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.

Birth control comes in a multitude of forms. Some is not even used solely for contraceptive purposes but for regulation/pain relieving purposes.

Here’s a general run down of some of the more common types of contraception.

If, after reading this article you have any general questions about using contraception, then please ask in the sexual health forum. For advice relevant to your medical history or personal circumstances, you should always consult your GP or an appropriate clinic.

Did you know that there are 15 methods of contraception available to you?

Don’t worry if you didn’t - an overwhelming 92% of us are unaware of the range of options available. Different methods 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. There is a contraceptive method out there to suit your lifestyle. So, for example, if you keep forgetting to take the pill, you may want to find a method that doesn’t rely on your memory. Here’s a run-down of the 15 methods that might suit you better.

Your chosen contraception method protects you against pregnancy but don’t forget, using condoms and contraception together is the only way to protect yourself and your partner against both unintended pregnancy and STIs.

If, after reading this article you have further questions then please ask in the sexual health forum or speak to your nurse or GP. For further information on contraception see the FPA information guide.


Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception usually comes in pill form. You'll be given a pill that aims to prevent you from getting pregnant after you’ve had an accident or unprotected sex. In the UK, Levonelle is normally prescribed by a doctor or pharmacist for free but you can also buy it over the counter. It's effective up until 72 hours after sex; however, the sooner it's taken, the better.

Side effects: [rare]

• headache

• tummy ache

• breast tenderness

• ‘spotting’ of blood

• dizziness

In some situations there might be a higher risk of pregnancy, so you might be offered an alternative, prescription-only pill called EllaOne. EllaOne can be taken within 120 hours of unprotected sex. If you vomit or experience diarrhea within 3 hours of taking Levonelle or EllaOne, you'll need to take another pill or have the IUD fitted as soon as possible.

The second form of emergency contraception is the IUD or coil. This has to be inserted by a doctor, and rests in your womb. It basically makes for a nasty environment that an egg doesn’t want to implant in. You can get it up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but once again; the sooner the better. This is less commonly done due to the invasive procedure, but it's probably the most effective method of emergency contraception, with it being up to 99.9% effective.

You can only buy the morning after pill from a pharmacy if you're 16 or over. If you're under 16 then you need to go to your doctor or sexual health clinic. Some community pharmacies will run patient group directions, where they can provide it to people under 16 and it's free! It's definitely worth checking to see if you're local pharmacy provides this service. A lot nicer than the £25-£30 it'll cost you otherwise!



You’d think it obvious, no? But some people still don’t realise that condoms are the only form of contraception that actively protect against pregnancy AND STDs including HIV.

They are relatively expensive in shops (£5 for a box) but can be obtained for free from Brook centres or your local family planning clinic. They can also be obtained for free at various places around universities and colleges where they are given away for free.

There's no need to be embarrassed about buying condoms. Personally, I think people ought not to have this stigma if they’re actually doing the right thing by buying condoms. If you are too embarrassed to be buying them – sex ought not to be on the agenda. But anyway…!

Condom boxes always carry leaflets explaining the how/when/why aspects, so there’ll be no step by step right here.

But I will supply you with the Do's and Dont's of Condoms:

  • Always check the use by date. A condom that is out of date is not an effective one
  • Check that they are European and have been certified. There should be a mark on the packaging. Cheap and often unsafe imports are around
  • Open the foil package with your fingers, not your teeth. Do this gently so that you don't risk damaging it
  • Check the condom is intact
  • Hold the teated end and roll it on
  • Dispose by firmly holding the shaft, and sliding it off
  • Tie a knot in the end and dispose in a BIN. They do not flush down toilets
  • Dispose of them before going to sleep, condoms do go pop when you stand on them
  • No, its not funny to put one over your head
  • Condoms are not made for recycling
  • Wearing two does not improve your chances of preventing pregnancy and STDs. In fact, the friction makes them more likely to tear

You can also get femidoms, which are a condom alternative to be worn by women. I personally think they’re really good, as I have had issues using regular condoms in the past and the newest sort don't rustle like it is commonly thought. They can be really useful for couples who don't like using regular condoms.

