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Birth control by prevention of conception or impregnation. The most common method is sterilization. The most effective temporary methods are nearly 99% effective if used consistently and correctly. Many methods carry health risks; barrier devices and avoidance of intercourse during the most fertile period are safest. Hormonal contraceptives use estrogen and/or progesterone to inhibit ovulation. The morning-after pill (high-dose hormones) is effective even after intercourse. The most serious side effect of oral contraceptives is the risk of blood-clotting disorders. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are placed inside the uterus and appear to cause a mild endometrial inflammation that either inhibits fertilization or prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. Certain types were taken off the market in the 1970s and '80s when it was found that their side effects included a high incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and spontaneous septic abortion. Barrier devices, such as condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, female condoms (vaginal pouches), and vaginal sponges, prevent sperm from entering the uterus. Condoms also prevent sexually transmitted disease. Used with spermicides, condoms are nearly 100% effective. Fertility awareness techniques have evolved from keeping track of the menstrual cycle (the so-called rhythm method; seemenstruation) to avoid intercourse around the time of ovulation; tracking body temperature and cervical mucus consistency can raise effectiveness to more than 80%. Experimental forms of birth control include an oral contraceptive for men.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on contraception, visit Britannica.com.