Artificial contraception is another name for birth control. It’s intentionally using something — a barrier, device, drug, or another technique — to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy.
“The idea is that you’re interfering with the natural process of a sperm fertilizing an egg, or conception,” says Michael Green, MD, OB-GYN, chief medical officer at Winona, a telehealth company specializing in menopause care.
When it comes to contraception, you have a wide variety of methods to choose from:
- hormonal or nonhormonal
- single-use, shorter-term, or long-term
- with or without added protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
What contraceptive you choose — if you opt for birth control at all — is a matter of personal preference.
All hormonal contraceptives contain a synthetic version of progesterone called progestin. Some hormonal methods use synthetic estrogen (like ethinyl estradiol) alongside progestin to interfere with conception.
“These hormones prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to reach the egg,” explains Green.
He says they also thin the uterine lining, which helps prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.
Hormonal contraceptives include:
“So long as they are used correctly, hormonal birth control is very effective,” says Green. In fact, all hormonal birth control methods are more than 99% effective when used properly.
While the implant and IUD can be effective several years after the initial placement, other options need monthly, weekly, or daily maintenance. Any interferences in maintenance — known as typical use — reduce the method’s overall effectiveness.
For example, a healthcare professional must give you the shot every 8–13 weeks to reduce the risk of pregnancy consistently. With typical use, the shot is around 94% effective.
Taking the pill at roughly the same time daily is important. With typical use, the pill is around 91% effective.
Some people prefer nonhormonal contraception because they experience unwanted side effects, like mood changes, weight gain, or decreased libido, on hormonal birth control, says Green.
Your medical history may also play a role, says Sophia Yen, MD, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health, an online birth control provider.
Nonhormonal contraceptives include:
- cervical cap
- copper IUD
- external condom
- internal condom
- vaginal film
- vaginal gel
Of these, the copper IUD is the most effective and requires the least upkeep. Once inserted, the copper IUD is more than 99% effective for at least 10 years.
|Nonhormonal contraceptive||Perfect use effectiveness||Typical use effectiveness|
|Copper IUD||more than 99%||N/A|
“There’s also the fertility awareness method, which involves monitoring and tracking fertility signs like basal body temperature and cervical mucus to identify fertile and infertile periods to prevent pregnancy,” explains Green.
He adds that this may be the least effective method due to the larger margin for error.
Although the fertility awareness method can be up to 99% effective when taught by a specialist and used alongside another contraceptive, it’s typically about 76% effective.
If you feel like there’s a lot of conflicting information around contraception and conception, you’re not alone.
Both topics have become political hotspots, which has resulted in a surplus of medical misinformation.
Combine this with the widespread lack of medically accurate and comprehensive sex education, and it makes sense that many people feel confused.
‘Artificial’ vs. ‘natural’ contraception
When someone refers to “natural” contraception, they’re typically referring to the fertility awareness method, which is also known as natural family planning, notes Green.
Artificial contraception usually refers to birth control methods that involve a pill, barrier, or device, he says.
“Given the risk of human error and tracking mistakes, artificial contraception is generally more effective at preventing pregnancy than natural contraception,” adds Green.
Pregnancy prevention ≠ pregnancy termination
“Pregnancy prevention and pregnancy termination are distinctly different concepts,” says Green.
Pregnancy prevention — also known as contraception or birth control — typically aims to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg and to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterine wall.
Pregnancy termination — also known as abortion — can only occur if fertilization and implantation have taken place.
Scientific vs. spiritual view of conception
Scientifically speaking, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining, explains Yen. “If the egg doesn’t implant, you are not pregnant,” she says.
If, for example, you have three fertilized eggs frozen in a bank in San Francisco, you are not pregnant, she says. “You only become pregnant if a doctor puts those eggs in your uterus and one of them implants.”
However, religious and spiritual communities may have different views about when pregnancy begins.
“Some religions preach that conception occurs at fertilization, while others believe it starts at implantation,” says Green.
To learn more about pregnancy prevention:
- From Acacia to IUDs: The History of Birth Control in the United States
- How to Find the Best Birth Control Method for Your Lifestyle
- Plan B Doesn’t Work During Ovulation — Here Are Your Options
- The 6 Best Services for Birth Control Online for 2023
- Yes, Plan B Has a Weight Limit — Here’s What It Means for You
- How to Access Free or Lower-Cost Birth Control in Each State
To learn more about ovulation, fertilization, and implantation:
- The Best Fertility Tracker Apps
- A Look at Your Fertility Timeline
- The 5 Best At-Home Fertility Tests
- Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
- The 9 Best Ovulation Tests
- How to Tell the Difference Between Implantation and Period Bleeding
To learn more about early pregnancy and development in the first trimester:
Artificial contraception is any form of birth control that isn’t the fertility awareness or natural family planning method.
Whether you utilize “natural” or “artificial” methods of preventing or encouraging pregnancy is up to you and you alone. A healthcare professional can answer any questions and help you determine what methods best suit your needs.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.