What types of contraception are there?

We all know that contraception is important. It tends to be the only thing that we get taught about in Sex Ed classes in school. Babies this, STIs that. But… what types are there? How many? What if you’re allergic to condoms (yep, that happens)? What if you react badly to the Pill?!

Don’t panic. Buckle up. We’re about to give you the lowdown on protecting your down-lows…

HOLD ON – before you start, do I have to be 16 to get contraception?

Nope! You can go to your GP or sexual health clinic at any age to get contraception, even if you’re under 16 (the legal age to have sex in the UK). There are 15 forms available on the NHS but we’ll give you the most common here.

However, you should know that if you’re under 16 and a professional is worried for your safety then they have the right to tell your parents/guardian.

Ok cool, now proceed…

Thank you.

Condoms

Effectiveness? 98%
Hormonal? No
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Both

Ah, the classic penis condom. You can buy condoms easily (or sometimes get them for free at a sexual health clinic) and they come in all shapes, sizes, and kinds. Some are normal, some are ribbed and dotted for extra pleasure. Contraception doesn’t have to be boring!

If you’re allergic to latex, you may have to dig a bit deeper to find condoms suitable for you, such as ones made from polyurethane or polyisoprene. Google is your friend.

You can also get condoms for vaginas but they’re less common and more awkward to use.

The combined pill

Effectiveness? Over 99%
Hormonal? Yes
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Pregnancy. You still need extra contraception (like condoms) to prevent STIs.

This is the more common of the two types of contraceptive pill. It’s called ‘combined’ as it contains both oestrogen and progesterone. Taking this pill once a day for three weeks will stop an egg from being released and when you have the week break, you’ll probably have a period.

It’s an easy and common form of contraception, but you have to remember to take it and some people suffer with side effects such as acne, weight gain, and depression. Which can be pretty rubbish.

The progesterone-only pill (POP or mini-pill)

Effectiveness? Over 99%
Hormonal? Yes
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Pregnancy. You still need extra contraception (like condoms) to prevent STIs.

Some people can’t take the combined pill for various reasons, so this could be a good alternative. Like the name says, it contains only one hormone and works by thickening the mucus on your cervix (ew) to stop sperm reaching the egg.

You take this pill every day without a break, so no periods. Which could sound like a dream come true, but if you like the reassurance of regular menses then this may not be for you.

The implant

Effectiveness? Over 99%
Hormonal? Yes
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Pregnancy. You still need extra contraception (like condoms) to prevent STIs.

This is a tiny tube, about 4cm, that sits just under the skin in your arm. The tube is inserted by a professional and works by slowly releasing hormones to stop an egg from being released.

This method lasts for three years so you don’t have to think about contraception every damn day, but it can sometimes cause heavy and irregular periods. You can have the implant out whenever you like, so if it doesn’t work for you then you’re not stuck with it.

The injection

Effectiveness? Over 99%
Hormonal? Yes
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Pregnancy. You still need extra contraception (like condoms) to prevent STIs.

You have this hormonal injection every 12 weeks by your doctor so, again, you don’t have to think about your contraception every day. It works in the same way as the implant, but if you suffer with side effects then, unlike the implant, you can’t have it removed. You just have to wait the effects out.

The Mirena coil (IUS)

Effectiveness? Over 99%
Hormonal? Yes
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Pregnancy. You still need extra contraception (like condoms) to prevent STIs.

The intrauterine system, more commonly know as the IUS or Mirena coil, is a little plastic device that sits in your uterus.

We’ll let that one sink in.

But seriously, it isn’t as weird as it sounds. The Mirena coil releases progesterone and, once it’s fitted, you don’t have to think about it for up to five years. It can be a great form of contraception for those who have heavy periods as it often stops them altogether.

The copper coil (IUD)

Effectiveness? Over 99%
Hormonal? No
Prevents pregnancy or STIs? Pregnancy. You still need extra contraception (like condoms) to prevent STIs.

The official name for the copper coil is the intrauterine device, or IUD, and is the non-hormonal version of the Mirena coil. This coil can last up to 10 years and works by releasing copper instead of hormones, in order to change the fluid in the uterus which will kill any sperm. Brutal.

This is great for those who want a non-hormonal contraceptive but don’t want to just rely on condoms. It can change your periods quite a bit, though, so isn’t always recommended for people with heavy flows.

Right, but which is best for me?!

You might have to try out different types of contraception to find the best fit for you and your body. It could take a while – years, maybe – but it’s worth it.

Make an appointment with your GP but have a think before you go. Do you want every day contraception or long-lasting? Hormonal or non-hormonal? Protection against pregnancy or STIs or both? We can answer that last one for you. Only condoms will protect you from STIs, so always use them along with any other form of contraception.

Remember, contraception isn’t just for sex. Read on to find out other reasons people take hormonal contraceptives! Ooh, segue. Smooth.

@louisejonesetc

Image: Getty / Katie Edmunds

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