With so many options to choose from, find out the facts to help you decide what could work for you


Contraception is something most of us will think about at some point in our lives. With lots of different methods out there, what works for your BFF or your sister may not work for you and that’s totally OK. The most important thing is finding something that suits your lifestyle – your body, your rules.


Whatever option you have your eye on, speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist to find out whether it’s suitable for you. It’s always important to read the patient information leaflet and instructions that come with your contraception.


Choosing a contraception method


Some contraceptives work by using hormones that are similar to a woman’s natural hormones made by the body. Not all contraceptive methods use hormones though. The different options work by either keeping sperm from reaching an egg, stopping egg production or stopping a fertilised egg attaching to the womb lining.


Whether you’re wanting a contraception method that works every day or only when you’re having sex, let’s chat through your choices.


Contraceptive pill


The contraceptive pill is one of the most common forms of contraception. There are two main types – the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill.


Combined pill


The combined oral pill contains artificial versions of the oestrogen and progesterone hormones, which are produced naturally in the ovaries. It works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg each month. The pill also thins the lining of the womb, so there’s less chance of a fertilised egg implanting into the womb and being able to grow.


You’ll usually need to take one pill at the same time every day for 21 days. Then you take a break for seven days before taking the pill again. There are different types of combined pills and some can be taken without needing a break. Always make sure you read the instructions that come with your pack.


Who can take the combined pill?


There are several reasons why the pill may not be suitable for you, including if you:


• Smoke and are 35 or older

• Stopped smoking less than a year ago and are 35 or older

• Are very overweight

• Take certain medicines


To find out whether the pill is right for you, talk to a GP, nurse or pharmacist. If there are no medical reasons why you can’t take the pill, and you don’t smoke, you can take the pill until your menopause.


How effective is the combined pill?


When taken correctly, the pill is over 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.


Where can I get the combined pill?


You can get it for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• Some GP surgeries

• Some young people's services


Progestogen-only pill


Unlike combination pills, progestogen-only pills don’t contain oestrogen, they only contain progestogen. They work by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm reaching an egg. There are two different types:


• Traditional progestogen-only pill, which must be taken within three hours of the same time each day

• Desogestrel progestogen-only pill, which must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day


The progestogen-only pill needs to be taken at the same time every day. Not taking the pill at the right time, missing pills or taking the pill alongside other medicines can reduce its effectiveness. Always follow the instructions that come with your pill packet.


Who can take the progestogen-only pill?


The progestogen-only pill is good for women who can’t take contraception containing oestrogen. You can also take this pill if you're over 35 and you smoke. Most women can use the progestogen-only pill, but there are several reasons it may not be suitable including if you:


• Take other medicines that may affect the pill

• Have developed arterial disease or heart disease or have had a stroke

• Have liver disease

• Have breast cancer or have had it in the past


How effective is the progestogen-only pill?


When taken correctly, the pill is over 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.


Where can I get the progestogen-only pill?


You can get it for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• Some GP surgeries

• Some young people's services


We offer both types of contraceptive pills via our Online Doctor Service. Head there now for more advice and discover the one that’s right for you.*


Condoms


External or male condoms are a thin sheath worn on the penis, that act as a barrier to help stop a man's sperm from coming into contact with his partner. They can be used during oral, vaginal or anal sex and are the only contraceptive method that helps protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Female condoms that are worn inside the vagina are also available.


How effective are condoms?


When used correctly, male condoms prevent pregnancy 98 percent of the time. Female condoms are around 95 percent effective when used correctly. They are hormone-free, meaning no unwanted side effects.


Where can I get condoms from?


You can get condoms for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• Some GP surgeries

• Some young people's services


You can also buy condoms from:


• Pharmacies

• Supermarkets

• Online


With lots of different flavours, textures and sizes to try, we have a whole variety of condoms for you to explore. Shop our range.


Contraceptive implant


The contraceptive implant is a small flexible plastic rod that's placed under the skin in a woman’s upper arm by a doctor or nurse. It releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Once the implant is in, it works for three years. You can have it removed at any time, and your natural fertility will return very quickly.


Who can have the contraceptive implant?


Most women can have the contraceptive implant. It's useful for women who don’t want to worry about remembering to take a pill every day, or women who can’t use contraception containing oestrogen. There are several reasons the implant may not be suitable, including if you:


• Take other medicines that may affect the implant

• Have arterial disease or a history of heart disease or stroke

• Have liver disease

• Have breast cancer or have had it in the past


How effective is the contraceptive implant?


The implant is more than 99 percent effective.


Where can I get the contraceptive implant?


You can get the contraceptive implant inserted or removed for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• Some GP surgeries. You’ll need to check with your GP surgery if they offer the implant


Contraceptive injection


Like the implant, the contraceptive injection releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Unlike the implant, the injection effects last for eight to 13 weeks depending on which injection you have. You need to remember to have a repeat injection before it stops working.


Who can have the contraceptive injection?


Most women can have the contraceptive injection. It's very useful for women who don’t want to have to remember to take a pill at the same time every day. It’s also a good option for women who can’t use contraception that contains oestrogen. There are several reasons the injection may not be suitable, including if you:


• Want to have a baby in the next year

• Have arterial disease or a history of heart disease or stroke

• Have liver disease

• Have breast cancer or have had it in the past

• Are at risk of osteoporosis


How effective is the contraceptive injection?


