The Pill, the Patch, and the Sponge: A Guide to Birth Control

by Molly Scott
Fifty years later, this stuff is still confusing.

Nowadays, there are so many products available to women for STI prevention and contraception. A lot of women wonder what options are available, how to use them, and how these contraceptives work. To help make sense of it all, we’ve created a handy guide to birth control! Keep in mind that you can always talk to the awesome people at Well Woman and Primary Care Health Service(PCHS) to learn which methods are right for you. Also check out our list of birth control options available at Barnard.

Hormone-Free Barrier Methods

Condoms It’s pretty obvious how this one works…and they’re FREE in the basket outside Well Woman.   

Female Condoms go inside the vagina to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of STIs. Also FREE at Well-Woman.

Dental Dams are used for oral sex, and these are FREE at Well Woman. They reduce the transmission of STIs which can be spread during oral sexual activity. 


The Pill You can get a prescription for the pill at PCHS, and many insurance plans completely cover the cost of the pill or offer it for a ridiculously low price. Most pills contain the hormones progestin and estrogen, which prevent ovulation. This means that an egg will not leave the ovary, so there is nothing with which the sperm can join (an egg doesn’t get fertilized and pregnancy does not occur). There are a wide variety of pills available that use different formulations of hormones. You must speak with a doctor to decide which pill is best for you.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small, T-shaped, made of flexible plastic, and prevent pregnancy. A doctor or other health care provider inserts an IUD into the uterus. IUDs can work in one of two ways: they can either affect the way sperm move so they cannot fertilize an egg, or the IUD can release hormones and prevent ovulation. Common IUDs are ParaGard, Mirena, and Skyla. 
The PatchThis is a sticker that goes on your skin everyday (except for one week every month) to prevent pregnancy. It releases estrogen and progestin (just like the pill) and prevents ovulation. The patch is marketed under the name Ortho Evra.

The Vaginal Ring Inserted into the vagina, this ring releases estrogen and progestin to stop ovulation. Each ring is used for three weeks, and then removed for your period. The vaginal ring is marketed under the name NuvaRing. 


SpermicideThis form of birth control usually comes as a gel or cream and is placed into the vagina before sex. Spermicides work by stopping sperm from moving (limiting mobility) and by blocking the cervix.

The SpongeThis easy-to-use form of contraception goes inside the vagina and covers the cervix. It stops sperm from entering the uterus and also releases spermicide.

The Diaphragm Like a sponge, diaphragms are inserted in the vagina and cover the cervix. They are made of rubber and must be fit at a doctor’s office. Diaphragms must be used with spermicide.

The Cervical CapThis is a silicone cap that is placed over the cervix and used in combination with spermicide. It works by blocking the opening of the uterus (so sperm can’t get inside and fertilize an egg). The name of the cervical cap available in the United States is called FemCap.

Molly Scott is a junior at Barnard and Senior Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Virginia Tech.

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