Oral Contraceptives

Basically, pills contain two hormones, oestrogen and progestogen. They stop the production and release of eggs from the ovary [it’s easier to think they “trick” your body into thinking it’s pregnant].They also thicken your cervical lining to make it harder for sperm to get anywhere near your womb [that’s why you might have them fall right back down after sex – nice].

Pills are based on 28 day cycles. Sometimes you’ll get 21 pills in a pack with an instruction to take all of them then take 7 pill free days for a bleed. Some contain 21 “active” pills and 7 sugar pills just to serve as reminders.

You may have heard of the mini-“pop” pill (POPs). This contains only one hormone – progestogen. Taking this pill lowers the side effects that you can get from taking the 2 hormone contraceptive pills, but it is also less effective at preventing pregnancy. The other disadvantage to most POPs is that they need to be taken at the same time each day (within a 3 hours window) in comparison to combined pills, where the window is 12 hours.

Another mini-pill that is more commonly used is Cerazette. It is progestogen only but gives you the 12 hour window. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict the side effects of this pill, but approximately one third will stop having periods all together. Another third will have periods, but far less frequently than previously. The final third can end up having no effect to their periods, or constantly bleeding. Cerazette is taken every day (all the pills are active) and there is no pill-break like you have with combined pills.

When you get your pill, you generally start it on the first day of your period for instant protection. However, if you start it on another day, mid cycle or whatever, make sure you use other forms of contraception [i.e. condoms] for at least seven days. When starting the pill for the first time, you ought to take it on the first day of your period. This protects you from pregnancy immediately. If you take your pill at exactly the same time each day, you’re likely to get up to just-under 100% effectiveness. Effectiveness lessens, when you don’t take it within the same hour each day.

You can take packs back-to-back. I’d only really recommend you do this if you have to for holidays or exams or whatever, but I wouldn’t take more than 3 packs in a row. You can delay your period as long as you take the pills, but it is important to bleed at least 4 times a year in order to clean out your uterus and to decrease the risk of bone thinning – something which is currently being investigated in relation to birth control.

Missing Pills

The leaflet in you pack details what to do if you miss a pill; however, here’s a quick rundown.

If you have missed one pill – don’t freak out. Take it as soon as you remember – even if you’re taking it the next day at the same time as the pill for that day. If you want to be super careful, take extra precautions such as the condom for the next week.

If you have missed more than one, especially near the beginning or end of your packet, you ought to use extra protection during sex. If you’ve already had sex without a condom, consider emergency contraception.

Coming off the pill (here's the experience of one user)

I did that about two years ago. I had a properly dodge side effect from Microgynon 30 that I can barely bring myself to talk about. Suffice to say it made me feel pregnant and horrid. I gained weight and became a monster, not to mention the side effects I don't care to talk about. I came off it immediately and noticed a bit of weight-loss, and thankfully, most of the side effects gave way.

The pill can generally be affected by

Diarrhoea, antibiotics, St Johns Wort, vomiting and epilepsy medication. Definitely consult the warning label if you're on the pill, patch, implant or injection to be on the safe side

You should always “double dutch” [if you really want to have sex whilst you’re vomiting and having diarrhoea….!] if you’re experiencing the above problems. This means to use both the pill and the condom.

Side effects

Side effects vary between the 23 brands available, and of course, the millions of women taking them. Here are some general ones:

• Headache

• Diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain

• Breast tenderness/swelling

• Spotting

• Fluctuation in sex drive

• Weight changes

• Depression/mood swings

• Irregular brown patches on the skin

• Alteration of bleeding

• Problems wearing contact lenses

• Infrequent or no periods after stopping the pill

The more serious side effects come in to play especially if you’re a big migraine sufferer or smoke. Yes, honestly, you are at a higher risk of thrombosis and clots if you are on the pill. You are also at an increased risk of breast cancer, which is why you should check your breasts monthly. Happily, the pill can protect against certain cancers of the womb and possibly the bowel. It can also help with acne. Whoo!



Contraceptive Injections

In England, the contraceptive injection used is generally Depo-Provera [12 weeks] or Noristerat [8 weeks].

They both contain progestogen and therefore thicken the cervical lining and stop ovulation, much like the pill.

