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Contraception

There’s a wide variety of ways to prevent pregnancy. There are both hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptives to choose from. Some methods are used every time you have, some taken everyday, and others replaced every few weeks or even years. There are also permanent methods of contraception. Read on to learn more about how they work.

What is contraception?

Contraception can be used to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Different methods might suit different people depending on things like lifestyle and health. There are many more methods for the female body, but research is underway to develop more male contraceptive methods. Remember that condoms are the only form of contraception that also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Hormonal contraception

There are 2 different methods of contraceptives that contain synthetic versions of female sex hormones. 

  • Progestogen-only methods: contain progesterone 

  • Combined methods: contain both progesterone and oestrogen

Both methods affect the natural menstrual cycle and prevent pregnancy by:

  • Stopping the sperm from reaching the egg – the cervical fluid secretion in the cervix becomes thicker, making it difficult for the sperm to get into the uterus

  • Stopping the release of an egg – ovulation stops so that the sperm and egg never come into contact 

  • Stopping the implantation of the egg – the lining of the uterus thins out so that a fertilised egg can’t stick to it

Hormonal contraceptives can affect the body in different ways. They can sometimes cause side effects like acne, decreased sex drive or depression. The side effects usually only last a few months, but sometimes they can last longer. You can switch to another method if one isn’t working for you.

Types of hormonal contraceptives:

  • Combined pill – pills with progesterone and oestrogen

  • Progestogen-only pill (POP) – pills with only progesterone

  • Vaginal ring – a plastic ring that you place into your vagina which releases progestogen and oestrogen 

  • Patch – a sticky patch that releases progestogen and oestrogen through your skin

  • Injection – progestogen injected by healthcare professionals regularly every 8 or 13 weeks

  • Implant – a small plastic rod that releases progestogen which is inserted under the skin of the arm by healthcare professionals

  • IUS (hormonal coil) – a small T-shaped plastic device that releases progestogen which is inserted into the uterus by healthcare professionals 

It’s important to use your contraceptive correctly and consistently to prevent pregnancy. If you miss a pill or lose your patch, for example, you may need to use an extra form of contraception, like condoms, for 7 days.

Non-hormonal contraception

There are also contraceptives that don’t contain any hormones. Hormonal methods aren’t suitable for everyone, for example, those who have breast cancer.

 Types of non-hormonal contraceptives:

  • Copper coil (IUD) – a small T-shaped plastic and copper device which is inserted into the uterus by healthcare professionals

  • Condom – a barrier method put onto the penis before sex to collect semen and protect against STIs

  • Female condom – a barrier method inserted into the vagina before sex that also protects against STIs

  • Pessary – a rubber cup inserted into the vagina before sex to act as a barrier 

  • Breastfeeding – exclusively breastfeeding your baby can prevent pregnancy if your periods have not restarted and your baby is less than 6 months old

  • Natural family planning – tracking your menstrual cycle and key signals like body temperature to monitor when you’re most likely and least likely to get pregnant

  • Sterilisation – an operation that can be performed on males and females to permanently prevent pregnancy

Emergency contraception

If you’ve had sex without full protection, you can use emergency contraception. This can prevent pregnancy if, for example, you’ve had a broken condom or you’ve missed taking your usual contraception.

Types of emergency contraceptives:

  • The emergency contraceptive pill (or morning after pill) – a pill containing a high dose of progesterone that can be taken up to either 3 or 5 days after sex depending on the kind

  • The copper coil (IUD) – a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy

Which contraceptive methods are most reliable?

Most contraceptives are very effective when they’re used correctly. Long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods like the copper coil (IUD), hormonal coil (IUS), injection and implant are among the most reliable choices because they can’t be used incorrectly. Methods like birth control pills also provide effective protection if they’re used correctly and consistently. Some natural methods of contraception, such as withdrawal methods and fertility awareness methods can be much less effective if they’re not performed carefully and correctly. Their effectiveness takes a high level of commitment.

Which contraceptive is best for me?

Contraception is a highly personal choice, and every method has its pros and cons. You might want to consider your age, lifestyle, health and how effective your protection needs to be.

Feel free to talk to a doctor or nurse to help you choose – they can advise you on which contraceptives are available and recommend what might be the best option for you. 

To protect yourself from STIs, use condoms whether or not you use any other method of contraception as well. You can get contraception from a GP, nurse or family planning clinic.

How Livi can help

You can book an appointment with us for advice on birth control pills and other methods of contraception.

Reviewed by:

Dr Roshaan Saloojee

Livi GP

Last updated:

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