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Contraception

Contraception

Fertility regulation is key in today’s society. Contraception protects against pregnancy although some methods can be used for non-contraceptive benefits. Contraception needs to be used until the menopause. This is two years after last having a period if you’re aged under 50, or one year if aged over 50. This advice may be different if you’re using hormonal contraception. Most contraceptives are designed for use by women. However, the male condom remains a popular choice.

Three quarters of contraception is provided in primary care, the rest by pharmacies and sexual health clinics.  Emergency contraception is also available from your GP, sexual health clinics and pharmacies. You can buy male and female condoms from chemists, as well as from vending machines, supermarkets, garages and other shops.

It's worth taking the time to find out more about each method so you can choose one that suits you. There are 15 different methods of contraception currently available in the UK, two methods are specifically for men – the external (male) condom and male sterilisation (vasectomy) – and 13 are for women. The type that works best for you will depend on your age, health and circumstances, for example do you want to make contraception part of your daily routine or not?  Do you mind if your periods change? What if you can't use hormonal contraceptives? 

See below for the different forms of contraception available:-

Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC)

Not all contraceptives have to be taken every day or each time you have sex.  Long-acting reversible contraception is contraception that, once in place, is effective for months or years.

Contraceptive implant - A small, flexible rod is put under the skin of your upper arm. It releases the hormone progestogen. It stops ovulation (releasing an egg), thickens cervical mucus to stop sperm reaching an egg, and thins the lining of the uterus (womb) to prevent a fertilised egg implanting.  It works for up to three years. Click here to find out more about the contraceptive implant.

Intrauterine device (IUD) - A small plastic and copper device is put into the uterus (womb). The copper prevents sperm from surviving, and alters cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg. An IUD may also stop a fertilised egg implanting in the uterus.  There are different types of IUD, to suit different women. An IUD can stay in for 5-10 years, depending on the type a women has. Some types of IUD can be left until menopause if fitted after age 40. Click here to find out more about the IUD.

 Intrauterine system (IUS) - A small, T-shaped plastic device, which releases the hormone progestogen, is put into the uterus (womb). This thins the lining of the uterus to prevent a fertilised egg implanting and thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm reaching an egg.  They can last for up to 5 years but can be removed at any time. Click here for further information on the IUS.

Contraceptive injection - It releases the hormone progestogen which stops ovulation (releasing an egg), thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm reaching an egg, and thins the lining of the uterus (womb) to prevent a fertilised egg implanting.  The injection can’t be removed from the body so any side effects may continue for as long as it works and for some time afterwards.  There are two types of contraceptive injection, these are known as Depo-Provera, which protects you from pregnancy for 12 weeks, and the Notisterat, which protects you for eight weeks. Click here for further information. There is also an option to be shown how to inject yourself with depo-provera, known as Sayana Press.

Remember regularly

Methods that are either taken every day, or replaced weekly or monthly or are used each time you have sex.

Daily

Combined pill (COC) - The combined pill is usually just called the pill. It contains two hormones – estrogen and progestogen. These are similar to the natural hormones produced by the ovaries. There are different types of combined pill and different ways to take it.  Click here for further information on the combined pill.

Progestogen-only pill (POP) - Progestogen-only pills (POPs) contain a progestogen hormone. This is similar to the natural progesterone produced by the ovaries. Click here for further information.

Weekly

Contraceptive patch - The contraceptive patch is a small, thin, beige coloured patch, nearly 5cm x 5cm in size.  You stick it on your skin and it releases two hormones – estrogen and progestogen. These are similar to the natural hormones produced by the ovaries and are like those used in the combined pill.  Click here for further information.

Monthly

Contraceptive vaginal ring - The vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring that is about 4mm thick and 5.5cm in diameter. It’s placed in the vagina for 21 days where it releases two hormones – estrogen and progestogen. These are similar to the natural hormones produced by the ovaries and are like those used in the combined pill.  Click here for further information.

Before sex

Barrier methods of contraception include diaphragms, condoms and cervical caps. They work by preventing sperm from reaching an egg by creating a physical barrier between the two. Male condoms cover the penis, female condoms line the vagina, and caps and diaphragms cover the cervix (neck of the womb). The condom offers protection against infections, as well as serious sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Click on the topics below for further information:-

Natural family planning/fertility awareness method

Fertility awareness involves being able to identify the signs and symptoms of fertility during the menstrual cycle so you can plan or avoid pregnancy.

It works by plotting the times of the month when you’re fertile and when you’re not. You learn how to record fertility signals, such as your body temperature and cervical secretions (fluids or mucus), to identify when it’s safer to have sex to avoid pregnancy. Natural family planning is more effective when more than one fertility signal is monitored. Your fertility signals can be affected by factors such as illness, stress and travel.

You can't learn natural family planning from a book. It has to be learned from a specialist teacher.  Click here to find out more.

Permanent

Sterilisation is a permanent method of contraception, for people who don’t want more children, or any children and is more than 99% effective. It works by stopping sperm from meeting an egg.

Male sterilisation (vasectomy) is done by cutting and sealing or tying the vas deferens (the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis).

Female sterilisation (tubal occlusion) is done by cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which carry an egg from the ovary to the uterus (womb).

Click here to find out more about male and female sterilisation.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if your contraceptive method has failed – for example, a condom has split or you've missed a pill. 

There are two types:

  • the emergency contraceptive pill – Levonelle or ellaOne (sometimes called the morning after pill) You need to take the emergency contraceptive pill within 3 days (Levonelle) or 5 days (ellaOne) of unprotected sex for it to be effective – the sooner you take it, the more effective it'll be.
  • the IUD (intrauterine device, or coil) The IUD can be fitted up to 5 days after unprotected sex, or up to 5 days after the earliest time you could have ovulated, for it to be effective. 

The IUD is more effective than the contraceptive pill at preventing pregnancy – less than 1% of women who use the IUD get pregnant.

Click here to find out more about emergency contraception.

Remember, the only way to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is to use a condom every time you have sex. Other methods of contraception prevent pregnancy, but they don't protect against STIs.