Sexual Health Feature: Contraception and you.
When we think contraception we often think of the most common - the pill and the condom. There are in fact many different other forms of contraception on offer… so - read on and consider yourself enlightened, lovely ladies.
If the pill isn’t something you want, then there are definitely other options out there.
The Male Condom:
These are definitely one of the most common and something that we are all well acquainted with. Sheaths made of latex or polyurethane placed onto a penis, to prevent his sperm from entering you. Stats show that they are around 98% effective and they are definitely highly recommended as they help towards preventing many sexually transmitted diseases (but not all - link to std post).
Many women prefer to use condoms as it removes the need to use any other birth control, especially if in a monogamous relationship, however some couples do find the act of needing to put the passionate moment on pause to “get equipped” a little irritating. If this is you… read on!
The Female Condom:
Female condoms are made of the same materials of the male condom and similarly are inserted into your vagina before sex, to act as a sperm barrier. Stats show that they are 95% effective (slightly less effective than the male)- however they also protect you from most STDs. They are more fiddly to use than the male condom and run the risk of being pushed up into the vagina… making them the less popular condom choice.
The Combined Pill:
The combined pill is another popular contraception, which involves ingesting a pill once a day for 21 days (with a break of 7 days whilst a period is occurring). It is called a combined pill because it contains both hormones oestrogen and progestogen, and it acts as a contraception through inhibiting ovulation (i.e. the release of an egg from a woman’s uterus).
Stats show that it is at least 99% effective and has been touted at possibly reducing the risk of certain cancers (especially uterine and ovarian). Many report that on the pill they experience lighter periods that are less painful than previously.
The combined pill however doesn’t remove PMS symptoms (sore breasts, emotional disturbances… you know the drill, ladies!) and it definitely doesn’t protect against STDs. Some women report weight gain and changes in breast size too. There are many different brands on the market and some brands may not agree with every woman - especially when medical history and existing medical conditions are taken into account. It is always advisable to work with your doctor when deciding on the most appropriate pill for you.
The 'Mini Pill' or POP:
The mini pill is a progestogen-only contraceptive pill that’s taken once a day at the same time every day - similar to the combined pill. It works by making the uterus lining thinner, which creates an inhospitable environment for a fertilized egg to implant. In certain cases, it may also prevent ovulation. Stats claim that it is at least 99% effective and it’s a good alternative for women who would like to take the pill however for medical reasons can’t ingest oestrogen. is around 99% effective, and is a useful alternative for women who face safety risks from pills that contain oestrogen. It has been known to cause irregular bleeding and again - it definitely doesn’t protect from those scary STDs.
This is around the size of a matchstick and is surgically inserted into your upper arm. It contains progesterone which is slowly released into your body for up to three years. The progesterone thickens the cervix (making things a bit harder for sperm to pass) and it also prevents ovulation. It boasts a 99% reported effectiveness and is an option for women who don’t want to have to remember to take the pill every day, and who aren’t suitable candidates for ingesting oestrogen.
Easily removed and with no lasting fertility implications, it’s a handy “set and forget” for three years - however it again isn’t effective protection against STDs.
Drawbacks are that it can be painful to insert and can stop periods altogether, which is something that women can find a little unnerving.
Diaphragms and Caps:
These are semi-circular devices made from silicone or rubber, that are placed inside the vagina before sex, to act as a mechanical sperm barrier. It isn’t effective unless spermicidal cream or gel is applied before insertion or if you remove it before 6 hours after you’ve had sex. These devices are reusable and come with no hormonal implications however they are often fiddly and cumbersome to insert, making them one of the least effective and least appealing methods. They also offer no STD protection.
The contraceptive injection protects you from pregnancy for between 2 to 3 months, depending on the injection. It contains only progesterone (no oestrogen) and works by thinning the womb lining and making an inhospitable environment for any fertilised egg to implant. It can also halt ovulation and periods.
It’s more than 99% effective, it is safe for women who can’t take oestrogen, and it removes the need to think about contraception for up to twelve weeks. It can cause negative side-effects, much like the combined pill - and given that it is an injection, if you do experience unpleasant side-effects, you need to suffer the period of time out, rather than simply “stopping a pill” to remove the side-effects.
It’s not recommended for women under 19 years of age, or those who are predisposed to osteoporosis (the injection sometimes causes the bones to thin, though it should be noted that this almost always reverses itself once the injection wears off).
The Intrauterine Device (IUD):
This is another common contraceptive method. The intrauterine device or IUD is made from copper and plastic, and is a small hormone-free device that’s inserted into the uterus. It’s stats show that it is at least 99% effective, and a major benefit is that once inserted, it offers contraception for 3-10 years. It works by making the uterus inhospitable for the sperm survival and fertilisation to occur.
It can also be easily and quickly removed and is ideal for ladies in a monogamous relationship who don’t want to worry about condoms or can’t tolerate the hormone imbalance that pills and injections may mean.
The IUD has been known to make periods longer and occasionally more painful - and it is advised to be conscious that infection may occur in the first month following insertion. As with all contractive methods, it’s advisable to seek medical counsel and monitor your body carefully at the start of the contraceptive journey, to ensure that you are aware of any changes and react quickly where needed. The IUD offers no protection against STDs.
The Intrauterine System (IUS):
The intrauterine system or IUS is made from plastic, and it is a small, progestogen-containing device that’s inserted into the uterus - similar to that of the IUD. Also over 99% effective, it offers provides immediate contraception, and works for up to 5 years through making the conditions of the uterus inhospitable for fertilisation and implantation. In some cases it can also stop ovulation.
It’s a good option for women who can’t take the combined pill and the oestrogen element (such as migraine sufferers) and it often also makes periods lighter and less painful. Like the IUD, and it can be quickly removed if it causes unpleasant negative side effects. Just like the IUD - the mechanical insertion means a small risk of infection in the first month following insertion. Something to be aware of.
The Contraceptive Patch:
This sticky patch is about 5cm square in size, and is attached to the upper arm for a week (after which it is replaced with a fresh patch). This is worn for around 3 weeks, with a 1 week break in between.
This patch introduces oestrogen and progestogen to the body through the pores in your skin, making ovulation less likely (whilst also making it harder for sperm to fertilize any egg that might be there). It’s reported as being more than 99% effective, and there is some evidence too that it may protect against certain kinds of cancers (especially ovarian and uterine cancers). It has been reported to cause headaches and an increase in blood pressure, and it is also unsuitable for those with an increased risk of clotting (such as migraine sufferers). The other downside is the inconvenience at having to apply a patch that is then worn all the time. Another important factor is that it doesn’t protect against STDs.
There are other options, including both male and female sterilisation, as well as the “withdrawal method” often included in contraception lists. We strongly advise against using the withdrawal method given its unreliability and failure to protect against any STDs.
As with everything (unfortunately!) - all of these methods come with pros and cons - however they are definitely worth exploring, depending on your individual situation.
Always include your doctor in any of your contraceptive decisions.