How to stay safe
Learn about the different types of contraception in our comprehensive guide.
To discover more about the different types of contraception to use with your partner, follow our guide and find out what suits you both the best.
Both male and female condoms only need to be used when you have sex, and help protect against STIs, including HIV and AIDS. However, that’s where the similarities end. The male condom is easily available and comes in many shapes and sizes to suit everyone, is often available free from family planning clinics, many sexual health clinics, some GPs and online.
The female condom, which can be put in any time before sex, is not widely available. You can buy them from some pharmacies, supermarkets, GPs or online.
Sometimes a woman's periods are lighter, shorter and less painful with the Pill, which has to be taken either every day, or 21 out of 28 days on a cycle. It can help with pre-menstrual syndrome, tension and acne and doesn't interfere with sex. The Pill also reduces the risk of fibroids (non-cancerous tumours of the womb), ovarian cysts and breast disease other than cancer.
However, some women may suffer from nausea, breast tenderness, bleeding between periods, headaches and mood changes. The Pill may increase blood pressure and doesn't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS. Contraceptive protection can also be reduced during sickness, and whilst taking antibiotics.
It is usually recommended to take a different method of contraception during breastfeeding, and there are some uncommon but serious side effects, which should be discussed with your doctor if you are considering using the Pill.
The Pill is available free from a GP or from family planning clinics with a prescription. It can be purchased too from most pharmacies with a prescription.
Most notably, implants can be used if you are breastfeeding and last for three years. Normal levels of fertility return after the implant is removed.
A woman’s periods may change as a result of the implant, and bleeding can be irregular. Other possible side effects include headaches, acne, tender breasts, weight gain, abdominal pain and bloating. Very rarely an infection can occur in the arm where the implant is inserted. A small procedure is required to both fit and remove the implant.
The implant can, however be difficult to remove occasionally, and some women experience depression and mood swings as a result of using it. Also, it doesn't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS.
Implants are only available from GPs or family planning clinics, because they have to be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse.
The injection can be used if you are breastfeeding, and reduces the risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease and cancer of the womb, and offers contraceptive protection for eight to 12 weeks. It may reduce heavy, painful periods and help with premenstrual symptoms for some women.
However bleeding can be irregular as a result of use, and this can continue for several months or as long as the injection lasts. People with the injection can also experience headaches, acne, tender breasts, weight gain, mood swings, abdominal pain and bloating, generally for the period of the injection.
Sometimes fertility can take more than a year to return to normal after stopping the injection, and it doesn't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS. The contraceptive injection is only available from GPs and family planning clinics.
Diaphragms, caps and sponges
All of these devices only need to be used when you have sex, and can be put in at a convenient time before sex. Diaphragms and caps may give some protection against STIs, although sponges do not.
As a result of using diaphragms, caps and sponges, some women have a problem with cystitis. They must be fitted by a doctor or nurse at a GP surgery, or family planning clinic. Once fitted, they can be bought from pharmacies.
Morning after pill
This treatment is for emergency use only, and not intended to be used as a form of regular contraception. The morning after pill can cause sickness and, in fact, if you are sick within two hours of taking the pill, its effectiveness can be reduced. It doesn't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS, and has to be taken within a limited time after unprotected sex. The morning after pill can also disrupt your periods.
Available free from GPs, family planning clinics and sexual health clinics, the morning after pill can be purchased at pharmacies in some countries if you are 16 or over. Availability and the age of users for whom it is available vary from country to country.
The Intrauterine System (IUS)
This method lasts for five years, with periods often becoming lighter, shorter and sometimes less painful. Fertility returns quickly after the system is removed, and it can be used if you’re breastfeeding.
A lot of women have slight but irregular bleeding for the first six months as a result of using the Intrauterine system, and can experience headaches, acne and breast tenderness. Some women can also develop cysts on their ovaries. These are not dangerous but can sometimes cause pain. They usually disappear without treatment.
Another factor is that the system can be pushed out by the womb or become dislodged and can puncture or perforate the womb. In rare cases, this may require removal by surgery. The system doesn't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS, and there is a small chance of infection after the device has been put in.
The Intrauterine system is available from family planning clinics, sexual health clinics and some GPs – it has to be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse.
Male and female sterilisation
A permanent method of contraception, this is a surgical procedure where the tubes that supply sperm in a man and the tubes that carry the egg in a woman are cut or tied. Male sterilisation is a quick and simple operation with less chance of failure than female sterilisation, usually requiring a local anaesthetic, whereas female sterilisation requires a general anaesthetic.
Both procedures are permanent and cannot be easily reversed. It can take up to two months for all sperm to disappear from the semen, so extra contraception must be used before you have a semen test to confirm there are no sperm left. Although uncommon, the tubes may re-join and fertility may return. Sterilisation doesn't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS.
This is a surgical procedure that must only be performed by a trained doctor. However, family planning clinics, sexual health clinics and GPs will be able to give you more information.
For more detailed information on all these forms of contraception see more here.