CHOOSING A CONTRACEPTIVE
A Reprint from FDA Consumer Magazine Printed December
1993. PUBLICATION NO. (FDA) 94-1213 (This article
originally appeared in the September 1993 FDA Consumer.)
Choosing a method of birth control is a highly personal
decision, based on individual preferences, medical
history, lifestyle, and other factors. Each method
carries with it a number of risks and benefits of which
the user should be aware.
Each method of birth control has a failure rate--an
inability to prevent pregnancy over a one-year period.
Sometimes the failure rate is due to the method and
sometimes it is due to human error, such as incorrect
use or not using it at all. Each method has possible
side effects, some minor and some serious. Some methods
require lifestyle modifications, such as remembering to
use the method with each and every sexual intercourse.
Some cannot be used by individuals with certain medical
Spermicides Used Alone
Spermicides. which come in many forms--foams, jellies,
gels, and suppositories-work by forming a physical and
chemical barrier to sperm. They should be inserted into
the vagina within an hour before intercourse. If
intercourse is repeated. more spermicide should be
inserted. The active ingredient in most spermicides is
the chemical nonoxynol-9. The failure rate for
spermicides in preventing pregnancy when used alone is
from 20 to 30 percent.
Spermicides are available without a prescription. People
who experience burning or irritation with these products
should not use them.
There are five barrier methods of contraception: male
condoms, female condoms, diaphragm, sponge, and cervical
cap. In each instance, the method works by keeping the
sperm and egg apart. Usually, these methods have only
minor side effects. The main possible side effect is an
allergic reaction either to the material of the barrier
or the spermicides that should be used with them. Using
the methods correctly for each and every sexual
intercourse gives the best protection. For many people,
the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),
including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which
leads to AIDS, is a factor in choosing a contraceptive.
Only one form of birth control currently available--the
latex condom, worn by the man--is considered highly
effective in helping protect against HIV and other STDs.
FDA has approved the marketing of male condoms made from
polyurethane as also effective in preventing STDs,
including HIV. However, at press time, they were not yet
being sold in this country. Reality Female Condom, made
from polyurethane, may give limited protection against
STDs but has not been proven as effective as male latex
condoms. People who use another form of birth control
but who also want a highly effective way to reduce their
STD risks, should also use a latex condom for every sex
act, from start to finish.
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