Types of Contraceptives

Are you using contraception?

There are now so many different types of contraceptives to choose from, it can be tricky to work out which method is the best one for you. With barrier methods, implants, intrauterine devices and contraceptive pills to choose from, it is now so much easier to prevent pregnancy than it used to be.

Our guide to contraception explains the most popular contraceptives to help you to choose the right one for you, based on your own personal preferences and how often you have sex.

Contraceptives can work in four different ways.

  • Prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. (This is how condoms work. The pill also helps to do this by thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb).
  • Prevent ovulation (the release of an egg).
  • Make it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant in the womb. (Many contraceptive pills achieve this by thinning the lining of the walls of the womb. 
The contraceptive coil also works by making it hard for a fertilised egg to implant).

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A fourth way of preventing conception is sterilisation. This is a type of surgery that stops you being able to get pregnant or to get someone pregnant. Sterilisation involves a small operation to block the tubes that carry the eggs in a woman (the fallopian tubes) or the sperm in a man (the vas deferens).

If you don’t want to get pregnant, you should use contraception every time you have sex. Condoms are the best way to avoid catching a sexually transmitted infection (an STI).
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The pill is one of the most commonly used contraceptive methods. If you take it properly, it is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. You need to remember to take it every day for it to work.
There are two types of contraceptive pill: combined pills and mini-pills. Both contain synthetic versions of “sex” hormones which control your reproductive system. “Combined” pills contain a combination of two hormones, oestrogen and progestogen, whilst the “Mini-pill” only contains progestogen.

The combined pill is taken every day for 21 days, after which you have a seven day break. During this break you will have a bleed, like a period. The main difference with the progestogen-only mini-pill is that it must be taken at the same time each day, and you take it every day, without a break. As a result, you may not have periods when you take the mini-pill. The mini-pill is suitable for some groups of people who are unable to take the combined pill.

Contraceptive pills do not prevent infection with an STI, so you still need to wear a condom if you are unsure whether you might be at risk. All contraceptive pills are prescription-only medications. In order to begin using an oral contraceptive, you need to see your GP.
If you are already taking the pill, the Superdrug Online Doctor service provides a convenient service for repeat prescriptions with the option to pick up your pill at your local Superdrug pharmacy, or have it delivered to your home or work address.
Condoms are the most popular form of contraceptive. The condom has many advantages. It is a cheap, widely available and very effective method of contraception which also protects you from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as HIV and chlamydia. In order to provide reliable protection, condoms need to be the correct size and they need to be in good condition. Many Sexual Health Clinics will give away some condoms for free.

The most commonly used material is latex. However, you can also buy condoms made of polyurethane or lambskin for people with latex allergies.Unlike rubber condoms, lambskin condoms do not prevent infection with a sexually transmitted infection. Always check whether the condom you are using is compatible with any lubricant you wish to use as some lubricants will erode the condom and make it more likely to break or leak.

It is also possible to buy female condoms or “Femidom”. Just like male condoms, female condoms can be bought without a prescription in pharmacies. They are 95% effective in preventing pregnancy and can be inserted into the vagina up to eight hours before sex. Female condoms are less effective than male condoms when it comes to preventing infection with an STI. They also tend to be a bit more expensive.
The diaphragm is another type of barrier contraceptive. It works by blocking the entrance to the womb, which prevents sperm from reaching the egg. The contraceptive diaphragm needs to be treated with a spermicide each time before you use it. You can put it in place any time before having sex, but if you have put it in more than three hours before intercourse, you will need to use extra spermicide. It should left in place for at least 6 hours after having sex. If you take care of your diaphragm, you can use it several times.

To get a contraceptive diaphragm, you need a prescription from your GP. It takes a little practice to learn how to use it correctly. Your GP will need to advise you on how to use it safely. The diaphragm will not protect you from STIs.
The cervical cap or femcap is one of the less well-known contraceptives. It is similar to the diaphragm and requires the use of a spermicide to be effective. The cap is made of siliconand is inserted into the vagina. You need to leave it in for six hours after sex, but you should take it out within 48 hours. Some women prefer the cervical cap to the diaphragm, as it is less likely to cause cystitis. The cap is 92% to 95% effective, so slightly less effective than the condom. It does not provide reliable protection from sexually transmitted infections.

Spermicides are usually used in combination with other contraceptives, such as the contraceptive diaphragm and the cervical cap. You can buy spermicide without a prescription. Spermicide does not offer any protection from STIs and is not reliable against pregnancy when used on its own.

A contraceptive implant is a small tube about 4cm long, that is inserted under the skin of your upper arm. It needs to be put in place by a doctor and is 99.99% effective.

It works in the same way as the contraceptive mini-pill, by releasing the hormone progestogen continuously into the body. It provides contraceptive cover for up to three years, which makes it very convenient to use.

You do not need to remember to take any pills when using the implant, but you do need to use a condom to prevent catching an STI. If you decide you would like to become pregnant or stop using the implant, your doctor will be able to remove it any time. Your natural fertility will go back to normal quite quickly after it is taken out.
Just like the implant, the contraceptive injection works by slowly releasing progestogen into the body. The injection will protect you from falling pregnant for up to three months.

While the injection is very effective, unlike the implant, it cannot be removed once you have had it. This means that if you experience any side effects they might persist for several weeks until the effect naturally wears off.

As with other hormonal contraception options, you’ll still need to use barrier contraception (condoms) to protect yourself from STIs.
Another form of hormone-based contraception is the contraceptive patch. It works in the same way as a combined oral contraceptive and contains both oestrogen and progestogen. The patch needs to be worn for three weeks followed by a one week break.
There are two different types of coil: the copper coil (IUD) and the hormonal coil (IUS). You can discuss which is best for you with a doctor or nurse. The coil needs to be inserted by a doctor and you will require regular check-ups to ensure your coil is still in the right place. Intrauterine contraception is very safe and over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Once inserted, a coil can be left in place for five to ten years. During this time, you don’t have to worry about contraception every day, or every time that you have sex. However, it will not protect against STIs. The coil can be removed at any time by a specially trained doctor or nurse and your fertility quickly returns to normal.

The coil can also be used as emergency contraception if you’ve had unprotected sex or if something went wrong with the contraceptive you were using. In this case, for the coil to prevent pregnancy, it needs to be inserted within five days of unprotected sex.
Sterilisation is a surgical option that is available to both men and women. It is only recommended if you are certain that you do not wish to have children.

In men, sterilisation is called vasectomy - it involves cutting the tubes through which sperm pass. It is a simple procedure and you don’t have to stay in hospital. In extremely rare cases, the connection between the tubes can grow back, meaning the man becomes fertile again.

Sterilisation in women can be achieved with different techniques. A doctor can put small cuts in the fallopian tubes. Alternatively, clips or coils can be used to cause blockage of the tubes. You will need to use contraception for up to three months after the operation, depending on the method used. There is a very small chance that the sterilisation will be unsuccessful. Women and men wanting sterilisation should have counselling session with their GP, as it is usually an irreversible procedure.
Some couples choose to rely on natural family planning in order to prevent pregnancy. This technique involves keeping track of your menstrual cycle and avoiding sex on fertile days (days when you could get pregnant). Body temperature, cervical mucus and the day of your cycle are all indicators of your fertility status.

The problem with this method is that no woman’s cycle is perfectly regular, which means it is hard to be certain when your fertile days begin and end. Even so, if used carefully, this method is on average 85% effective and removes the risk of side effects.