For 25 years RHTP’s Contraceptive Technologies program sought to improve and protect the availability of safe and effective contraception. Contraception works to prevent unintended pregnancies and some contraceptive technologies also protect against HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well. In addition to these health protections, the ability to control one’s fertility affects numerous aspects of a person’s life. Women who cannot plan the timing and spacing of their children may be limited in pursuing their educational and economic goals, providing the kind of home they want for themselves and their families, sustaining the relationships they desire, and more.

Since its inception in 1992, RHTP was at the forefront of the movement to ensure that contraception is readily available to any person who desires it, in a safe and affordable manner. RHTP led the fight to bring emergency contraception (EC) into the mainstream and make it available over-the-counter (OTC) (i.e., without a prescription). We did so by bringing together diverse stakeholders to: raise awareness about new and existing methods; share the latest evidence-based information; define the advocacy agenda to protect and expand access; and develop action plans for progress.

Contraceptive Methods

Contraception comes in both hormonal and non-hormonal forms. Since the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first birth control pill in 1960, millions of Americans have used hormonal contraception in its various forms – pills, patches, rings, injections, implants, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). IUDs and implants are sometimes referred to as long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARCs).

Some hormonal methods contain estrogen and some do not. Combined oral contraceptives (COCs), patches, and rings all contain an estrogen (usually ethinyl estradiol) and a progestin. Some forms of hormonal contraception, however, only contain progestin. These include progestin-only pills (POPs or mini-pills), the injectable Depo Provera®, and the implant Nexplanon® (formerly known as Implanon®). Other progestin-only options are the Mirena®, Skyla®, and Liletta™ IUDs.

Non-hormonal methods include the diaphragm, the cervical cap, male condoms, female condoms, spermicides, and the copper IUD Paragard®. Another non-hormonal method is sterilization, a permanent form of birth control that has a failure rate of less than one percent. The forms available to women are tubal ligation, tubal implant (Essure®), and hysterectomy.

In addition to routine contraception, Emergency Contraception (EC) is a safe, effective back-up birth control method that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. EC comes in various forms. The most commonly known is Plan B One-Step® and its generics, which can be sold on store shelves to anyone, regardless of age or gender. This levonorgestrel-based pill is effective for up to 3 days (72 hours) after sex. A second EC pill option is ella® (ulipristal acetate), which is available to people of all ages, but as of spring 2017 still requires a prescription from a healthcare provider. ella® is safe and effective for preventing unintended pregnancy for up to five days (120 hours) after sex. Lastly, the copper IUD Paragard® can be used as EC if inserted within 5 days of sexual intercourse. Unlike EC pills, ParaGard® is not available OTC and must be inserted by a licensed medical provider.

Depending on the method, contraception is available at a medical office, at family planning clinics, at school health centers, online, and at pharmacies (either with a prescription or OTC).

To learn more about various contraceptives methods visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Contraception page. To learn how different types of contraception works, visit our Factsheet on Contraception. To find which method may be right for you, check out these interactive tools from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and Bedsider. To find the best way to access contraception, visit Bedsider’s ‘Where to Get It’ page.