Age, health, lifestyle, side effects

There are 15 different methods of contraception currently available in the UK. The type that works best for you will depend on your health and circumstances.

There are several issues to consider when deciding which method of contraception is right for you.

Once you've read this information, you can go to your GP or local contraceptive (or family planning) clinic to discuss your choices.

Remember, the only way to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is to use a condom every time you have sex. Other methods of contraception prevent pregnancy, but they don't protect against STIs.

The following questions can help you decide which method is most suitable for you:

How effective are the different methods? 

Can you make contraception part of your daily routine?

Would you prefer contraception that you don't have to remember every day? 

Are you comfortable inserting contraceptives into your vagina? 

Do you mind if your periods change? 

Do you smoke? 

Are you overweight? 

What if you can't use hormonal contraceptives? 

What if you can't use contraceptives that contain oestrogen? 

Are you taking medicines for other conditions? 

Do you want to get pregnant in the near future?

The 'My contraception' tool

Sexual health charities Brook and FPA have developed an interactive tool that can help you find out which methods of contraception may be best for you.

The tool asks questions about your health, lifestyle and contraceptive preferences. All your answers are completely confidential and can't be traced back to you.

The tool is available on both charities' websites: 

How effective are the different methods?

The list below shows how effective each of the 15 different methods are, and how often you need to use them or think about them (frequency of use).

The effectiveness of each method is worked out by calculating how many women get pregnant if 100 women use the method for a year. For example, if a particular contraceptive method is 99% effective, one woman out of every 100 who uses it will get pregnant in a year.

Some methods listed below, such as the pill, include the phrase "if used correctly". This is because people who use these methods have to use them every time they have sex, or remember to take or apply them every day, week or month. If the method isn't used correctly, it won't be as effective.

Contraceptives that are more than 99% effective if used correctly:

Contraceptives that are more than 99% effective if always used correctly, but generally less than 95% effective with typical use:

Contraceptives that are 99% effective if used according to teaching instructions:

Contraceptives that are 98% effective if used correctly:

Contraceptives that are 95% effective if used correctly:

Contraceptives that are 92-96% effective if used correctly:

  • diaphragm with spermicide (every time you have sex)
  • cap with spermicide (every time you have sex)

Can you make contraception part of your daily routine?

If you're a well-organised person with a reasonably regular routine, you have a wide choice of contraception. This is because you're less likely to forget about your contraception – for example, forgetting to take a pill or reapplying a patch.

You may want to use a method that you only need to use when you have sex, such as the male or female condom, or you may prefer a method that you need to take every day, such as the pill.

Or you may want to consider methods such as the patch, injection or implant, which you don't need to use every day or each time you have sex.

The list below shows how often you need to use, replace or take each contraceptive method. Once you've looked at the list, ask your GP, or a doctor or nurse at your local clinic for more details.

Methods that are used each time you have sex:

Methods that are taken every day:

Methods that are replaced every week:

Methods that are replaced every month:

Methods that are renewed every two to three months:

Methods that are renewed up to every three years:

Methods that are renewed up to every five to 10 years:

Would you prefer contraception that you don't have to remember every day?

Not all contraceptives have to be taken every day or each time you have sex.

You don't have to think about some contraceptives for months or years. These methods need to be inserted by a health professional into your uterus (IUD or IUS) or arm (the implant):

The contraceptive injection can be given one of two ways: either by an intramuscular injection into the buttock, or as a subcutaneous injection into the thigh or abdomen. This is given every eight weeks or every 12 weeks, depending on the type. 

The subcutaneous injection can be given by a health professional, or you can be shown how to inject it yourself.

Other contraceptives that need to be changed or replaced every month or week are:

Other contraceptives used or inserted just before sex are:

Ask your GP or a doctor or nurse at your local contraceptive clinic for more details.

Are you comfortable inserting contraceptives into your vagina?

