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Contraception

contraceptive pillsWhile the condom is the most widely used form of contraception among 18 to 24-year-olds, there are other options. Lots of options prevent pregnancy, but they won’t protect you from STIs. That’s why you should always use  a condom, even while using alternative forms of contraception.

What’s available for women?

1. Combined oral contraception – the pill

The pill is a tablet containing two female hormones (oestrogen and progestogen). These hormones prevent ovulation (the monthly release of an egg). It’s around 99% effective but only if used correctly – taken every day without fail at around the same time. There are many different brands of pill with different combinations of hormones. Your GP or local sexual health clinic can advise you on the correct hormone combination that suits you.

Advantages:

  • Does not interrupt sex
  • Useful for women who can reliably take pills on a daily basis
  • Often reduces bleeding, period pain and PMT (Pre-Menstrual Tension)
  • Can protect against cancer of the ovaries and womb

Drawbacks:

  • Vomiting, diarrhoea, antibiotics and some other prescribed drugs can interfere with its effectiveness. In all instances another method of contraception must be used
  • Not suitable for women with conditions such as high blood pressure, smokers over 35 or women who are breastfeeding
  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • Not available without a prescription
  • Side effects can include headaches, breast tenderness, mood swings, bloating, nausea, leg cramps, decreased sex drive and acne. In very rare cases more serious side effects like blood clotting can occur

For more detailed information on the combined oral contraceptive pill, see this factsheet by the Well Woman Centre.

2. Progestogen Only Pill – The Mini Pill

The mini pill is a tablet containing the female hormone progestogen. It works by preventing sperm getting through the cervix, may also thin the lining of the womb preventing an egg from implanting and may prevent an egg from being released.

Advantages:

  • Does not interrupt sex
  • Useful for women who can reliably take pills on a daily basis
  • Useful for women who cannot or do not want to take oestrogen such as women over 35 who smoke
  • Can be used when breastfeeding

Drawbacks

  • Must be taken at the same time everyday. Other contraception may be required if pills are taken more than 3 hours late
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea, and certain medication can interfere with its effectiveness. In any of these instances another method of contraception would have to be used
  • May cause irregular bleeding
  • Does not protect against STIs
  • Not available without prescription
  • Side effects can include headaches, breast tenderness, mood swings, bloating, nausea, leg cramps, decreased sex drive and acne

For more detailed information on the mini pill, read this factsheet by the Well Woman Centre.

3. Intrauterine Contraceptive Devices (IUDs)

The two types of IUDs used by the Well Woman Centre are:

  • the Mirena, a device containing progesterone
  • the Copper T 180, a device containing copper

Both are small T – shaped devices that must be inserted into your womb by a trained doctor. Once in place, the IUD is effective for five years in the case of the Mirena, and ten years in the case of the Copper T 380. Less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant while using the Miren, with a slightly less effective rate for the Copper T 380, so both devices are good options. However, they do not protect from STIs so condoms should be worn at the same time.

The Mirena works by:

  • thickening the mucus in the cervix so it helps to stop sperm reaching an egg
  • in some women stopping the ovaries releasing an egg, (but most women who use it still ovulate)
  • making the lining of the womb thinner so implantation can’t happen

The Copper T180 works by:

  • thickening the mucus in your cervix so it provides a barrier to sperm moving
  • setting up a reaction in the lining of your womb so that an egg is less likely to implant

For a more detailed explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of IUDs and their possible side effects, read this factsheet by the Well Woman Centre.

4. Implants

An implant is a rod-shaped device that is inserted in the arm. It slowly releases the female hormone progestogen, which stops an egg being released. It also thickens the mucus at the neck of the womb making it difficult for sperm to enter, and thins the lining of the womb. It does not protect against STIs so a condom should be worn at the same time.

Advantages:

  • Does not interrupt sex
  • Works for up to three years
  • May reduce painful periods

Drawbacks

  • May cause irregular bleeding, no bleeding at all, acne or weight gain
  • Insertion and removal must be done by a specially trained doctor
  • Does not protect against STIs

For a more detailed explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of implants and their possible side effects, read this factsheet by the Well Woman Centre.

5. Injectable contraception

Injectable contraception contains the female hormone progestogen. An injection is given by a health care professional approximately every 12 weeks. The hormone is released very slowly into the body to prevent an egg being released. It does not protect from STIs so a condom should be worn at the same time.

Advantages:

  • Does not interrupt sex
  • May protect against cancer of the womb
  • Useful for women who forget to take their pill daily
  • Can be used by women who cannot take oestrogen in the combined oral contraceptive pill, such as women over 35 who smoke

Drawbacks:

  • May cause irregular bleeding
  • Injection must be given by a doctor or a nurse
  • Cannot be immediately reversed in the event of side effects
  • Can take time for regular periods and fertility to return to normal
  • Does not protect against STIs

For a more detailed explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of implants and their possible side effects, read this factsheet by the Well Woman Centre.

Where can I get one of these forms of contraception?

Talk to your local GP or sexual health clinic for advice on choosing an alternative form of contraception (a list of clinic is available on Think Contraception). Each option will cost money, so inquire over the phone before making an appointment to make sure you can afford it. Many clinics provide student discounts, as long as you can provide valid identification.

For more information on contraception options, check Think Contraception, or the Well Woman Centre.

See condoms for more information on protecting yourself against STIs and your sexual health for what to expect when having an STI test.

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This article was last reviewed on 24 March 2017

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