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Most forms of birth control have one thing in common. They are only effective if used faithfully. Birth control pills will work only if taken every day; the diaphragm is effective only if used during every episode of sexual intercourse. The same is true for condoms and the cervical cap. Some methods automatically work every day. These methods include Depo Provera, Norplant, the IUD, and tubal sterilization.

There are many different ways to use birth control. They can be divided into several groups:

  • By mouth (oral)—Birth control pills must be taken by mouth every day.
  • Injected—Depo Provera is a hormonal medication that is given by injection every three months.
  • Implanted—Norplant is a long-acting hormonal form of birth control that is implanted under the skin of the upper arm.
  • Vaginal—Spermicides and barrier methods work in the vagina.
  • Intra-uterine—The IUD is inserted into the uterus.
  • Surgical—Tubal sterilization is a form of surgery. A doctor must perform the procedure in a hospital or surgical clinic. Many women need general anesthesia.

The methods of birth control differ from each other in the timing of when they are used. Some methods of birth control must be used specifically at the time of sexual intercourse (condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicides). Emergency contraception must be started as soon as possible after intercourse and no more than 72 hours after. All other methods of birth control (hormonal methods, IUDs, tubal sterilization) must be working all the time to provide protection.

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