If you're a woman, are you comfortable inserting contraceptives into your own vagina? If so, you could consider using:

If you'd like a method that's longer-term and you don't mind a health professional putting a contraceptive into your uterus through your vagina, you could consider using:

Do you mind if your periods change?

Some contraceptives can affect your periods. Some may make your periods lighter or more infrequent. Others may make your periods heavier or more irregular. Ask your GP or a doctor or nurse at your local clinic for more details.

Contraceptives that can make your periods lighter include:

Do you smoke?

Smokers can use most types of contraception. But if you're a smoker and over 35 years old, some contraceptives (such as the combined pill, patch or the vaginal ring) might not be suitable for you. Ask your GP or a doctor or nurse at your local clinic for more details.

If you're over 35 and smoke, you can consider the following types of contraceptive:

Find out ways to stop smoking.

Are you overweight?

Your weight won't affect most types of contraception, and most contraception won't make you put on weight. However, the contraceptive injection has been linked to a small amount of weight gain if used for two years or more.

What if you can't use hormonal contraceptives?

Some contraceptives work by using hormones that are similar to the hormones that women produce naturally. These hormones are oestrogen and progestogen.

Contraceptives that contain these hormones aren't suitable for some women, such as those who have medical conditions, including breast cancer.

Not all contraceptive methods use hormones. Some work in other ways, including:

What if you can't use contraceptives that contain oestrogen?

Contraceptives that contain oestrogen aren't suitable for women who:

  • are over 35 and who smoke
  • are very overweight 
  • take certain medicines 
  • have certain medical conditions, such as problems with blood circulation, or migraines with aura

If you can't use contraceptives that contain oestrogen, there are plenty of other options, including:

Are you taking medicines for other conditions?

Some contraceptives can be affected if you're taking other medicines, but there are plenty of options. Ask your GP, nurse or your local clinic for more details.

Contraceptives that are not affected by other medicines are:

Do you want to get pregnant in the near future?

All methods of contraception can be stopped if you want to have a baby. You can get pregnant as soon as you stop using contraception.

A woman's fertility usually returns to normal within the first month after stopping the combined pill, vaginal ring or contraceptive patch. If you want your fertility to return to normal quickly after you stop using contraception, consider these methods:

Your fertility may take longer to return to normal after stopping the contraceptive injection. Most women's fertility will return in a few months, but it can take up to a year for fertility to return to normal. 

Find out about getting pregnant.

Contraception after having a baby

It's possible to become pregnant again very soon after the birth of a baby, even if you're breastfeeding and even if your periods haven't returned.

You ovulate (release an egg) about two weeks before your period arrives, so your fertility may have returned before you realise it.

It's important to sort out contraception from the start. If you had your baby in hospital, you will probably have discussed contraception with a family planning advisor before being discharged home.

You'll also be asked about contraception at your six week postnatal check, but you can discuss it at any time with your health visitor, midwife, GP or local family planning clinic.

As soon as you're ready

You can use male condoms, female condoms or the progestogen-only pill as soon as you feel ready to have sex.

21 days after birth

You can start to use a contraceptive implant from 21 days after the birth.

If you are not breastfeeding, you can start to use the combined pillvaginal ring and contraceptive patch from 21 days after the birth.

However, if you are breastfeeding, these three contraceptive methods may affect your milk supply and you are usually advised to wait until the baby is six months old.

Around six weeks after birth

You can usually have a contraceptive injection or start using a diaphragm or cap around six weeks after giving birth. If you used a diaphragm or cap before becoming pregnant, see your GP or contraception (family planning) clinic after the birth to ensure that it still fits correctly. This is because childbirth (and other factors such as weight loss or gain) can mean you need a different size.

Six to eight weeks after birth

An intrauterine device (IUD), also known as a 'coil', or intrauterine system (IUS) can sometimes be fitted within 48 hours of giving birth. 

If this is not possible then they will usually be fitted six to eight weeks after giving birth.

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