Difference Between Protection, Birth Control, & Contraception

There is a lot of overlap when referring to protection, birth control and contraception that often causes their meanings to be confused. Sometimes protection is used when someone is talking about avoiding STDs, pregnancy or both. Sometimes birth control and contraception are used interchangeably. It’s a mess!

So let’s clear up any misinformation or confusion.

Definitions of these terms, provided by Merriam-Webster, are:

  • ProtectionA device (such as a condom) that is used during sex to prevent pregnancy and/or the spread of diseases.
  • Birth control – Control of the number of children born especially by preventing or lessening the frequency of conception.
  • Contraception – Deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation.
    • Conception –  The process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both.
  • Contragestion (as defined by MedicalDictionary.com since Merriam-Webster does not have its definition) – Any contraceptive method that specifically prevents the gestation of a fertilized egg—e.g., the ‘morning after’ pill or RU-486—either by making the implantation site uninhabitable or by promoting the fertilized product’s expulsion.

What does this mean?

This means that birth control is a broad category that protection, contraception, and contragestion fall under. Birth control includes all of the actions or devices used to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant and includes family planning and programs that revolve around it.

Using protection includes actions like using condoms or dental dams during sex. Condoms are the only contraceptive that helps prevents both pregnancy and most sexually transmitted diseases by acting as a barrier. All other forms of protection only help to prevent the transmission of STDs, like dental dams. Note that lamb or sheepskin condoms are not effective at preventing STDs from being transmitted, only sperm.

All types of contraception are forms of birth control, but contraceptive forms are more specific in that they are used for the purpose of preventing sperm from reaching a female’s egg. These methods include hormonal pills (birth control pills, known as The Pill”), intra-uterine devices (IUDs), coitus interruptus (the withdrawal method), tubal ligation, hysterectomy, vasectomy, natural planning in which the menstrual cycle is followed to avoid having sex on days when a woman is more likely to get pregnant, barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms), and spermicides.

Contragestion are forms of contraception that happen after or potentially after sperm and an egg have met (whether or not they consider this a fetus or human life whether or not it has implanted yet is up for each person to decide for themselves). These methods, like the “morning after pill,” are often known as emergency contraception.

If you take nothing else away from this article, know that male latex or polyurethane condoms is the only method of protection that is highly effective against preventing STDs and pregnancy when used consistently and correctly during sex.

Medically Reviewed by on September 7, 2023

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Author: Nick Corlis

Nick Corlis is a writer, marketer, and designer. He graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, with a degree in Digital Communications. Nick is proud to be able to help eliminate the stigma of STD testing through his writing and is always trying to advocate the importance of your sexual health. Before STDcheck, his favorite way to develop his writing skills was by accepting various writing jobs in college and maintaining multiple blogs. Nick wears many hats here at STDcheck, but specifically enjoys writing accurate, well-researched content that is not only informative and relatable but sometimes also contains memes. When not writing, Nick likes to race cars and go-karts, eat Japanese food, and play games on his computer.