The Good Stuff

The difference to the pill is that you don’t have to remember to take it every day, and also that your periods should eventually stop. Poof! Gone [Obviously the downside is this bone-thinning risk that everyone’s been going on about. If you take calcium supplements or keep your levels up with a glass of milk you should be okay].

It also works to prevent womb cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease.

The Down Side

Yes. Sadly.

If you’re experiencing side effects like headaches and skin problems, you can’t just stop them or remove the hormones from your system. That is because it’s been injected and will remain there for at least 8 weeks.

Your periods may take a long while to return, after you stop the injection, so bear that in mind if you’re planning babies.

Obviously, this will not prevent STIs or anything of that sort. So, condoms are to be used in conjunction until you’re sure your partner is disease free.

You should not have the injection if you suffer or have suffered from:

• Cancer of your reproductive organs, [breasts/womb]

• Unexplained bleeding of vagina

• A heart attack or stroke

• Severe depression

• Active liver disease


Generally 99% effective, which is rather good!


The Implant

For further information, explanation on how to get it and how it's put in and personal experiences see The Contraceptive Implant

The implant has been met with heavy scepticism, with one type even being taken off the listing because it caused so much scarring. This is Norplant. Some of you might still have it in, but it’s been discontinued in the UK.

The main type now is Implanon. It’s a small, flexible tube that is about the same size as a Kirby grip, containing progestogen. It releases it steadily into the bloodstream from your upper arm. It lasts for three years [Norplant for 5].

It basically does what most contraceptives in the body do; thicken mucus around your cervix, thins your uterine lining and prevents egg release [and therefore bleeds, in time].

When it is put in [usually first day of period], you are likely to be given a local anaesthetic, then have the implant injected. You will probably be bruised and sore for a few days. You’ll be able to feel and fiddle with it, but resist that temptation for a while! You will be protected from the word go!

When you’re getting it removed, it is cut out. You can get another one popped in right away if you want. However, if you want it permanently removed, you must use condoms during the week before it is removed. This is because sperm can live inside you for 7 days, and as soon as the implant is taken out you lose all protection against pregnancy.

You ought to have a check up after the first three months, then just once a year providing you’re not having problems.

The Good Stuff

• The implant really is the most effective form, at over 99% pregnancy prevention

• It’s not like you have to remember to do anything!

• It does not interfere with sex

• You still breastfeed

• It is good for those who can’t take oestrogen for whatever reason

• It can be removed if you have trouble with it, and you can get pregnant right after removal

• It offers protection against pelvic inflammatory disease

The Down Side

• It can go a few ways; you could have irregular bleeding, no bleeding at all, or prolonged bleeding for a while. This is annoying, but it can’t harm you

• Your usual headaches, spots, dizziness, weight gain, sore boobies

• Very rarely, infection in the site

• It can be difficult to remove. There have only been 2 or 3 cases of migration, though

• Harmless ovarian cysts, with a little pelvic pain

• Mood swings

• No STI protection [duh]

Don’t get it if you are suffering or have suffered from:

• Liver disease

• Unexplained bleeding from the vagina

• Cancer of the reproductive organs

• Heart attacks or strokes

• Or if you could be pregnant

Coming off the Implant (here's the experience of one user)

God, I loved that implant. I had the usual 5 weeks of irritating bleeding, which was curbed by the use of Yasmin in conjunction with it. I was a bit fat then, but the weight dropped after I stopped the yasmin and the bleeding magically stopped also. hurrah.

Then, around Christmas 06, the bleeds started again. Totally constant, not painful, but annoying nonetheless. I was fobbed off by student health who told me I'd "probably got chlamydia"...(!) and refused to put me on the pill with it. I was sent to another division of student health who also refused the pill, but gave me traxanamic acid, despite my history of mefanemic acid not working. This stuff is supposed to thin or suppress bleeding. It works for some. Not for me.

I was really, really upset by the way I was treated at student health. I guess my experience isn't representative of how they are with other people, but suffice to say I deregistered.

I went to a specialist clinic, where a wonderful doctor gave me a bit of time to tell her what *I* wanted. well, Mrs doctor lady, I want to not have bleeds, I don't want to get pregnant, and I want it done either magically, or with as little effort as possible.

