Definition of contraception:

The deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse. The major forms of artificial contraception are: barrier methods, of which the commonest is the condom or sheath; the contraceptive pill, which contains synthetic sex hormones which prevent ovulation in the female; intrauterine devices, such as the coil, which prevent the fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus; and male or female sterilization.

Definition of contraceptive (as noun):

A device or drug serving to prevent pregnancy.

Going by these two definitions, it appears that the two words have similar meanings. The definition of contraception is more detailed than the definition of contraceptive (and approaching an encyclopedia entry). More important, it seems like contraception refers to the act whereas contraceptive refers to the physical manifestation of the act.

Is this assessment correct?

(Oxford Dictionaries Online: contraception, contraceptive)

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    What makes you think your assessment would not be accurate. It's there exactly as you describe it. Have you noticed people using it differently? – Helmar Nov 10 '16 at 21:27
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    @Helmar -- Yes, I have noticed some using the words differently. For example, an example sentence that ODO provides below the definition of contraception is, "It had been her first time, they didn't use any contraception." In this example sentence, contraception is used to refer to a physical method, not the act itself. This is indicated by the determiner that precedes the noun ("any"). – Kyle Nov 10 '16 at 21:39
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    @Kyle any doesn't have to precede something physical. In this case it seems to be more any of the methods that are available, rather than any specific device. So I guess I would put the general concept in the upper category. – Helmar Nov 10 '16 at 21:46
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    @Helmar -- You're right about "any." Upon some more thought, I have realized that it's not "any" that throws me off in the ODO example sentence, but the verb, "use". How does one "use any" practice? To reference WS2's below answer, how does one "use any" trumpeting? This is unintelligible. One uses any method of trumpeting; one uses any trumpet. – Kyle Nov 10 '16 at 22:49
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    @Helmar -- In your comment, you wrote, "Contraception however is a whole bunch of methods, devices et cetera." But according to the ODO definition I provided above, your sentence is not true. Contraception, according to the ODO, is the act (or practice) of preventing pregnancy, which includes several methods. Contraception is not the "plural" form of contraceptive. – Kyle Nov 11 '16 at 0:45

Trumpeting is a practice. It involves playing a trumpet

Contraception is a practice. It involves the use of a contraceptive.


Contraception, noun:

Intentional prevention of ovulation, fertilization of an egg cell, or implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall through the use of various drugs, devices, sexual practices, or surgical procedures. - AHDEL

Contraceptive, noun

A contraceptive drug or device, such as a birth control pill or a condom. - AHDEL

In other words, contraception is an act which is done with the intention of preventing pregnancy. There are lots of ways to do so at various points in the process of conception, including preventing ovulation (e.g. Oral Contraceptives), abstinence (a sexual practice), etc., so a few are mentioned in the definition as examples.

A contraceptive is a device (I would include a drug here technically as a device) used to prevent pregnancy. Because the definition is more limited, there are fewer of these than there are acts (unless you want to list every brand of every device). So there's no need to delineate the options.

...the physical manifestation of the act.

Not exactly. The physical manifestation of abstinence is to avoid sexual intercourse. The physical manifestation of a surgical procedure as a means of contraception could be the tying off of the fallopian tubes or undergoing of a vasectomy.

The key difference is the word device. If you interpret device as

A contrivance or invention serving a particular purpose...

then it's something concrete, physical, with mass and composition, e.g. a copper IUD. However, if you define devices as "physical manifestations" (which is possible), then you're correct.

You can't call many of the acts of contraception devices.

  • I don't understand the downvotes. +1 for me. – user66974 Nov 11 '16 at 8:32

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