Introduction

Contraception
Contraception

Contraception is the use of hormones, devices or surgery to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. It allows couples to choose if and when they want to have a baby.

Most types of contraception don't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The condom is the only form of contraception that protects against STIs as well as preventing pregnancy. Therefore, if you're using another type of contraception, such as the contraceptive pill, you should also use a condom to protect yourself against getting a STI.

NHS Direct Wales has a contraception symptom checker that you can use if you are concerned about your method of contraception.

Types of contraception

Condoms (male and female)

Condoms are a form of barrier contraception. They prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching and fertilising an egg. Condoms also provide protection against STIs, including HIV, and stop them being passed from one sexual partner to another. Condoms are used during penetrative sex (vaginal or anal) and oral sex to protect against STIs.

Read more about male and female condoms.

Combined contraceptive pill

The combined contraceptive pill, usually just referred to as the pill, contains synthetic (man-made) versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally in their ovaries. The pill is usually taken to prevent pregnancy but it can also be used to treat:

Read more about the combined contraceptive pill.

Progestogen-only contraceptive pill

The progestogen-only pill doesn't contain any oestrogen. It is an option for women who can't use the combined contraceptive pill, such as those over 35 years old and those who smoke.

Read more about the progestogen-only pill.

Contraceptive implants and injections

Contraceptive implants and injections are long-acting, effective, reversible and progestogen-only methods of contraception. They are over 99% reliable in preventing pregnancy. This means that fewer than 1 in 100 women who use the implant or injection will become pregnant each year. The injection is given every 12 weeks and the implant lasts for 3 years.

Read more about contraceptive implants and injections.

Contraceptive patch

The contraceptive patch is a small, thin, beige patch that measures about 5cm by 5cm and is stuck onto the skin. It's a form of hormonal contraceptive that's worn by a woman to prevent her getting pregnant when she has sex. It's not suitable for women who can't take oestrogen-containing contraception.

Read more about the contraceptive patch.

Diaphragms and caps

Diaphragms and caps are barrier methods of contraception used by women. They fit inside the vagina and prevent sperm from passing through the entrance of the womb (cervix).

Read more about diaphragms and caps.

Emergency contraception

A woman can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or if a method of contraception has failed. There are two types of emergency contraception:

Read more about emergency contraception.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped contraceptive device made from plastic and copper that fits inside the womb (uterus). The IUD used to be called a coil or a loop. It's a long-acting and reversible method of contraception, which can stay in the womb for 5-10 years depending on the type.

Read more about the intrauterine device.

Intrauterine system (IUS)

The intrauterine system (IUS) is similar to the intrauterine device (IUD), but it works in a slightly different way. Rather than releasing copper like the IUD, the IUS releases the hormone progestogen, which prevents pregnancy. It's a long-acting, reversible method of contraception that lasts for five years. It can also be used for managing heavy periods.

Read more about the intrauterine system.

Vasectomy

Vasectomy or 'male sterilisation' is a simple and reliable method of contraception. It's usually considered permanent and is therefore a big decision that should be fully discussed with your GP beforehand. A vasectomy is a quick and relatively painless surgical procedure. It's usually done under local anaesthetic.

Read more about vasectomy.

Female sterilisation

Female sterilisation is an effective form of contraception that permanently prevents a woman from being able to get pregnant. Like a vasectomy, female sterilisation is a big decision that should be fully discussed with your GP.

The operation usually involves cutting or blocking the fallopian tubes, which carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb (uterus). This prevents the eggs from reaching the sperm and being fertilised. It's a fairly minor operation and many women can return home the same day.

Read more about female sterilisation.

Vaginal ring

The vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring that's placed inside the vagina on the first day of a woman’s period. It is removed after 21 days. Seven days later a new ring is used. A vaginal ring is about 4mm thick and 5.5cm in diameter. It contains oestrogen and progestogen, so it's not suitable for women who can't take oestrogen-containing contraception.

How effective is contraception?

The effectiveness of contraception depends on factors such as:

  • your age
  • how often you have sex
  • whether you use the contraceptive correctly

Most types of contraception are over 99% effective if used correctly. The male condom is 98% effective if it's used correctly and consistently. It's the only type of contraception that protects against STIs as well as pregnancy.

Where can I get contraception?

Most types of contraception are available free in the UK. Places where you can get contraception include:

Contraception services are free and confidential, including for people under 16 years old.

However, doctors and nurses work under strict guidelines and will check that anyone who is under 16 understands the decisions they're making. If they believe that there's a risk to a young person’s safety and wellbeing, they may decide to inform their parents.

Find your nearest sexual health clinic by searching by postcode or town.

Stopping contraception

You may need to change the type of contraception that you use as you get older, after having children, or if your sex life changes in any way.

Fertility usually starts to decline from around age 37, although you will still need to use contraception after this time to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Most women will have reached the menopause by the time they're 55 years old and can usually be advised to stop using contraception around this time.

Report side effects

The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine that you're taking. It's run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

^^ Back to top


The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 17/11/2015 08:59:21