15 Different types of contraception

Different types of contraception

Contents

What is contraception?

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.

Combined pill

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.

Advantages of the combined pill

Disadvantages of the combined pill

  • It can have side effects, including headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood swings (if these do not go after a few months, it may help to change to a different pill)
  • It can increase your blood pressure
  • It does not protect against STIs
  • You may experience breakthrough bleeding and spotting in the first few months
  • It has been linked to an increased risk of some serious health conditions, such as thrombosis (blood clots), breast cancer, cervical cancer, and a rare form of liver cancer

Thinking of trying the combined pill?

Get more information about the different types, their risks, and how to take them

More info

Packets of contraceptive pills

Progestogen-only-pill (POP, mini pill)

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:

  • Are pregnant
  • Smoke and are 35 or older
  • Stopped smoking less than a year ago and are 35 or older
  • Are very overweight
  • Take certain medicines (speak to your doctor)

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.

Advantages of the mini pill

  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • You can use it when breastfeeding
  • It’s a good alternative if you can’t take the hormone oestrogen
  • You can use it at any age
  • You can use it if you smoke
  • It can reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and painful periods
  • It may make your periods lighter, or stop them completely

Disadvantages of the mini pill

  • It can make your periods irregular, or more frequent
  • You may get spotting between periods
  • It doesn't protect against STIs
  • You need to remember to take it around the same time every day
  • Some medications, such as certain antibiotics, can make it less effective

It can have side effects including:

  • Acne
  • Breast tenderness and breast enlargement
  • Changes to your sex drive
  • Mood changes
  • Headache and migraine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) on your ovaries (these are usually harmless and disappear without treatment)

Learn more about the mini-pill, including it’s risks, and who can take it on the NHS.

Male condom

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.

Advantages of the male condom

  • When used correctly and consistently, condoms are a reliable method of preventing pregnancy
  • They help to protect both partners from STIs
  • You only need to use them when you have sex so you don’t need to prepare in advance
  • There are usually no medical side effects from using condoms

Disadvantages of the male condom

  • Some people find condoms interrupt sex
  • Condoms can split or tear if not used properly
  • Some people may be allergic to latex, plastic or spermicides – you can get condoms that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction
  • A male condom needs to be used correctly to be effective - the man must remove his penis from the vagina after he has ejaculated and before the penis goes soft, while holding the condom securely in place

Are condoms the right method for you?

Find more information on the risks and how to use a condom in our Health A-Z

More about condoms

Female condom

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.

Advantages of the female condom

  • When used correctly and consistently, condoms are a reliable method of preventing pregnancy
  • They protect against many STIs, including HIV
  • You only need to use them when you have sex so you don’t need to prepare in advance
  • There are usually no medical side effects from using condoms
  • They can be inserted up to eight hours before sex
  • Any kind of lubricant can be used with female polyurethane condoms, unlike most male condoms

Disadvantages of the female condom

  • If the female condom is not inserted in advance, some people find that it can interrupt sex
  • It may split or tear if not used properly

Cervical cap

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.

Advantages of a cervical cap

  • You only need to use it when you want to have sex
  • You can put it in any time before having sex (you will need extra spermicide if you have it in for more than three hours)
  • There are no serious associated health risks

Disadvantages of a cervical cap

  • It is not the most effective type of contraception
  • It does not completely protect against STIs
  • It can take time to learn how to use a cap
  • Inserting a cap can interrupt sex
  • Some women suffer from cystitis (bladder infection) as a consequence of the cap
  • Spermicide may cause irritation in some women and their sexual partners

Diaphragm

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.

Light pink diaphragm

Advantages of the diaphragm

  • You only need to use a diaphragm when you want to have sex
  • You can put it in before having sex (use extra spermicide if you have it in for more than three hours)
  • There are no serious health risks or side effects

Disadvantages of the diaphragm

  • It is not as effective as other types of contraception
  • It does not completely protect against STIs
  • It can take time to learn how to use it
  • Putting it in can interrupt sex
  • Some women experience cystitis (bladder infection) when using a diaphragm
  • Latex and spermicide can cause irritation

Thinking about trying a diaphragm?

Find out who can use a diaphragm and how it works in our Health A-Z

More info

Contraceptive implant

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.

Advantages of the contraceptive implant

  • It works for three years
  • It does not interrupt sex
  • It’s suitable if you can't use oestrogen-based contraception, such as the combined contraceptive pill
  • It's safe to use while you are breastfeeding
  • Your fertility should return to normal as soon as the implant is removed

Disadvantages of the contraceptive implant

  • It can significantly change your period, some women find they have no bleeding but around 50% will have ongoing infrequent bleeding, while others will have irregular periods
  • In rare cases the skin around the implant can become infected after it’s inserted - this may need to be treated with antibiotics

It has other side effects, including:

  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes in mood
  • Loss of sex drive

Contraceptive injection

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.

Advantages of the contraceptive injection

  • The injections last for 8, 12 or 13 weeks depending on which type you have
  • It does not interrupt sex
  • the injection is an option if you cannot use oestrogen-based contraception
  • You don’t need to remember to take a pill every day
  • It is safe to use while you are breastfeeding
  • It is not affected by other medicines
  • It can reduce heavy, painful periods and help with premenstrual symptoms for some women
  • It reduces your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and may also give protection against cancer of the womb

Disadvantages of the contraceptive injection

  • It can affect your periods - they may become irregular and heavier, or shorter and lighter, or stop completely
  • It can take time for your periods and natural fertility to return after you stop using the injection
  • It may cause weight gain

It can also cause:

  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes in mood
  • Loss of sex drive

Find out more about the contraceptive injection, including risks, on the NHS.

