Contraception – anything and almost everything


Please note: this article is for information only. It does not replace advice from your GP or another medical professional.

There are a lot of different types of contraception out there to choose from – the NHS lists all 15 of them on its website here

And different methods will suit different people – there is no one-size-fits-all with contraception. That’s why it’s important to explore the best option for you with your nurse or GP.

Contraception is free on the NHS for everyone – although you can also choose to pay for some methods if you'd prefer. Find out where to get free contraceptives using sexual health experts Brook's search tool

Here's a run down of some of the most popular available contraception methods, to give you an idea of the sort of choice you'll have. 

Visit our sexual health forum to ask more questions and get advice from fellow students. 

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception comes in either pill or IUD (the coil) form, the NHS website explains

If you decide to take the pill, NHS guidance says that it needs to be within either three days (for Levonelle) or five days (for ellaOne) of having unprotected sex. 

Brook advise that you can get the emergency pill from "a range of services, including Brook, sexual health clinics and your GP."

"If you’re 16 or over, you can also buy the Levonorgestrel pill from most pharmacies for around £25, and the ellaOne pill for around £35," Brook add. 

And if you go for the IUD, it would need to be fitted within five days of unprotected sex, by a specially trained doctor or nurse. 

The NHS emergency contraception page has more detail about these methods, including possibly side effects and explanations of how they both work. 


Condoms are the only form of contraception that protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy. 

You can get internal (or female) condoms, which are worn inside the vagina, and external condoms, which are worn on the penis. 

Sexual health experts Sexwise say that condoms are "98% effective at protecting pregnancy with perfect use and 82% effective with typical use". 

You can pick up condoms for free from contraception clinics, sexual health clinics and some GP surgeries. Use this search on the NHS website to check where you can get free condoms locally. 

Oral contraceptives (the pill)

The pill is used to prevent pregnancy. There are two main types you can choose from, and many different brands. 

If you go for the progestogen-only pill, you'll need to take it every day for it to be effective. The NHS has lots more information about the progestogen-only pill on its website here

With the combined pill, you'll likely need to take one every day for 21 days and then have a break for seven days. During the break week, you should expect to bleed like a period. Find out more about the combined pill on the NHS website here

When taken properly, the NHS says that both types of pill are over 99% effective. 


Contraceptive injections

The contraceptive injection releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy.

In the UK, you're most likely to be given Depo-Provera, which lasts for 13 weeks, the NHS website says. The other two types of injection listed on the NHS website are Sayana Press, which also lasts for 13 weeks, and Noristerat, which lasts for eight weeks. 

You won't have to remember to take pills or do anything else during the period it's effective, but you will need to remember to get a repeat injection before it expires. 

Find out more about contraceptive injections on the NHS website here


The implant

The contraceptive implant (also known as Nexplanon) is a small flexible plastic rod that's placed under the skin in your upper arm by a doctor or nurse. It works by releasing progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. 

Once you've had the implant put in, it will last for three years. Once the three years is up, it will need to be taken out and replaced, although it can also be removed at any time before then by a specially trained doctor or nurse. 

If that sounds a bit scary, don't worry – "it only takes a few minutes to put in and feels like having an injection. You won’t need any stitches after your implant has been fitted," the NHS website says. 

You'll likely have a contraceptive implant consultation before the implant is inserted, and you might get referred to a local sexual health clinic or hospital if your GP doesn't do implants. 

Here's what the NHS website has to say about contraceptive implants


The patch

The contraceptive patch is literally a small patch that you stick onto your skin. It releases the same hormones as the pill into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. 

The patch will last for seven days – on the eighth day, you'll need to change the patch for a new one, the NHS advises. After changing the patch like this for three weeks, you'll have a week of not wearing the patch before starting the four-week cycle again. 

During the patch-free week, some people will experience a withdrawal bleed like a period, but this doesn't happen for everyone. 

Here's the full lowdown on the patch on the NHS website


Vaginal ring

The vaginal ring (NuvaRing) is another hormonal contraceptive that releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. 

One ring will provide protection for a month, the NHS website says. The standard way to use it is to leave it in for 21 days, then take it out and have a seven-day break from the ring. After the break, you can insert a new ring and start the cycle again. 

You could also choose to have a shorter break from the ring, or not have a break at all according to the NHS. 

You can find out more about the vaginal ring on the NHS website here




The diaphragm or cap is described by the NHS as "a circular dome made of thin, soft silicone that's inserted into the vagina before sex". You need to use it with a gel that kills sperm (spermicide). 

It is a barrier method of contraception that is 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly, but the NHS emphasises that it does not provide reliable protection against STIs. 

Take a look at the NHS website for more detailed information about the cap, including how to insert it and take it out. 



The Intra-Uterine System (IUS)

An IUS is a small, T-shaped plastic device that a doctor or nurse inserts into your uterus. 

It prevents pregnancy by releasing the hormone progestogen and it lasts between three and five years, depending on the brand. 

Fitting the IUS should only take about five minutes, during which the vagina is held open like it is during a smear test and the IUS is inserted through the cervix into the womb. 

An IUS fitting can be uncomfortable and "some people might find it painful, but you can have a local anaesthetic to help. Discuss this with your GP or nurse beforehand," the NHS advises. 

Your IUS can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse. 

Here's the NHS guide to the IUS

The Intra-Uterine System (IUD)/the coil

Similarly to the IUS, an IUD is a T-shaped device fitted into the uterus. Instead of releasing hormones, however, it releases copper to stop you getting pregnant. It's also commonly known as the coil or the copper coil. 

The coil protects against pregnancy for between five and 10 years. 

Like the IUS, a trained doctor or nurse holds your vagina open and inserts the coil through the cervix and into the womb. 

Having a coil fitted can also be painful, and the NHS advises that "you can have a local anaesthetic to help" if you discuss this with a GP or nurse beforehand. 

You can find the NHS guide to getting the coil here

Still got a question about contraception? Ask it in the sexual health forum or make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health clinic. 

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