Different contraceptive methods

With contraceptive methods, there is no one right solution. Each person is unique and it's important to choose a contraceptive method that best suits you. There is a range of options available from pills to condoms, to IUDs.

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Yasmin contraceptive pills package
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Yasmin

  • Alleviates PMS
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Dianette contraceptive pills package
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Dianette

  • Alleviates period pains
  • Predicted menstrual cycle
  • Proven acne treatment
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Cilest

  • Can regulate period timing
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  • Easy to take tablets
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Hormonal contraception

Hormonal contraception methods work by using hormones to prevent fertilisation. They do this by either stopping the ovaries producing an egg or by creating a mucus barrier around the cervix to prevent sperm passing through. This includes the combined pill, mini pill, contraceptive implant, contraceptive injection, the patch, the ring, IUS and IUD.

Hormonal Contraception

Combined Pill

What is it? The combined pill uses female hormones oestrogen and progestogen to prevent ovulation. It's taken daily (21 days of the month) to prevent the ovaries releasing an egg.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective when used correctly.

Availability: You can order online at HealthExpress by completed a free online consultation, or visit your local clinic or doctor.

Pros: It's a highly effective contraceptive method. It doesn't interrupt sex and can help make periods lighter, more regular and less painful. It may improve skin conditions such as acne and can reduce your risk of cancer of the ovaries, womb and colon.

Cons: It can cause side effects such as headaches, nausea, mood swings, slight weight gain, breakthrough bleeding and spotting. It can also increase your risk of blood clots (thrombosis) and breast cancer. As a result, it may not be suitable for those over 35, smokers and those with other risk factors such as high blood pressure.

Contraceptive Implant

What is it? The implant is a flexible 40mm rod that is inserted just underneath the skin in your arm. It releases progestogen that thickens the mucus around the cervix to prevent sperm being able to pass through. It can also prevent an egg from being released.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective when used correctly.1

Availability: Most doctors and clinics can insert implants.

Pros: The implant lasts for three years. It doesn't interrupt sex or require taking something on a daily basis. It is a great alternative for those who cannot take oestrogen based contraceptives and is suitable for women who are breastfeeding.

Cons: It can significantly disrupt your menstrual cycle, with an estimated 50% of women experiencing infrequent or prolonged periods. It can also have side-effects such as headaches, nausea, acne and mood swings.

Contraceptive Injection

What is it? The contraceptive injection releases progestogen, which thickens the mucus around the cervix to block sperm. It can in some cases also prevent ovulation.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective when used correctly.2

Availability: Most doctors and clinics can administer contraceptive injections.

Pros: The injection lasts 12-13 weeks, and avoids having to take something daily. It doesn't disrupt sex and is an alternative for those who don't respond to oestrogen based contraceptives. It can also help reduce heavy and painful periods.

Cons: The injection significantly disrupts periods for the first year – they may become irregular, prolonged or stop altogether. It can also take time for fertility to return after stopping as progestogen can take up to 12 weeks to leave your body.

Contraceptive Patch

What is it? The patch works in the same way as the combined pill, releasing oestrogen and progestogen to prevent ovulation. Patches are 5 cm squared and applied similarly to nicotine patches. Each patch lasts for 1 week, with a break taken every fourth week.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective when used correctly.

Availability: You can order online at Health Express by completed a free online consultation, or visit your local clinic or doctor.

Pros: The key benefit, over the combined pill, is that you don't have to think about it daily. Patches only need to be changed weekly. Also, because it's absorbed and not ingested to the stomach, bouts of vomiting or diarrhoea will not affect it.

Cons: A drawback of the patch, compared to the combined pill, is its visibility and the risk that it could cause skin irritation or itchiness.

IUS (intrauterine system)

What is it? An IUS (intrauterine system) is a small plastic device that is inserted into your womb and releases progestogen. Similar to other progestogen-based contraceptives, it works by thickening the mucus around the cervix to prevent sperm passing through. It can also make your womb less likely to accept a fertilised egg or stop you releasing eggs.

Effectiveness: More than 99% effective.

Availability: An IUS needs to be implanted by a trained doctor or clinic.

Pros: It lasts for 3-5 years, without interrupting sex. Fertility usually returns to normal once it's removed. It can be a good contraceptive choice for someone who suffers from heavy periods, as it often makes them shorter and lighter. Periods may halt altogether after one year.

Cons: Irregular bleeding and spotting are common for the first few months. Some side effects such as headaches, acne and breast tenderness can also be experienced.

Mini Pill (Progestogen Only Pill)

What is it? The mini pill or POP (Progestogen Only Pill) contains progestogen but no oestrogen. It needs to be taken at the same time each day and works by thickening the mucus at the cervix entrance to prevent sperm passing through.