Contraceptive patch

Woman with contraceptive patch on arm

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.

Advantages of the contraceptive patch

  • If used correctly and consistently, it can be up to 99% effective
  • It's easy to use and does not interrupt sex
  • You only need to think about it once a week, unlike the pill which you need to remember everyday
  • The hormones from the contraceptive patch are not absorbed by the stomach, so it is just as effective if you vomit or have diarrhoea
  • It may make your periods more regular, lighter and less painful
  • It can help with premenstrual symptoms
  • It may reduce the risk of ovarian, womb and bowel cancer
  • It may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease

Disadvantages of the contraceptive patch

  • You may not like that it’s visible
  • It can irritate your skin
  • It does not protect you against STIs
  • It can cause mild temporary side effects, such as headaches, nausea (sickness), breast tenderness and mood changes
  • You may experience bleeding between periods (breakthrough bleeding) and spotting (very light, irregular bleeding) in the first few cycles of using the patch
  • Some medicines can make the patch less effective - speak to your doctor or pharmacist when taking a new medication because you may need to use an additional form of contraception while you’re taking it and up to 28 days afterwards

Get more information about the contraceptive, such as risks, who can use it, and where to get it on the NHS.

Vagina ring

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.

Advantages of the vagina ring

  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It’s easy to put in and remove
  • You don’t have to think about it every day
  • It’s still effective even if you vomit or have diarrhoea
  • It may help with premenstrual symptoms
  • Withdrawal bleeding usually becomes lighter, more regular and less painful
  • It may reduce the risk of cancer of the ovary, uterus and colon
  • It may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease

Disadvantages of the vagina ring

  • It may not be suitable if you’re uncomfortable inserting or removing it from your vagina
  • You may experience spotting and bleeding while your ring is in your vagina during the first few months of use
  • It doesn’t protect against STIs

It may cause temporary side effects including:

  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood changes

As with most types of contraception there are some risks, which you can learn more about on the NHS.

IUD (intrauterine device, coil)

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.

Advantages of the IUD

  • An IUD is suitable for most women
  • Once fitted, it works straight away and can last for up to 10 years (depending on the type)
  • It doesn't interrupt sex
  • It can be used while breastfeeding
  • Fertility returns to normal immediately after the IUD is removed
  • It's not affected by other medicines

Disadvantages of the IUD

  • Periods may become heavier, longer or more painful
  • It doesn't protect against STIs
  • If you get an STI while you have an IUD it can cause a pelvic infection if not treated
  • It can cause vaginal bleeding and pain

Interested in using an IUD?

Here’s some more information about how it’s fitted, the risks, and who can use it

All about IUDs

IUD and IUS

IUS (intrauterine system)

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.

Advantages of the IUS

  • It works for up to five years
  • It's one of the most effective forms of contraception
  • It doesn't interrupt sex
  • It makes your periods much lighter and shorter
  • It can be used while breastfeeding
  • It's not affected by other medicines
  • It is a good option if you can’t take the hormone oestrogen
  • Your fertility will return to normal when the IUS is removed

Disadvantages of the IUS

  • It can change your period, making it more irregular and in some cases stopping completely
  • During the first 6 months after the IUS is fitted you may experience irregular bleeding and spotting
  • It may cause headaches, acne and breast tenderness
  • It doesn't protect against STIs
  • If you get an STI while you have an IUD it can cause a pelvic infection if not treated
  • Occasionally it will cause vaginal bleeding and pain
  • It can cause hormonal problems, but this is uncommon

IUS or IUD?

Find out which one is right for you and get more information about the risks

More about IUS

Female sterilisation

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.

Advantages of female sterilisation

  • It is one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy
  • It is usually effective immediately, but doctors recommend you wait until you have a period
  • It doesn’t usually affect your sexual health in the long-term
  • It doesn’t affect your sex drive
  • It doesn’t interfere with sex
  • It will not affect your hormone levels

Disadvantages of female sterilisation

  • It doesn’t protect you against STIs
  • It is difficult to reverse

Find out more about female sterlisation on the NHS.

Vasectomy

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

Advantages of a vasectomy

  • It is a very effective form of contraception
  • There are rarely any long-term effects on your health
  • It doesn’t affect your hormone levels or sex drive
  • It doesn’t interfere with sex
  • It is a safer and more reliable alternative to female sterilisation

Disadvantages of a vasectomy

  • It doesn’t protect against STIs
  • It’s difficult to reverse
  • It is not immediately effective
  • Complications can occur

Natural family planning (fertility awareness)

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.

Advantages of natural family planning

  • It includes your partner in the process
  • There are no side effects
  • Natural family planning is acceptable to almost all faiths and cultures
  • Most women can use natural family planning
  • It does not involve chemicals or physical products
  • It can help you recognise normal and abnormal vaginal secretions, which helps you identify infections

Disadvantages of natural family planning

  • It doesn’t protect against STIs
  • You will need to avoid sex, or use contraception such as condoms, during the time you might get pregnant
  • It can be far less effective than other methods of contraception
  • It requires continued commitment and co-operation from both you and your partner
  • It can take time to learn how to identify when you are fertile
  • You need to keep a daily record of your fertility signs
  • It’s not a suitable method if you have persistent irregular periods
  • Factors such as stress, illness, travel, lifestyle and use of hormonal treatments can disrupt your fertility signs
  • You can’t learn it from a book, it requires a specialist teacher

Is it reliable?

Find more on the pros and cons of fertility awareness, who can use it, and how it works

More info

Conclusion

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.



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