Types of contraceptives

Which birth control is best? - The pros and cons of contraceptives

Contraception is an important part of any sexual relationship, not only for birth control but also to stop the spread of STIs.There are a lot of different options available and not all of them will be appealing or suitable for everyone so it’s important to explore your options to find out what’s available and what you’re comfortable with. 

In the UK, there are 15 different types of contraception available. This includes both hormonal and non-hormonal options: 

  1. Male condoms
  2. Female condoms
  3. The combined pill
  4. The mini pill
  5. The IUD
  6. The IUS
  7. The implant 
  8. The injection 
  9. Diaphragm or cap
  10. Sponge
  11. The patch
  12. The vaginal ring
  13. Natural family planning
  14. Vasectomy
  15. Female sterilisation 

Some of these options are temporary or single-use, while others are long term and involve taking hormones. Sterilisation involves making a permanent change to your body and going through surgery. Let’s go through each type of contraception individually: 

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Condoms

Condoms are the most readily available type of contraception. They are freely available from sexual health clinics, colleges and other similar establishments and are the only contraceptive that will protect you from STIs. Male condoms are made from latex and placed over the length of a man’s penis before sex. Female ones work in a similar way, except they are inserted into the vagina. 

Pros: 

  • Protect from STIs and pregnancy
  • 97-98% effective when used correctly 
  • Easy to use 
  • Don’t cause side effects 

Cons:

  • They can break, tear or come off 
  • Condoms can be inconvenient as they interrupt sex 
  • Some people find it dulls the sensation 

 

The combined pill

This is the most popular contraceptive and used by millions of women each year. It contains synthetic versions of female sex hormones and is taken every day to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation and making changes to the womb and cervix lining. They are usually taken daily for 3 weeks before having a 7 days break between packs.

Pros: 

  • When used correctly it’s 99% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It can be used to control your period
  • It’s easy to start and stop taking it

Cons:

  • It can cause unpleasant side effects
  • There are health risks involved 
  • Some medications can make it ineffective 

 

The mini pill

This is a version of the pill which only contains one hormone- progesterone. It works in a similar way to the combined pill but it’s taken every day continuously and needs to be taken at the same time every day or it won’t work. Women who can’t take oestrogen, found in the combined pill, will often be given this as an alternative. 

Pros:

  • It’s safe for most women to take
  • It’s 99% effective when used correctly
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex 
  • It’s easy to start and stop taking 

Cons:

  • It can cause side effects
  • If you take it late you won’t be protected
  • Because of this, with typical use, it’s only 91% effective 

 

The IUD

The intrauterine device is a long-term type of contraception. Known as the copper coil, it’s a small device which is placed into the base of the womb by a trained doctor to prevent pregnancy. It does this by releasing copper into the womb which kills off sperm. Once it’s in, it lasts for up to 10 years. 

Pros:

  • It’s over 99% effective
  • Once it’s in, you don’t need to think about it
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It doesn’t cause side effects

Cons:

  • There is a small risk of it moving or falling out
  • It can cause your periods to be heavier or more painful
  • In rare cases, it can cause damage to the womb 

 

The IUS

The intrauterine system is similar to the copper coil, except it contains hormones instead of copper. It’s also inserted by a doctor and is just as effective. Because it’s a hormonal type of contraception, it might not be suitable for everyone and can cause side effects. Some women find that their periods become irregular, or stop altogether. 

Pros:

  • It lasts for 3-5 years
  • It’s over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy 
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex 
  • Once it’s in you don’t need to think about it

Cons:

  • It can cause side effects
  • It’s not suitable for all women
  • There is a risk of infection or it falling out in the first month

 

Contraceptive implant 

The contraceptive implant is another long term reversible method of contraception. It is a small, plastic rod which is inserted into the inside of the upper arm, releasing hormones into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. This is done by a trained doctor as a small procedure under a local anaesthetic. 

Pros:

  • It’s over 99% effective
  • It lasts for 3 years
  • Once it’s in you don’t need to think about it
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex

Cons:

  • It can cause side effects
  • It can make your period irregular
  • It’s not suitable for everyone

 

Contraceptive injection

This involves getting an injection every 13 weeks, which contains the progesterone hormone. It’s over 99% effective and useful for women who struggle to remember to take the pill but aren’t keen on invasive methods like the IUD or implant. Unlike other types, you’d have to wait until the hormones wear off to be able to stop using it. 