Sod it, I was honest with her. Some of you are happy to have a monthly bleed - I'm not. I want rid. Years of no bleeding has left me safe in the knowledge that it's possible, and I am not ashamed to say that it is my ideal situation. Bear in mind that by this point I had been bleeding for about 3 months nonstop. A girl can dream.

She put a new implant in. It went swimmingly as far as removal and insertion was concerned, however the problem did not go away. And she told me that we do not have to put up with contraception not working as well as we'd hoped. If it's not good for you, go back.

My second implant [the sad failure that it was] was removed last week. I had gained a small amount of weight since its insertion [exam fat ] and it had become a little bit more embedded in my arm, so it took around 10 minutes to wiggle out with two vials of local. It wasn't the best removal, but meh, they're not always that difficult.

I had kinda hoped to try the IUS [merina] instead, but since my bleeding had now been going on for the best part of 6 months [oh yes] it had gone into the category of "unexplained bleeding" and I was advised to come off everything to check that it was being caused by the contraception as opposed to my body.



The Patch

This patch [amusingly] comes in three different colours, and you pick the one that matches your skin tone the best. [or whatever goes with your outfit, I guess]

They’re about 5x5 cm, and you splat them on your upper arm, shoulder or bottom for a whole week. It should be changed on the 8th day for three weeks and then you should give yourself a patch free week. DON’T put it on your breasts or broken skin. Just don’t.

It acts just the same as the pill, in that oestrogen and progestogen are pumped into your system, thickening the cervical mucus, and preventing egg release. You’re protected right away if you take it on the first day of your period.

The Good Stuff

• Protects you and stays on even when you’re a hardcore swimmer.

• You don’t need to remember to take a pill every day.

• It’s 99% effective.

• It is not affected by diarrhoea or vomiting

The Down Side

• The patch has had its fair share of bad press recently. But, it shouldn’t harm you if you’ve gone through the right channels to get it and aren’t suffering from certain conditions/diseases mentioned below

• Obviously, there’s the obligatory risk of skin/headache problems and the fact that it will not protect you from STIs

• You can gain or lose weight, have mood swings and get a little bit of skin irritation

• People can see it 

• Then there’s the increased risk of certain cancers and thrombosis/clotting

• Yes, it can fall off – but you ought to be able to reapply it.

Do not use this if:

• You think you might be pregnant

• You are breastfeeding

• You smoke and are over 35

You have or have had thrombosis (blood clots); a heart abnormality or circulatory disease, including raised blood pressure; severe migraines or migraines with aura; breast cancer; active liver/gall bladder disease; diabetes or unexplained bleeding from your vagina.




This is pretty newish, and it's not really as mainstream over here as the pill and whatnot (it is not currently available on the NHS in the UK). It's a pretty novel idea. In layman's terms, it's a flexible ring that you put in the vagina [much like a diaphragm] and you leave it there for 3 weeks [21 days] as is the normal cycle, and then remove it for your seven day bleed. can give you their lowdown on it.

The website is pretty unhelpful when it comes to asking whether you can "run nuvarings together" as is possible with the pill. That is something you'd have to take up with your doctor.

It contains oestrogen and progestin just like your average pill.

The Good Stuff

• You don't have to remember a pill every day

• It's 99% effective

• 8/10 men can't feel it during intercourse. [although I guess it sucked for the 20% who could]

• You don't really feel it and it can't get "lost"

• Spotting is dead rare

• It's low dosage and steady release mean less hormonal ups and downs

The Down Side

The common side effects are:

• Vaginal infections and irritation

• Vaginal discharge

• Headache

• Upper respiratory tract infection

• Sinusitis

• Weight gain

• Nausea

Rare Side Effects

• Vomiting

• Change in appetite

• Abdominal cramps and bloating

• Breast tenderness or enlargement

• Irregular vaginal bleeding or spotting

• Changes in menstrual cycle

• Temporary infertility after treatment

• Fluid retention

• Spotty darkening of the skin, particularly on the face

• Rash

• Weight changes

• Depression

• Intolerance to contact lenses

So it's much like other hormone based contraceptives.




