The range of contraceptives available for women is now vast, with a variety of different options to suit everyone. Contraceptives are free in most cases; consult your GP for more information on which methods are available and which ones would suit you best. The most popular contraceptive methods are explained in further detail below:
- The pill
The combined pill is one of the most popular contraceptive methods; it contains a mixture of oestrogen and progesterone hormones. The pill works by stopping the ovary from releasing an egg and making it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. The pill is extremely effective if taken properly; it can be less effective if it is not taken properly or if the patient vomits and the pill hasn’t been in the body long enough to get into the system. Some other medications also impact upon the contraceptive pill so it is best to check with your GP before you take other medications.
What are the benefits?
If taken properly the pill is one of the most effective means of contraception (this involves taking the pill at the same time every day and not missing any out); in many cases it is 99% effective when taken properly. The pill can also shorten periods and make them less heavy, which usually means less pain and discomfort for most people. The pill has also been proven to protect against some forms of cancer, including ovarian and womb cancer and pelvic infections.
Are there any risks?
Much has been made of the risks of the pill in the media; however, research has consistently shown that risks are minimal. The pill is not suitable for people who smoke heavily and those that have a history of conditions associated with blood clotting. Side effects of taking the pill may include mood swings and headaches.
Which pill should I take?
There are a large number of pills available; your GP will be able to advise which pill is best for you.
- Contraceptive Implant
The implant is a thin plastic tube that is inserted into the upper arm; it is filled with progestogen. The implant works by gradually releasing progestogen into the body; this stops the egg from being released. The implant lasts for 3 years and is 99.9% effective.
Who will this suit?
This method is advantageous for women that struggle to take a pill at the same time every day and those that can’t use methods that contain oestrogen. The implant lasts for 3 years so it means you don’t have to worry about sorting out contraception for 3 years (it doesn’t protect against STIs so you should use a condom if you haven’t got a regular partner or you haven’t been tested).
Who shouldn’t have the implant?
If you are thinking of having a baby in the next 3 years, this is probably not the best answer. The implant can affect periods but this should settle down within a year of having the implant fitted; in many cases, women that have the implant stop having periods.
- Contraceptive Injection
The contraceptive injection works in a similar way to the implant but it only lasts for between 8 and 12 weeks (this depends on the type of injection you have). The injection is 99% effective.
Who will benefit from the injection?
The injection lasts for up to 12 weeks so it can be beneficial for those that don’t want the hassle of taking a pill at the same time every day; it can also be used for women that can’t use contraceptive methods that contain oestrogen.
Are there any side-effects?
There are some side-effects of this method; these include mood swings, weight gain and headaches. In some cases, the injection may also affect periods and may cause irregular bleeding.
- Intrauterine Device (IUD)
An IUD is inserted into the womb and can be effective for long periods of time; it used to be known as a coil. The device is made from plastic and copper. The IUD works by preventing sperm from living in the cervix, fallopian tubes or the womb; the IUD also usually stops a fertilised egg from being implanted in the womb. The IUD has been proven to be 99% effective and it can be taken out at any time.
Are there any risks?
There is a risk of infection after the IUD is inserted; however, this is very uncommon. In some cases, the body may not accept the IUD and may expel it; again, this is rare. In the event of a pregnancy occurring, there is higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy as the IUD prevents the egg from implanting in the womb. Some people may take a while to get used to the IUD and it may be uncomfortable to begin with; it may also affect periods for a while but they should return to normal after a couple of months.
Condoms are the only contraceptive method that can protect against sexually transmitted infections as well as preventing conception. Female condoms are available, as well as male condoms, although they are not commonly used. Female condoms are 95% effective and male condoms are 98% effective. Condoms work by creating a physical barrier between the female and the male and preventing sperm from travelling into the female and fertilising an egg.
What are the benefits?
The most important benefit of a condom is the protection it offers against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are also widely available and can be obtained at pubs, clubs, supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as NHS walk-in centres, GP surgeries, GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics and community contraceptive clinics (condoms are free from NHS centres).