Birth control, also known as family planning, is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy that may result from sexual intercourse. There are a variety of birth control methods available in local drug stores. Some are over the counter methods while some require a doctor's prescription. Each method is different so it is important to get all the facts about each method. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other health care professionals will be able to answer questions and provide access to different resources.

Despite the discussions in the media and by various religious leaders, birth control is not a new idea. Throughout the ages, humans have tried to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Condoms date back to 3000 BC. They have been constructed of many different materials during the ages including fish bladders, linen and animal intestines. The ancient Egyptians used a mixture of crocodile dung and other ingredients that could be inserted into a woman's vagina to form a layer over her cervix. These primitive methods were often unreliable but not much changed in birth control until in 1883. The very first vulcanized rubber condoms and diaphragms were produced in the United States, making them far more reliable than they had ever been. The birth control pill first gained popularity in the 1960s.

In modern times there is a large variety of birth control methods to choose from, although most rely on the female partner to use them. A male pill is in clinical trials but will not be out on the market for another five to seven years. In the mean time, other than condoms, birth control is used by women.

There are two primary methods available: barrier methods and hormonal methods. Barrier methods prevent the sperm from reaching the egg by placing a barrier between the two. The most common barrier method is the condom. For women there are a variety of options; the most well known being the diaphragm, a small rubber cup that is placed over the cervix that prevents sperm from entering.

Hormonal methods come in many different forms but generally work in one of two ways: they introduce hormones to a woman's body that suppress ovulation or create a layer of cervical mucus that prevent sperm from entering the womb. Additionally, they may inhibit implantation of the fertilized egg into the uterus.

Abstinence is the only method of birth control that is 100% safe and effective. This and condoms are the only two forms of birth control that prevent sexually transmitted infections. Birth control is not complicated, but it is important to use any method correctly to achieve maximum protection against unwanted pregnancy.