Contraception 101

There are so many different ways to have safe sex! Which one will you opt for?

Contraception is confusing: on the NHS alone there are 15 different types to choose from. There is so much variation that finding a contraceptive that works for you can a little effort, but is worth it to feel happy and protected. To help you get started, we’ve pulled together a basic lowdown on the most commonly used methods:

  1. Condoms

Condoms are THE ONLY way to protect from STIs, and the good news is they are free to pick up from clinics (check out our guide to getting free condoms) or widely available to buy in shops. Condoms are great – and you can get male and female ones. However, they can be a bit fiddly, putting them on can interrupt your flow, and they can tear or slip off – so it’s sometimes a good idea to use another form of contraceptive as well. Check out this handy five step guide for putting a condom on correctly.


  1. The Combined Pill

The combined contraceptive pill combines two hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. The pill is more consistently effective than a condom at preventing pregnancies if you take it correctly, although it cannot protect you against STIs. For some people, the pill can also have beneficial side effects, such as lighter periods, and reduced acne. The cons of the contraceptive pill are that you have to remember to take it at the same time every day, and some women can suffer side effects from poor mental health to increased weight gain. If you feel like the combined pill isn’t working for you don’t feel afraid to discuss it with your GP: there are lots of different brands and some may suit you better than others. Don’t forget that sickness, diarrhoea and antibiotics can all impact on the effectiveness of the pill!


  1. The Mini pill

This progestogen-only pill is an alternative to the combined pill if you react badly to synthetic oestrogen, but it can make periods lighter or heavier and they can be irregular. Many progestogen-only pills need to be taken strictly at the same time every day, so it is not ideal if you’re forgetful. If you have issues remembering to take the pill, there are some great free apps available that can send you a reminder at the same time every day.


  1. The Implant

The implant is progesterone only, like the mini pill, and comes with the same side effects. The implant is a small rod, about the size of a hairpin, that is inserted under the skin on the underside of your arm by a medical professional. It extremely effective at protecting against pregnancy, and you don’t need to worry about forgetting a pill for three whole years! Getting an implant is a bit painful, and it can randomly ache later. It’s worth knowing that most medical professionals don’t like taking implants out in the first six months, even if you are experiencing negative side effects. If you’re worried about negative side effects, try out the mini pill first to see if progesterone only is for you.


  1. The Injection

The injection is also a progesterone-only form of contraception, and like the implant, it is a highly effective way to protect yourself against pregnancy. Once you have had the injection you can’t reverse the side effects, so trying out the mini pill first can be useful. You will need to go to the doctors for an injection every eight to 13 weeks if you decide on this contraceptive method.


  1. The IUD (coil)

There are two types of Intrauterine Device (IUD), commonly referred to as the coil. They are small, T-shaped devices: one type contains copper and the other automatically releases progesterone like the implant, but in smaller doses. Both can be pretty painful to insert – your doctor is likely to only recommend the coil after childbirth, although many women get the coil before. This is because it sits in the womb and has to be inserted through the cervix. Ouch. On the plus side, once you have a coil inserted it will protect you against pregnancy for up to ten years, or until you get it removed. Nice!


  1. Patches and rings

Contraceptive patches and rings both work like the combined pill, but they administer hormones in a different way. The patch is a bit like a nicotine patch: you stick it on your skin. It can be worn while swimming and playing sports, but it can be visible through certain clothing. The vaginal ring sits in your vagina for three weeks, then you take it out for a week to have a period before inserting a new ring. Like tampons, the bendy plastic ring cannot get lost inside you, so don’t stress about that.


  1. Emergency contraception (plan B)

While you should not use this as a regular contraceptive option, the morning-after pill is always there to help prevent a pregnancy if things go wrong and your other contraceptive methods fail. You can get the pill for free from GPs, sexual health clinics and some pharmacies: otherwise it costs around £28 at a regular pharmacy. It can make you feel quite sick and dizzy and although it can work for up to 72 hours after sex, it is way more effective if you take it ASAP. Superdrug has just announced it will soon be releasing its own brand of morning-after pill for half the price of other over-the-counter brands.



Whatever contraceptive option works for you, you must always remember to use a condom with a new partner, even if you are protected from pregnancy by a different method. Sometimes trying things out is the only way to see what contraceptive works for you, but to find out more information you can take this handy quiz by Brook, and should always feel able to chat to a nurse, or your GP. 

Fumble safely!

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