There are so many different ways to have safe sex! Which one will you opt for?
Contraception is confusing: on the NHS alone there are 15 different types to choose from!
That’s a lot of variation – and finding a contraceptive that works for you can take a little effort, but is completely worth it for the sake of feeling happy and protected.
To help you get started, we’ve pulled together a basic lowdown on the most commonly used methods:
Condoms are THE ONLY way to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so they’re a mega important contraceptive. And the good news is they are free to pick up from clinics (check out our guide to getting free condoms) or widely available to buy in shops!
You can get male and female condoms, so as far as barrier methods of contraceptive go, there’s some decent choice! According to the NHS, male condoms are 98% effective when used correctly.
This means 2 out of 100 women will become pregnant in one year when male condoms are used as contraception.
On the downside condoms can be a bit fiddly, putting them on can interrupt your flow, and they can tear or slip off – so it can be a good idea to use another form of contraceptive at the same time. Check out this handy five step guide for putting a condom on correctly.
The Combined Pill
The combined contraceptive pill combines two hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. It’s more consistently effective than a condom at preventing pregnancies if you take it correctly (more than 99% effective, according to the NHS!) – but it can’t protect you against STIs.
For some people, the pill can also have beneficial side effects, such as lighter periods, and reduced acne.
The cons of the contraceptive pill are that you have to remember to take it at the same time every day, and some women can suffer side effects that range from poor mental health to increased weight gain.
If you feel like the combined pill isn’t working for you, don’t feel afraid to discuss this with your GP: there are lots of different brands and some may suit you better than others. Don’t forget that sickness, diarrhoea and antibiotics can all impact on the effectiveness of the pill!
The Mini pill
This progestogen-only pill is an alternative to the combined pill if you react badly to synthetic oestrogen, but it can make periods lighter or heavier and they can be irregular.
Many progestogen-only pills need to be taken strictly at the same time every day, so it is not ideal if you’re forgetful. Like the combined pill, it’s more than 99% effective when taken effectively – but with typical use (the way most women will take it) it drops to 92% effective.
If you have issues remembering to take the pill, there are some great free apps available that can send you a reminder at the same time every day.
The implant is progesterone only, like the mini pill, and comes with the same side effects. It’s a small rod, about the size of a hairpin, that is inserted under the skin on the underside of your arm by a medical professional.
It’s extremely effective (more than 99%) at protecting against pregnancy, and a huge bonus is that you don’t need to worry about forgetting a pill for three whole years!
On the downside, getting an implant is a bit painful, and it can randomly ache later. It’s also worth knowing that most medical professionals don’t like taking implants out in the first six months, even if you are experiencing negative side effects.
If you’re worried about negative side effects, try out the mini pill first to see if progesterone only is for you.
The injection is also a progesterone-only form of contraception, and like the implant, it is a highly effective way to protect yourself against pregnancy.
You will need to go to the doctors for an injection every eight to 13 weeks if you decide on this contraceptive method. Depo-Provera is most commonly offered in the UK and lasts for 13 weeks. Occasionally, Noristerat may be given, which lasts for 8 weeks.
Once you have had the injection you can’t reverse the side effects, so trying out the mini pill first can be useful. It can also take up to a year for your fertility to return to normal after the injection wears off, so it may not be suitable if you want to have a baby in the near future!
The IUD (coil)
There are two types of Intrauterine Device (IUD), commonly referred to as the coil. They are small, T-shaped devices: one type contains copper (non-hormonal) and the other automatically releases progesterone like the implant, but in smaller doses.
Both can be pretty painful to insert – your doctor is likely to only recommend the coil after childbirth, although many women get the coil before. This is because it sits in the womb and has to be inserted through the cervix. Ouch.
On the plus side it is highly effective and really long-lasting: once you have a coil inserted it will protect you against pregnancy for up to ten years, or until you get it removed. Nice!
Patches and rings
The patch is a bit like a nicotine patch: you stick it on your skin. It can be worn while swimming and playing sports, but it can be visible through certain clothing.
The vaginal ring sits in your vagina for three weeks, then you take it out for a week to have a period before inserting a new ring. Like tampons, the bendy plastic ring cannot get lost inside you, so don’t stress about that.
Diaphragms and Caps
These old-school barrier contraceptives had their heyday in the 1980s, but you can still get them today.
A contraceptive diaphragm or cap is a circular dome made of thin, soft silicone that’s inserted into the vagina before sex.
It covers the cervix so sperm can’t get into the womb (uterus) to fertilise an egg.
On the one hand they’re non-hormonal, which is a plus for some people – but they’re also less effective than other contraceptive methods, at 92-26% effective when used correctly with spermicide.
You only have to use a diaphragm or cap when you have sex, but you must leave it in for at least 6 hours after the last time you had sex.
If you think this is a method you’d be interested in trying, have a discussion with your doctor, as they will need to show you how to correctly fit a diaphragm or cap.
Emergency contraception (plan B)
While you should not use this as a regular contraceptive option, the morning-after pill is always there to help prevent a pregnancy if things go wrong and your other contraceptive methods fail.
You can get the pill for free from GPs, sexual health clinics and some pharmacies: otherwise it costs around £28 at a regular pharmacy.
The morning-after pill can work for up to 72 hours after sex, it more effective the sooner you take it after unprotected sex. Superdrug has just announced it will soon be releasing its own brand of morning-after pill for half the price of other over-the-counter brands.
Whatever contraceptive option works for you, you must always remember to use a condom with a new partner, even if you are protected from pregnancy by a different method.
Sometimes trying things out is the only way to see what contraceptive works for you, but to find out more information you can take this handy quiz by Brook, and should always feel able to chat to a nurse, or your GP.