose your best fit
Ask these questions to yourself (and preferably your partner) when picking the best contraceptive method for you (and your partner).
- How effectively it prevents pregnancy?
- Whether it conflicts with your religious or personal beliefs?
- Any associated health risks, in general, particularly for you or your partner?
- Whether it contains hormones and the probable side effects of those hormones?
- Does it impact your sexual pleasure?
- Whether you want to relieve yourself from your periods or period symptoms (cramps, heavy bleeding etc.)?
- Does it protect against STI?
- Ease of getting them, ease of use, including whether you’ll need a prescription?
- How frequently and how long would you need them?
Contraception with CareClinic
CareClinic is a one-stop health app, providing several useful features to help you maintain a health record. Create a self-care action plan and add medications, supplements, diet, physical activities, and therapies you receive. Set your healthcare team who manages your health and add your physician, RN and family members. You can use the app to track and monitor yours or your partner’s contraception. You can try multiple methods and track them on the app to see which ones are the most effective. Th app comes with numerous features to help you get an understanding of how your contraceptive method is working out.
The diary entry feature lets you make entries about your daily life. Use the app’s diary entry feature to track day-to-day activities or events you encounter. Track your periods to learn the cycles, duration and when you have increased chances of getting pregnant. You can read more about menstrual cycles and period tracking on our blog here.
The symptom tracker lets you add symptoms you are experiencing. You can track the symptoms to understand the progress of your treatment. If you have any medical conditions or medications, start tracking your symptoms before seeking medical attention and compare how well the therapy relieves you from symptoms after visiting the doctor’s doctor’s office with the app. This is especially helpful when you use hormonal contraceptives. Track your symptoms post surgery to see how you are feeling and you can present these to your physician. Or track any symptoms you may experience from and IUD.
Pill tracker & reminder
Use this feature to track any activities you involve. Your activity tracker helps you identify any actions that worsen or relieves your moods or symptoms. You can get an idea of which activities help improve your mood and which don’t. If you suffer pain while doing an activity, you can make note of that. Maybe that yoga class you just did caused you to feel pain in your groin, it may have been your IUD shifting. You can look back to see if there are any correlations between your symptoms and any activity you may have participated in.
Keep a record of therapies you may be participating in. Maybe you are seeing a counsellor to help you decide on a contraception method. Or even your doctor. You can record all of your appointments so that you never forget something.
There are many contraception methods available for both men and women to help prevent pregnancies. Each of them comes with their own pros and cons. Some are more effective, some also help protect you against STIs, while some can be irreversible. Choosing the right method can be a tough choice. Using apps like CareClinic can help you track how your method of choice is fitting in your life and whether you should continue with it or choose a different option.