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Contraception (birth control) is a way to prevent pregnancy, and there are a variety of methods available.
Different types of contraception will suit different people, and factors such as your age, if you smoke, your family and medical history, and if you take any medications will affect what contraception you should take.
You will also need to consider whether you want to take a hormone-based contraception or not, if you want a long-acting type of contraception (effective contraception over a long period of time without you having to do anything everyday or before you have sex), or if you want a permanent form of contraception.
Everyone will have different preferences when it comes to contraception, so take time to explore your options.
Here you will find information on the different types of contraception available, how they work, and what their advantages and disadvantages are.
Many people are familiar with the combined pill, which is an oral contraception method (a tablet you swallow). The combined pill contains the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and it primarily works by preventing your body from releasing an egg (ovulating).
It also thins the lining of your uterus, which makes it difficult for an embryo to implant, and it thickens the mucus at the entrance of the womb, which makes it difficult for sperm to go through and fertilise an egg.
It’s around 92% effective.
Thinking of trying the combined pill?
Get more information about the different types, their risks, and how to take them
The mini pill is a type of oral contraception which only contains the hormone progesterone. This can be useful if you are unable to take oestrogen, for example if you:
It works by thickening the mucus in the cervix, and depending on the type of mini pill, it can stop ovulation.
It is around 92% effective.
It can have side effects including:
Learn more about the mini-pill, including it’s risks, and who can take it on the NHS.
The male condom is a barrier method of contraception, and it has the added benefit of protecting against STIs as well as pregnancy.
The condom, usually made from latex or polyurethane, is put on the penis before sexual intercourse. It prevents sperm from entering the vagina and reaching the egg by creating a physical barrier.
Condoms are already lubricated, but you may like to add additional lubricant, or lube. This not only makes them easier to use, but reduces the risk of the condom splitting, which is a particular risk during anal sex.
It is around 85% effective.
Are condoms the right method for you?
Find more information on the risks and how to use a condom in our Health A-Z
Female condoms are made from a thin soft plastic (polyurethane). They are worn inside the vagina and they stop sperm from reaching the womb.
The female condom has a flexible ring at each end. One ring holds the condom in place behind the pubic bones, while the other hangs outside the vagina.
They can be up to 95% effective.
One type of contraception is the cervical cap. This is a contraception method for women and it involves you inserting a soft silicone cap into the vagina and fitting it over the cervix to prevent sperm from entering.
It must be used in combination with spermicide (a substance which destroys sperm) and left in place for at least six hours after sex to ensure it is effective. It can be left in place for up to 48 hours.
The cervical cap is around 88% effective.
The diaphragm is a similar type of contraception the cervical cap, but is dome shaped and placed over the cervix rather than fitting to the cervix like the cap. It is made from rubber and has a ring around the edge to help it hold its place against the vaginal wall.
It is around 84% effective.
Thinking about trying a diaphragm?
Find out who can use a diaphragm and how it works in our Health A-Z
The contraceptive implant is a type of long-acting contraception. It is a small rod which is inserted into your arm by a healthcare professional.
It works by slowly releasing the hormone progestogen, which stops your body from releasing an egg and also thickens the cervical mucus and thins the womb lining. This makes it difficult for sperm to get through your cervix and reduces the possibility of your womb accepting a fertilised egg.
It is around 99% effective.
It has other side effects, including:
The contraceptive injection is another type of long-acting contraception. It involves an injection of the hormone progestogen every 8-13 weeks.
It prevents pregnancy by preventing you from releasing an egg, thickening your cervical mucus, and thinning the lining of the womb.
It is around 97% effective.
It can also cause:
Find out more about the contraceptive injection, including risks, on the NHS.
The contraceptive patch is a patch which you stick onto your skin every week, and it releases both oestrogen and progesterone. You wear the patch over the course of three weeks and then remove it for the fourth week. During the fourth week you will get a withdrawal bleed.
It has the same hormones as the combined pill, and works in the same way. It prevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucus, and thins the womb lining.
It is around 92% effective.
Get more information about the contraceptive, such as risks, who can use it, and where to get it on the NHS.
The vagina ring is a small rubber ring which you place inside your vagina for a period of three weeks. During this time it releases low doses of oestrogen and progesterone. It stops women from ovulating, and thickens the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.
On the fourth week you will need to remove the ring for a week. During this time you will experience a withdrawal bleed.
It is around 91% effective.
It may cause temporary side effects including:
As with most types of contraception there are some risks, which you can learn more about on the NHS.
An intrauterine device, sometimes known as a coil, is a small ‘T-shaped’ device which is placed inside your uterus. In most cases it releases copper, and it can prevent pregnancy for 5 to 10 years.
Copper affects the fluids in the womb and fallopian tubes, which prevents the sperm surviving there. IUDs may also prevent fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb.
It is around 99% effective.
Interested in using an IUD?
Here’s some more information about how it’s fitted, the risks, and who can use it
An intrauterine system (IUS) - also known as a hormonal IUD - is a small ‘T-shaped’ device which releases the hormone progesterone. This causes your cervical mucus to thicken, which prevents sperm from reaching the egg.
It also causes the womb lining to thin so it is less likely to accept a fertilised egg. Occasionally, an IUS can stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. It can last from 3-5 years, depending on which type of IUS device you use.
It is around 99% effective.
IUS or IUD?
Find out which one is right for you and get more information about the risks
Female sterilisation is a permanent type of contraception. It involves blocking the fallopian tubes to prevent the eggs from reaching the sperm. Eggs will still be released, but they will be absorbed naturally back into the body.
There are two different types of female sterilisation. The first involves blocking the fallopian tubes with plastic or titanium clips. The second method is tying or cutting the tube, which destroys 3-4cm of the tube.
In cases where the fallopian tubes have not been blocked successfully the tubes may be completely removed.
It is more than 99% effective.
Find out more about female sterlisation on the NHS.
A vasectomy is a male form of contraception, and it is usually a permanent form of contraception. It involves the tubes which sperm pass through to be blocked or cut.
It is around 99% effective
Natural family planning, also known as fertility awareness, involves plotting the times of the month when you’re fertile and when you’re not.
A specialist teacher will help you learn how to record different fertility signals, such as your body temperature and cervical secretions (fluids or mucus), which help you identify when it’s safer to have sex.
It’s around 75% effective with real world use.
Is it reliable?
Find more on the pros and cons of fertility awareness, who can use it, and how it works
There are so many types of contraception available, so take the time to figure out which one is best for you.
Different factors such as age, medical and family history, medications you’re taking, and if you smoke will affect whether or not a certain type of contraception is right for you.
Speak to your doctor to help you figure out which method is most suitable for you and your lifestyle.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.