Contraception is a really important aspect of having safer sex, and helps ensure that you won’t get pregnant if you don’t want to. There are different types of contraception including hormonal methods, barrier contraception, intrauterine devices, and emergency contraception. You can get contraception from a number of places, however it’s worth talking to a doctor or sexual health nurse about which form of contraception would be best suited to you and your lifestyle.
- You’re not sure what contraception is
- You’re not sure how it works
- You’re thinking of having sex for the first time
What is contraception?
Contraception involves using various methods as a way of preventing pregnancy. There are different types of contraception. Some methods you may have already heard about, and some you may not have.
Hormonal methods of contraception work by regulating or preventing the release of an egg from a woman’s ovaries (a process known as ovulation).
“The pill” is a common form of hormonal contraception available in two forms: combined oral contraception, and progestogen-only pills. By using sex hormones to change fertility, combined oral contraceptive pills prevent the release of an egg. Whereas, progestogen-only pills mainly work to prevent pregnancy by thickening the mucus at the cervix, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
The upside- the pill is very effective at preventing pregnancy if taken properly every day. The combined pill, for example, is 99% effective if used correctly which means following all the instructions given by the doctor.
The downside- the pill does not protect from STI’s and can occasionally have some negative side effects. All of these treatments have a cost involved and are dependent on having a doctor prescribe them. You need to remember to take the pill every day. You can use condoms at the same time as the pill to be extra careful.
The vaginal ring
The vaginal ring is a flexible ring (around 5 cm in diameter) which you put into the vagina each month. It contains hormones that are released continuously for three weeks, until it needs to be replaced with a new one. Vaginal rings, in the same way as the combined pill, prevent ovulation, and therefore work to stop pregnancies.
The upside – you don’t have to remember to take a pill every day.
The downside – the vaginal ring is more expensive than many pills. You’ll also need to feel comfortable about putting the ring into the vagina. It can have the same side effects as the combined pill and it doesn’t protect you from STIs but you can use it at the same time as a condom.
The contraceptive implant
The contraceptive implant is a flexible rod which is inserted just under skin of the inside upper arm. It works by releasing hormones that stop the release of the egg from the ovary. It provides very effective contraception for up to 3 years.
The upside– it is very effective because you don’t have to remember to do something every day or each time you have sex. It is cost effective because it lasts a long time and is immediately reversible.
The downside– you need to have the implant put in and taken out by a doctor. It can have some side effects in some women.
The contraceptive injection
The contraceptive injection is a hormonal injection given every 3 months to stop the release of the egg from the ovary.
The upside– it is very effective and you don’t have to remember to do something every day.
The downside– you need to remember to have an injection every 3 months. It can have some side effects in some women. They dont protect you from STIs but you can use them with condoms.
Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
The IUD is a small, T-shaped object inserted into the uterus by a doctor.
The hormonal IUD
Working much like the pill, a hormonal IUD releases hormones that thicken cervical mucus and prevent sperm from entering the uterus. It can last for up to 5 years.
The copper IUD
Copper IUDs doesn’t contain hormones, but work by releasing a small amount of copper into a woman’s uterus, which in effect causes the uterus to inflame and prevents sperm from being able to fertilise an egg. Copper IUDs can lasts for up to 10 years.
The upside – they are very effective methods of contraception and you don’t have to remember to do something every day.
The downside – you have to get the IUD inserted by a doctor. The IUD can have some side effects and you have to feel comfortable about having the IUD inserted into the uterus. This can sometimes be more difficult if you have not had children. The copper IUD can make your periods heavier. They do not protect you from STIs but you can use them with condoms.
Barrier methods use physical devices used to prevent the sperm from entering the uterus.
Condoms and diaphragms
These methods include condoms and the diaphragm and rely on blocking access of sperm to the egg. Male condoms are made of latex or polyurethane. Female condoms are made of polyurethane. The diaphragm is a silicone barrier which fits over the cervix to stop the sperm from meeting the egg.
The upside – They usually have less side effects than hormonal methods. The male and female condom also reduces the risk of STIs. Condoms are easy to buy and you don’t need to see a doctor to get them.
The downside– They need to be used every time you have sex. They are not as effective at preventing pregnancy as hormonal treatments. The diaphragm doesn’t protect against STI’s.You need to see a doctor or nurse to have a diaphragm fitted and there is a cost involved. You need to feel comfortable putting the diaphragm into the vagina before you have sex.
If you’ve had unprotected sex or are worried that a form on contraception you were using might not have been effective (perhaps your condom broke), the emergency pill can be used. The emergency contraceptive pill is a hormonal method of contraception that can be taken up to 72 hours after having sex. It works by preventing the fertilisation or the implantation of an egg, and is more effective the sooner you take it.
The upside– Does not have to be used on a regular basis. Available over the counter at pharmacies.
The downside– Does not protect from STIs. Some medications can reduce the effectiveness of emergency contraception.
Where do you get contraception from?
You can get different forms of contraception from different places; however most forms of contraception need to be accessed through a health professional.
Places where contraception is available:
- Family planning centres
- Women’s health centres
- Sexual health centres
You can also pick up condoms from a pharmacy or chemist without a doctor’s prescription.