Contraception allows people to choose when and if they want to have a baby. There are several types of contraception, which work in different ways. Most contraceptives are designed for use by women. However, the male condom remains a popular choice.

Contraception is normally supplied by your doctor or by the family planning clinic. Many sexual health, or GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinics offer contraception, including emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is also available from your GP, family planning clinics and some pharmacies. You can buy male and female condoms from chemists, as well as from vending machines, supermarkets, garages and other shops.

See below for the different forms of contraception available:-

Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC)

Intrauterine devices (IUDs), also known as coils, are inserted into the uterus by a doctor or nurse. An IUD is a small plastic and copper device that is put into your uterus (womb). An IUD works by stopping sperm from reaching the egg. There are differnt 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 systems (IUSs) are small T-shaped devices that are made of plastic and contain the hormone progestogen. IUSs are inserted into the uterus and start to work as soon as they are in place. They are inserted by a trained doctor or nurse. They can last for up to 5 years but can be removed at any time. Click here for further information on the IUS.

Contraceptive implant is a small rod which is placed in your upper arm, just beneath the skin. It releases a progestogen hoemone. It works for up to three years. Click here to find out mroe about the conctraceptive implant.

Contraceptive injections contain a progestogen hormone. 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.

Hormonal methods

This form of contraception affects the hormone balance in a woman’s body to stop her getting pregnant. It may be taken orally (by mouth) in the form of the combined or progestogen-only pill, in the form of an injection every two to three months, or as a contraceptive implant under the skin.

The combined pill contains both oestrogen and progestogen. These prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary each month). The mucus in the neck of the womb (cervix) becomes thicker, making it harder for sperm to reach the egg. The lining of the womb also becomes thinner, meaning that there is less chance of a fertilised egg being accepted.

The combined pill can cause side effects such as weight change and mood swings, but these often disappear after the first few months of use. It may also cause a slight rise in blood pressure, and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. This risk is also increased in the following circumstances:

  • if you have already had a blood clot,
  • severe obesity, 
  • immobility (eg wheelchair bound), 
  • severe varicose veins, 
  • poorly controlled diabetes,
  • high blood pressure, 
  • if you have a close family member who has had a thrombosis, heart attack, or stroke before the age of 45, 
  • severe migraine, or
  • smoking - particularly if you are over 35.

Your doctor will consider your medical history and current state of health when prescribing the combined pill. Before you start taking the Pill, you may wish to ask your doctor about the latest knowledge regarding risks. Click here for further information on the combined pill.

The progestogen-only pill has fewer side effects and risks but is less reliable. It works by thickening the mucus in the cervix (neck of the womb) to make it difficult for sperm to travel through. The progestogen-only pill does not prevent ovulation, but it often causes lighter periods and can make the menstrual cycle irregular. Click here for further information.

The contraceptive patch is a small, thin, beige coloured patch. It releases two types of hormone, estrogen and progestogen and you stick it on your skin. Click here for further information.

Contraceptive vaginal ring is a flexible, transparent, plastic ring. This gets placed in the vagina and it releases two hormones, estrogen and progestogen. Click here for further information.

Barrier methods

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:-

Surgical methods

Surgical contraception, or sterilisation, is an operation that can be performed on both men and women to make you infertile. It is suitable only for those who are certain they do not want to have any more children. In women, sterilisation is done by cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes. In men, sterilisation is done by cutting and sealing (or tying) the vas deferens. This is also known as a vasectomy. Click here to find out more about male and femaile sterilisation.

Natural methods

Natural birth control does not affect the body, but is the least reliable form of birth control. It involves working out when the woman is fertile and avoiding intercourse at these times. It requires a regular menstrual cycle and is most effective in a long-term relationship. Click here to find out more.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy occurring after unprotected sex has taken place, for example when usual contraception has failed or has not been used. If you have had unprotected sex within the previous three days, you will be prescribed an emergency pill that should be taken as soon as possible. In some cases, you may be given two pills that should be taken together as a single dose. Alternatively, an IUD may be inserted, depending on the dates of the unprotected sex and your last period.