Effectiveness: More than 99% effective if used correctly.

Availability: You can order online at HealthExpress by completed a free online consultation, or visit your local clinic or doctor.

Pros: The mini pill is a great alternative for women who suffer side effects from oestrogen-based hormone methods. It's also suitable for women over 35 and smokers.

Cons: The mini pill must be taken at the same time each day, to be effective. You may also have irregular periods or spotting while taking the mini pill. Some rare side effects can be experienced, such as headaches, acne, breast tenderness, nausea and cysts.

Vaginal Ring

What is it? The contraceptive vaginal ring is a 5cm wide, soft plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina for 21 days. It releases oestrogen and progestogen similar to the combined pill, which prevents ovulation. After 21 days the ring can be discarded and a new one inserted seven days later.

Effectiveness: More than 99% effective if used correctly.

Availability: You can order online at HealthExpress by completed a free online consultation, or visit your local clinic or doctor.

Pros: The vaginal ring offers all the benefits of the combined pill, without having to remember to take a tablet daily. Because it's not ingested, but absorbed into your system, it will still be effective with vomiting or diarrhoea. It can also help with the symptoms of PMS and help make periods lighter and less painful.

Cons: It may not be suitable if you feel uncomfortable inserting something into your vagina. It can cause spotting and bleeding in the first few months of use. You may also experience some temporary side-effects such as headaches, nausea, tender breasts, mood swings and increased vaginal discharge.

Method Dosing frequency
Contraceptive ring
(ethinyl estradiol and etonogestrel vaginal ring
Monthly*
Pill Daily
Patch Weekly
Injection Every 3 months
Diaphragm Only when you have sex
Condom Only when you have sex
Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD) Every 10 years
Progestogen-only Intrauterine Device Every 3 or 5 years

Non-hormonal (barrier) contraception

The barrier contraception method is a non-hormonal contraceptive method. As the name suggests, it involves creating a barrier between the sperm and the egg so fertilisation cannot occur. Examples are the most commonly used male condoms, it also includes female condoms.

Barrier Contraception

Diaphragms and Cervical Caps

What is it? Diaphragms and cervical caps are inserted into the vagina before sex. They work by covering the cervix and blocking sperm from reaching the uterus. They must be filled with spermicide before use.

Effectiveness: 92-96% effective when used correctly.3

Availability: You must be measured and fitted by a trained Doctor or Nurse.

Pros: They're only required when you want to have sex, and you can fit them at a convenient time before you plan to have sex. There are no serious side effects associated with their use.

Cons: They are less effective than other contraceptive methods. You must be measured and fitted by a trained nurse or doctor and it can take time to learn how to use them correctly. They must be used in conjunction with spermicide, which some people can be sensitive to.

Female Condom

What is it? Female condoms are thin tubes, made from a soft plastic called polyurethane. They are worn inside the vagina to create a barrier between the sperm and egg.

Effectiveness: 95% effective when used correctly.

Availability: Female condoms are available to purchase without a prescription.

Pros: Female condoms are a reliable method of contraception and they can also help prevent certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They can be inserted up to eight hours before sex and there are no significant side effects to using them. They are available without prescription in pharmacies and similar locations, however they are not as frequently used as male condoms that are available in the UK widely.

Cons: They can interrupt sex and some women find they reduce their sensitivity a little. While they are reliable, there is a risk that they can break during intercourse.

Male Condom

What is it? Male condoms are made of latex. They are thin covers that are worn on the penis to prevent sperm being released into the vagina. How effective are they? They are 98% effective when correctly used.

Effectiveness: 98% effective when used correctly.

Availability: Male condoms are widely available to purchase without a prescription.

Pros: They are very easy to purchase and you only need to use them when you're having sex. They are a reliable contraceptive method and they protect both you and your partner from a large number of STIs. There are no significant medical side effects associated with their use. There are also many types including flavours, sizes and effects that can help intensify the experience.

Cons: Male condoms can interrupt sex and some people complain of reduced sensitivity when wearing them. Even though they are effective, condoms can break during intercourse. Some people can also have allergies to the latex and spermicide. However, if you are ever unsure about your sexual partner(s), condoms should be worn to minimise risks.

Other contraceptive methods

Aside from the hormonal and barrier contraceptive methods, there are other longer-term solutions available. This includes IUD, sterilisation and family planning.

Natural Methods

IUD (intrauterine device)

What is it? An IUD (intrauterine device) or coil is a long-acting contraceptive method. A small copper device or coil is placed into your womb. It releases copper that prevents sperm surviving in the fallopian tubes or womb and prevents fertilised eggs implanting in the womb.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective.

Availability: An IUD needs to be inserted by a trained doctor or clinic.