The contraceptive injection is more than 99 percent effective.


Where can I get the contraceptive injection?


You can get the contraceptive injection for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• GP surgeries


Contraceptive patch


The contraceptive patch is a small sticky patch that releases hormones into a woman’s body through the skin to prevent pregnancy. It contains the same hormones as the combined pill – oestrogen and progestogen. Each patch lasts for one week. You change the patch every week for three weeks, then have a week off without a patch.


Who can use the contraceptive patch?


The contraceptive patch isn't suitable for everyone. A GP or nurse will need to ask about you and your family's medical history. There are several reasons you may not be able to use the patch, including if you:


• Are breastfeeding a baby less than six weeks old

• Smoke and are 35 or over

• Are 35 or over and stopped smoking less than a year ago

• Are very overweight

• Have breast cancer or have had it in the past

• Take certain medicines


How effective is the contraceptive patch?


When used correctly, the patch is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. You can wear it in the bath, when swimming and while playing sports.


Where can I get the contraceptive patch?


You can get the contraceptive patch from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• Some GP surgeries


IUD (intrauterine device or coil)


An IUD is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that's put into your womb by a doctor or nurse. It works as soon as it's put in and lasts for five to 10 years, depending on the type.

It's sometimes called a ‘coil’ or ‘copper coil’ and works by releasing copper to stop you getting pregnant. The copper thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg. It can also stop a fertilised egg from being able to attach itself in the womb.


Who can get an IUD?


Most women can have an IUD fitted and many women like that it’s a hormone-free option. A GP or nurse will ask about your medical history to check if an IUD is suitable for you. It may not be suitable if you:


• Have an untreated STI or a pelvic infection

• Have problems with your womb or cervix

• Have unexplained bleeding between periods or after sex


How effective is the IUD?


When inserted correctly, IUDs are more than 99 percent effective.


Where can I get an IUD fitted?


You can get the IUD fitted for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• GP surgeries


IUS (intrauterine system or hormonal coil)


An IUS is a small, T-shaped plastic device similar to the intrauterine device (IUD). But instead of releasing copper like the IUD, it releases the hormone progestogen into the womb. Progestogen thickens the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to move through the cervix. For some women, it can also prevent an egg being released each month. An IUS lasts for three to five years, depending on the brand.


Who can get an IUS?


Most women can have an IUS fitted. A GP or nurse will ask about your medical history to check if an IUS is suitable for you. It may not be suitable if you have:


• Breast cancer, or have had it in the past five years

• Cervical cancer or womb cancer

• Liver disease

• Arterial disease or a history of serious heart disease or stroke

• An untreated STI or pelvic infection

• Unexplained bleeding between periods or after sex

• Problems with your womb or cervix


How effective is the IUS?


When inserted correctly, the IUS is more than 99 percent effective.


Where can I get an IUS fitted?


You can get the IUS fitted for free from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• GP surgeries


Contraceptive diaphragm or cap


A diaphragm, or cap, is a circular dome of soft silicone that can be inserted into the vagina before sex. It works by covering the cervix so sperm can't reach an egg. You can put in a diaphragm or cap with spermicide any time before you have sex.


Who can use a diaphragm or cap?


Most women are able to use a diaphragm or cap. There are a few reasons you may not be able to use them, including if you:


• Have an unusually shaped or positioned cervix

• Have a sensitivity or an allergy to latex or the chemicals in spermicide

• Have ever had toxic shock syndrome

• Have repeated urinary tract infections

• Currently have a vaginal infection


How effective are diaphragms & caps?


When used correctly with spermicide, a diaphragm or cap is 92-96 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. The diaphragm or cap needs to be left in place for at least six hours after sex.


Where can I get a diaphragm or cap?


You can get a diaphragm or cap either from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• GP surgeries


Vaginal ring


The vaginal ring is a small, soft, plastic ring that can be placed inside the vagina. It works by releasing the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy.

Each ring provides contraception for a month, so you don't have to think about it every day. You can leave it in for 21 days, then remove it and have a seven-day break.


Who can use a vaginal ring?


You may not be able to use the vaginal ring for several different reasons including if you:


• Have had a blood clot in a vein or artery

• Have had heart or circulatory problems, including high blood pressure

• Are 35 or older and smoke, or stopped smoking in the past year

• Have had breast cancer in the past five years

• Are overweight

• Take certain medicines


How effective is the vaginal ring?


If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99 percent effective.


Where can I get a vaginal ring?


You can get the vaginal ring either from:


• Contraception clinics

• Sexual health clinics

• GP surgeries


Not all clinics provide the vaginal ring, so it's worth checking with them before you go. You won't be able to get a prescription for more than four months' supply at a time because of the ring’s shelf life.


Natural family planning


Some women choose natural family planning as a method of contraception. It involves monitoring and recording different fertility signals every day during your menstrual cycle to work out when you’re most likely to get pregnant. These signals include:


• The length of your menstrual cycle

• Your body temperature

• The changes to your cervical mucus


If natural family planning is followed correctly, it can be up to 99 percent effective. It’s far less effective if the instructions aren't carefully followed. If you're interested in learning natural family planning, make sure you're taught by a qualified fertility awareness teacher.


To find out whether an option could work well for you, speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist. They’ll be able to chat through any risks or potential side effects. NHS contraception services are free and confidential, including for those under 16.

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