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How Do Birth Control Pills Work?

how birth control pills work

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Most birth control pills work by mimicking the hormonal conditions in a woman’s body that occur during pregnancy. Birth control consists of hormones which trick the body into thinking that its pregnant so that ovulation doesn’t occur. For those not familiar with the term ovulation, it means when the body releases a developed egg into the woman’s uterus to be fertilized by a male sperm. Without an egg, there’s nothing for the semen to fertilize and as such the woman can enjoy unprotected sex knowing it’s unlikely to get pregnant.

So in response to the question of how do birth control pills work, it’s just as it’s been explained there. It’s a little bit of trickery and allows women to have control over their reproductive capacities. 

The next most common question to come right after is usually ‘how quickly do birth control pills work?’ That’s not an easy one to answer, so we’ll get to that next. Plus, we’ll discuss the workings of the pills in greater detail AND share some great examples of trickery over the centuries.

Sound good?

Why is Birth Control Effective?

The first thing to understand here about how do birth control pills work is that they’re not all the same, and that’s why the word most is in bold italics right at the start of this blog. There’s two types of birth control pills:

  • Combination (Estrogen / Progestin) pills
  • Progestin-only pills

Most women who take birth control medication use combination pills because they are the most effective. Two common types of combination pills are Alesse (levonorgestrel) and Levora (nordette).

Likely the most popular of the progestin-only birth control pills is Yasmin (drospirenone), and that leads us into a discussion of what makes these pills different from the combination pills. It’s actual a drastic difference, as progestin-only pills (also called mini-pills) work by thickening the mucus of a woman’s cervix and thinning the uterine wall. Both changes reduce the chance of sperm reaching an egg and attaching to the uterus.

This creates an environment where it’s pretty much impossible for sperm to reach an egg for fertilization to occur.

So the woman still ovulates, but the birth control limits the chance of fertilization, and therefore, pregnancy doesn’t occur.

About That Trickery

So yes, it’s true that birth control pills are all about tricking the body. Let’s run with the topic of trickery and look at some of the most well-known instances of large-scale tricks across history.

There’s no better example of grand-scale trickery than the Trojan Horse. When you want to talk about dedication and industriousness, the Greeks built a massive hollow wooden horse that reached high into the sky and offered it to the people of Troy as a peace offering of sorts. Thing is, they weren’t focused on peace at all. Rather, it was a trick – the horse was filled with Greek warriors and once the Trojans had accepted the ‘gift’ and brought it past the city gates then the warrior hidden inside stormed out, opened the gates, and allowed their Army to overrun the city.

Now that’s definitely trickery with bad intentions, while what a woman’s birth control medication is kind of a ‘white lie’ – it’s technically untrue, but it’s not really harmful. Whereas having your city overrun by the enemy during the night would definitely be classified as harmful.

How Quickly Do Birth Control Pills Work?

So now that we’re aware how birth control pills work, we may as well go ahead and answer the one question that almost always comes along with that one – that being, ‘how quickly do birth control pills work?’

This is not an easy question to answer. For combination pills, we can start by saying that if you begin your pill on the first day of your period then the pills will begin working right away and you can be reassured you won’t become pregnant. If you begin taking them after your period has already started, however, then you should not have unprotected sexual intercourse for at least 7 days. After that period of time you can begin having unprotected sex in the same way you can right away if you start the medication on the first day of your period.

Next, progestin-only pills. It’s possible to start taking them any time during your menstrual cycle but remember that you should allow a minimum of 48 hours before you begin having unprotected sex. It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s more important to take the progestin-only pills at the same time everyday, as compared to combination pills which you can take more flexibly.

More Trickery

If any of you have heard of Piltdown Man, you get big bonus points here. For those who don’t, this fossilized human discovered in a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex, England by the famous archaeologist Charles Darwin in 1912. For 40 years it was believed to be an early humanoid species that had yet to be discovered. But again – trickery.

It turns out that Piltdown Man was an ordinary deceased modern human. Sometime after the died someone went to the trouble of replacing his lower jawbone with an orangutan’s one. No one’s ever been identified as the weirdo who’d do such a thing, but many people believe it was a young museum volunteer who was found with fossils that had staining identical to that on Piltdown Man.

Back to Birth Control Pills

Might be already-known information here, but you’ll need to get a prescription for your birth control medication. Now that you’re aware how do birth control pills work, it may also be helpful to know that often times a physician will insist that you have a genital health exam prior to starting using birth control medication for the first time. All done in the interests of your good health, so it’s something that’s helpful even if it’s not something most women feel entirely comfortable with.


IMPORTANT NOTE: The above information is intended to increase awareness of health information and does not suggest treatment or diagnosis. This information is not a substitute for individual medical attention and should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for your pet. See your veterinarian for medical advice and treatment for your pet if you have any concerns.


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