It is a silicone/rubber flexible dome that is inserted into the vagina before sex. It has to be left inside for about 6 hours after sex to ensure sperm cannot pass through the cervix. Spermicidal jelly must be used with it to kill any that gets past the diaphragm.

It may be embarrassing to have one fitted, the doctor/nurse has to feel inside the vagina, to see where the cervix is, and how wide it is. Several sizes of diaphragms may be tested (placed inside you and the doctor/nurse feels around) before the right one is chosen.

It can be inserted hours before sex - so sex does not have to be postponed, whilst the diaphragm is prepared. Before sex begins, additional spermicide does need to be reinserted.

The Good Stuff

• It protects against some STIs and is 92-96% effective against pregnancy

• It’s good for you regardless of your medical conditions [except if you're allergic to rubber/silicone]

• When inserted correctly, it cannot be felt by either partner

• Non-hormonal

The Down Side

• You have to have it fitted by a doctor/nurse first time around

• It can interrupt passion

• You have to use it in conjunction with spermicidal jelly

• You have to leave it in 8 hours after sex [otherwise the little guys will fight their way in]

• It can cause cystitis

• If you put on weight/miscarry/abort you have to get it refitted



The Intra-Uterine System [IUS] - Mirena

Whilst it sounds like a hot new car feature, it’s actually a T shaped contraption that is fitted up there by a doctor or nurse. It releases small amounts of the hormone progestogen to thin the lining of your uterus so fertilised eggs cannot implant in it. It also thickens the cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to get through.

It’s not generally a “young persons” contraceptive device. It’s more suited to women who have had children, really, though it is possible to have one even if you have no kids. They take about 15 minutes to put in – but I suggest some painkillers before, since it can be uncomfortable.

The Good Stuff

• It lasts for 5 years

• It’s 99% effective

• It can lighten your periods [yaaay]. In fact, Mirena is commonly recommended as a treatment for heavy periods

• The hormone levels are low and mainly localised to the uterus, so if you have had problems with hormonal contraceptives in the past, this could suit you

The Down Side

• It can move out of place and become less effective – so regular checkups are needed and you need to make sure you know how to check the threads that hang down from it

• No STI protection

• You can get irregular bleeding, breast tenderness and skin problems at first

• You can be subject to harmless cysts, but with a little pelvic pain

• Occasionally, infections up to 20 days after insertion can occur

• Perforation of the womb [this is totally rare, albeit serious] and may require surgery

• Don’t go for this if you’ve had strokes, thrombosis, cancer of your reproductive organs or if you are currently suffering from an STD.

• If you are very sensitive to hormones, you may still suffer from hormonal side effects - headache, mood changes, low sex drive etc - especially in the first few months after insertion

• Your partner may be able to feel the threads during sex. If this is the case, you can have them trimmed.

The Intra-Uterine System [IUD] - Paragard

Similarly to the IUS, this is a T-shaped device fitted into the uterus. Unlike the Mirena, however, it has no hormones; instead, it is made of copper which acts as a spermicide.

It’s not generally a “young persons” contraceptive device. It’s more suited to women who have had children, though it is possible to have one even if you have no kids. They take about 15 minutes to put in – but I suggest some painkillers before, since it can be uncomfortable.

The Good Stuff

• Depending on the make you go for, it lasts between 3 and 10 years

• It’s 99% effective

• No hormones, so if you're especially sensitive to them, it might be a good choice

• Can be fitted as emergency contraception

The Down Side

• It can move out of place and become less effective – so regular checkups are needed and you need to make sure you know how to check the threads that hang down from it

• No STI protection

• It can make your periods longer, heavier and more painful.

• Occasionally infections up to 20 days after insertion can occur

• Perforation of the womb [this is totally rare, albeit serious] and may require surgery

• You may have some mild cramping and bleeding after insertion as your body adjusts


These are all general, reversible forms of contraception. The next step up is the more permanent solutions of vasectomies and tube tying. Tube tying itself is only 99% effective anyway and way ahead of most of our time right now.

Ask Questions

Still got a question about contraception? Ask it in the sexual health forum or see your GP or Family Planning clinic.