Contraception

Contraception is what we use during sex (or beforehand) to prevent pregnancy.

What is it?

We use contraception to prevent pregnancy when we have sex. It can either be used when we have sex, like condoms, or regularly taken beforehand, like the pill. There are loads of different options so it is really good to go and see the local sexual health or family planning clinic or GP to have a chat and ask them any questions you might need answering.

What are my options?

  • Condoms
  • The Pill
  • Diaphragms and caps
  • IUD (Inter-Uterine Device) this is a copper coil that is non-hormonal
  • IUS (Intrauterine System) this is a hormonal form of contraception
  • Contraceptive injections and implants
  • Natural (or rhythm) contraception

Effectiveness rates (if used correctly) as below:

Condoms

Condoms are your best bet for protection against STIs.

The male condom is a thin sheath of latex rubber or polyurethane that fits over a boy's erect penis, while the female condom is made of polyurethane and loosely lines the girl's vagina. They block sperm from getting into the girl's vagina to stop her getting pregnant.

Full details are in our Condom factfile.

If you use condoms correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% and female condoms are 95% effective.

The Pill

The Pill is a tablet taken by a woman usually so that she can have sex without getting pregnant. There's two types of Pill - combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) and progestogen-only pill (POP).

The two types of pill are taken in different ways so it is important to chat to your GP and get clear about how to take your pill so it is effective. With both types it is important to remember to take them as directed at the same time in the day, so setting up an alarm on your mobile is a good way to remember.

Different brands offer different levels of hormones which will affect each person differently - your GP can chat to you about the different types. Some women on the pill report side effects such as headaches, nausea or mood swings. Women may try different brands before they find one they're comfortable with. Full details are in our pill factfile.

When taken correctly as per your prescription, both the COCP and POP are over 99% effective.

Diaphragms (pronounced 'di-a-fram') and caps

Diaphragms are rubbery dish-shaped things to be inserted into the vagina. Caps are smaller versions. They fit over the cervix (entrance to the womb) blocking sperm, and you use a spermicidal cream or gel too. See your GP or family planning clinic if you think you want one; they'll show you how to insert one, which you'll use every time you have sex. It sounds fiddly - but if you can put in a tampon, you can manage a diaphragm. A diaphragm is only used when needed, and means we don't have to remember to take a tablet.

Effectivity rate when used correctly: 92-96%.

IUD (Inter-Uterine Device) and IUS (Intrauterine System)

Also called a coil, this tiny plastic or copper device is inserted inside the womb and stops fertilised eggs from sticking and implanting, preventing a pregnancy. It has to be inserted by a trained doctor. It can make periods heavier and more painful, and doesn't stop us getting STIs. But once it is in, that's it for five years - you don't have to think about contraception every day.

Effectivity rate when used correctly: over 99%.

Contraceptive injections and implants

These work in a similar way to the progestogen-only pill. With the injection, the hormone progesterone is injected into a woman's body and protects her from pregnancy for 8-12 weeks. With implants, a tiny tube containing progesterone is placed under the skin of the woman's arm, protecting her for three years. Injections and implants are good if you prefer not to take tablets every day. They can make periods unpredictable, or go away altogether.

Effectivity rate when used correctly: more than 99%.

Natural (or rhythm) contraception

This is where a woman only has sex on days she is less likely to get pregnant. She works this out with a diary of her menstrual cycle and taking her temperature. This works best for couples who wouldn't mind if they had a baby. Some people mistakenly think withdrawal - removing the penis before ejaculation (coming) - is a method of contraception. But it's extremely unreliable as sperm are released before ejaculation.

Natural (or rhythm) methods are not reliable and aren't recommended for young people.

REMEMBER: It's against the law in the UK to have sex if you're under 16. See the Age of Consent factfile for more information. But it is not against the law to ask for advice, information and contraception. So if you're thinking of having sex, don't wait until you're legal before getting the contraception sorted.

All this information has come from the NHS Contraception Guide

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.

This factfile was updated on 2 August 2017.

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