Pros:

  • You don’t need to think about it every day 
  • Each injection lasts for 8-13 weeks
  • It’s suitable for women who can’t take oestrogen
  • It can help with heavy periods

Cons:

  • It involves having to have an injection every 13 weeks
  • It can take up to a year for your fertility to return after stopping it
  • It can cause side effects

 

Diaphragm or cap

A diaphragm is a barrier method of contraception. It’s a small, silicone dome-shaped device which is inserted into the vagina before sex. It stops sperm from being able to enter the cervix and can be washed and reused. It should be used with spermicide and needs to be left in for up to 6 hours after sex. 

Pros: 

  • No side effects 
  • It can be put in any time before sex
  • It’s only used as and when you need it
  • There are no health risks 

Cons:

  • It’s less effective than other methods at 92-96%
  • It can take practice to use it properly
  • Sometimes it can cause a bladder infection 

 

Contraceptive sponge

The sponge works in a similar way to a diaphragm and it’s a soft, spongy piece of silicone which is inserted into the vagina. It contains spermicide and can be put in place up to 24 hours before sex. These are single-use and generally less effective but they tend to be more comfortable to use. 

Pros:

  • It doesn’t cause side effects
  • There are no health risks
  • Use only as and when needed
  • It can be put in anytime before sex

Cons:

  • It’s less effective than other methods
  • It needs to be left in for up to 6 hours after sex
  • Each sponge can only be used once 

 

The contraceptive patch

The patch is applied directly to the skin like a plaster and it releases hormones into the body. Internally, it works in the same way as the pill to prevent pregnancy. Each one lasts for 7 days and should be changed weekly, with a 7 days break after 3 weeks.

Pros:

  • It’s over 99% effective when used correctly
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It can be used to control your period
  • You don’t need to remember to take the pill every day

Cons:

  • It can produce side effects and skin irritation
  • There are health risks involved
  • Some medications make it less effective 

 

The vaginal ring

The vaginal ring is a small, silicone ring which is placed inside the vagina and releases hormones into the body to prevent pregnancy. Each one lasts for 21 days before it’s removed, with a 7 days break until starting a new one. There is a risk of it falling out but it can easily be put back in. 

Pros:

  • It’s over 99% effective when used properly
  • Each one can be left in for 3 weeks 
  • It can be used to control your period
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex

Cons

  • It can cause side effects
  • It poses a health risk for some women 
  • Some medications make it less effective 

 

Natural family planning

Natural family planning involves tracking your cycle to determine when you are fertile, either avoiding sex or using something like a condom during this time. It can be 99% effective if it’s followed exactly, but it takes a few months to learn how to do it properly and involves taking your temperature daily. 

Pros:

  • It’s a good option for women who don’t want to put anything in their body
  • It doesn’t cause side effects
  • There are no health risks
  • It doesn’t contradict religious beliefs 

Cons:

  • It takes time to learn
  • There’s a lot of commitment involved
  • There are factors which can cause changes in your cycle 

 

Vasectomy 

For men, this is a permanent solution for those who don’t want to have any or any more children. It’s a procedure which stops sperm from being able to leave the body. You need to be absolutely certain before going through with it. 

Pros:

  • It’s 99% effective
  • You never need to think about contraception again
  • Your partner doesn’t need to worry about contraception 

Cons:

  • In rare cases, the procedure might not work
  • If you change your mind about children, you might not be able to reverse it
  • It doesn’t protect against STIs

 

Sterilisation 

This is a procedure that women can get to permanently prevent pregnancy where the fallopian tubes are tied/cut off. It can be very difficult to get, as many doctors won’t perform this on women under a certain age or those who don’t have kids in case they change their mind. 

Pros:

  • Once it’s done, you don’t need to worry about contraception 
  • There are no side effects involved
  • It’s 99% effective

Cons:

  • In some cases, the fallopian tubes can reattach 
  • If you change your mind about kids, you won’t be able to reverse it
  • It doesn’t protect against STIs

 

Sources

NHS Inform> The Different Types of Contraception: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/contraception/getting-started/the-different-types-of-contraception

NHS> Your Contraception Guide: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/

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