OCT 01, 2016 10:18 AM PDT

How Contraceptives Prevent Unwanted Pregnancy

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Ever since men and women understood how to have children, they've also been trying to understand how to prevent this process. The history of birth control dates back thousands of years to ancient civilizations. Some methods were quite crude and downright toxic, such as a concoction of mercury and lead that Chinese concubines drank before sex. While this did reduce fertility, it also caused major organ damage and ultimately death.

But out of the multitude of crude methods, some were actually successful. For example, condoms made from fish bladder, linen sheaths, and animal intestines showed some moderate level of effectiveness.

By comparison, today's options for contraceptives are much more effective and easy to come by. They work mainly by three modes: blocking the sperm, disabling the sperm, or by suppressing the release of the egg. Male and female condoms, for example, block the sperm from ever reaching the egg; thus, fertilization is averted. In the same way, spermicides disable the sperm's ability to swim to the egg.

While ways to block or disable sperm have been around for a while, it was only in the 1960 when the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive that works to suppress the release of the egg. Since then, millions of women have been on prescription birth control, exercising their right to choose when to have children, and how many children they want.

Still, even with these innovations, nearly 220 million women are without access to reliable birth control. And until researchers find new male contraceptives, the burden of birth control still relies heavily on women.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
FEB 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 09, 2020
Here's Why NASA Needs Another Space Station Orbiting the Moon
NASA already has the International Space Station at its disposal, and with that in mind, many have come to question why the American space agency plans to...
FEB 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 17, 2020
SpaceX Launches More Starlink Satellites, But Fails First Stage Landing
SpaceX launched yet another one of its renowned Falcon 9 rockets on Monday, this time carrying a plethora of its Starlink satellites that will fortify the...
FEB 24, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 24, 2020
These Pelicans Aren't After Fish
Pelicans are seabirds renowned for their unique bills, which encompass a rather discernible throat pouch that makes capturing and swallowing fish a cinch....
MAR 13, 2020
Cardiology
MAR 13, 2020
Heart Cancer, A Rarity
Cardiac tumors are generally considered rare, happening in only one in 500 cardiac surgery cases. These growths are often benign and occur on the non-cardi...
MAR 20, 2020
Cardiology
MAR 20, 2020
Exercise For Persons With COPD
The thought of starting an exercise program can be daunting, particularly for those who have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COP...
MAR 30, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAR 30, 2020
Packs of Humboldt Squid Rise From the Deep to Feed
Deep-sea dwellers are among some of the most intriguing marine creatures in the world, partly because it isn’t very often that we get the opportunity...
Loading Comments...