Pros: An IUD works straight away and it doesn't interrupt sex. It can last for up to ten years, but it can be removed if required. Once removed, fertility should return to normal quickly.

Cons: The main drawback is that periods may become heavier, more prolonged and more painful. An IUD also needs to be fitted by a trained doctor.

Female Sterilisation

What is it? Female sterilisation involves surgery under anaesthetic, where a surgeon blocks or seals the fallopian tubes so that eggs cannot travel from the ovary to the womb. Eggs will be produced as normal, but will instead be absorbed by the body. A Gynaecologist at your local hospital will usually perform the surgery.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective.4

Availability: Your GP will need to refer you to a specialist for treatment. A Gynaecologist at your local hospital will usually perform the surgery.

Pros: It's a more permanent contraceptive method and long-term side effects are rare. It will not impact on your sex drive, spontaneity or hormone levels.

Cons: It's very difficult to reverse at a later date, so it's only suitable for women who don't want children in future. Because it requires surgery and anaesthetic, it carries with it the risks of surgical complications such as infection, internal bleeding and damage to other organs.

Male Sterilisation (Vasectomy)

What is it? Male sterilisation (vasectomy) is a minor operation that can be carried out under local or general anaesthetic. During surgery, the tubes that carry sperm to the testicles are blocked, sealed or cut. It prevents sperm reaching the seminal fluid, so there will be no sperm within the semen ejaculated.

Effectiveness: Over 99% effective.

Availability: A vasectomy can be carried out as a day-patient procedure at local hospitals or by certain GP surgeries and health clinics.

Pros: A vasectomy is a highly effective form of contraception that is a simpler and safer alternative to female sterilisation. It will not impact on a man's sex drive, spontaneity or hormone levels and long-term side effects are rare. It can usually be carried out as a day-patient procedure.

Cons: It's only suitable for men who don't want children in future as vasectomies are difficult to reverse. As with any surgical procedure it carries some risk of complications. These risks include haematomas, sperm granulomas and long-term testicle pain.

Family Planning

What is it? Family planning involves tracking changes in your body to identify when you are fertile and when you can have sex without contraceptives during the month with a lower risk of pregnancy.

Effectiveness: While it can be up to 99% effective when used correctly, it's open to error and its actual effectiveness is estimated to be more in the region of 75% effective.

Pros: There are no side effects to this form of contraception, and it's a method that is widely accepted by different cultures and faiths. It avoids the use of physical products or chemicals.

Cons: It requires abstinence from sexual intercourse for up to 16 days each month. It also requires the daily monitoring and recording of fertility markers. It can be less effective than other methods unless it's accurately tracked. Other factors can upset your cycle and may cause you to misread your fertility signs. These factors include jet lag from travel, stress, illnesses and hormone treatments.

Contraception for mature women

As you become older, certain contraceptives are not advisable. The good news is the mini pill is effective for up until the 50s, and this can include the benefits of easing PMS too. Barrier methods such as condoms are suitable for any women at any age. Sterilisation is a surgical procedure that is often irreversible, so you will need to be 100% sure before opting for this option.

Contraceptive methods for mature women

Emergency Contraception

While not recommended as a method of contraception in its own right, emergency contraception is available should your standard method fail for any reason. The most commonly used morning-after-pill (also known as One Step) can work up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex, whilst its variant can work up to 120 hours after to prevent pregnancy.

It is essential to use this contraception type as soon as possible to increase its chance of effectiveness.

You can order a morning after pill online at HealthExpress by completed a free online consultation, or visit your local clinic or doctor.

Effectiveness of contraceptive methods

All of the methods summarised above are effective, but no method is completely reliable. The reliability of each method is expressed as a % - the number of women out of a 100 that will not become pregnant within one year if using that contraceptive method.

If no contraception is used, it is estimated that 85 in 100 women would become pregnant within one year. Therefore, using no contraception is 15% effective.5

Some methods are classed as over 99% effective and result in as little as 1 in 1,000 women falling pregnant within one year. These methods include:

  • Contraception injection
  • Contraceptive implant
  • IUDs and IUSs
  • Male & Female sterilisationli

Other methods also offer over 99% effectiveness, but their success is dependent on using them correctly. These include:

  • Combined Pill
  • Mini Pill
  • Contraceptive Patch
  • Vaginal Ring

Finally, barrier methods are all successful methods of contraception but have lower effectiveness ratings, ranging from 92% for a cap or diaphragm to 98% for male condoms. Again, these are user dependent contraceptives, where the effectiveness depends on correct use.

What methods suits you best?

There is a lot to consider when choosing the best contraceptive method for you. You should think about how each one would suit your lifestyle and level of sexual activity, their effectiveness, whether they offer STI protection and any health risks you have that could increase your chance of side-effects.

To help you decide, why not try our free online contraception tool today.

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