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Berkshire Sexual Health Services - NHS Logo
Berkshire Sexual Health Services - NHS Logo
Berkshire Sexual Health Logo

Contraception

If you think you may be pregnant, you can get help and advice here.

A woman can get pregnant if a man's sperm reaches one of her eggs (ova).

Contraception tries to stop this happening by keeping the egg and sperm apart, or by stopping egg production, or by stopping the combined sperm and egg (fertilised egg) attaching to the lining of the womb. Contraception is free for most people in the UK. With 15 methods to choose from, you can find one that suits you bestBarrier methods such as condoms are a form of contraception that help to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy. You should use condoms to protect both your sexual health and that of your partner, no matter what the other contraception you're using to prevent pregnancy. 

The contraceptive cap is a circular dome made of thin, soft silicone. It's inserted into the vagina before sex, and covers the cervix so that sperm cannot get into the womb. You need to use spermicide with it (spermicide kills sperm). The cap must be left in place for six hours after sex. After that time, you take out the cap and wash it. Caps are reusable. They come in different sizes, and you must be fitted for the correct size by a trained doctor or nurse.

When used correctly with spermicide, the cap is 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that between four and eight women out of every 100 who use a cap as contraception will become pregnant in a year.

The cap does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so using a condom as well will help to protect you against STIs

Read more about the contraceptive cap here

The combined oral contraceptive pill is usually just called "the pill". It contains artificial versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally in their ovaries. The hormones in the pill prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulating). They also make it difficult for sperm to reach an egg, or for an egg to implant itself in the lining of the womb.

The pill is usually taken to prevent pregnancy, but can also be used to treat painful periods, heavy periods, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and endometriosis.

When taken correctly, the pill is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that fewer than one woman in 100 who use the combined pill as contraception will get pregnant in one year.

The pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so using a condom as well will help to protect you against STIs.

Read more about the combined pill from NHS Choices

Female condoms are made from thin, soft plastic called polyurethane (some male condoms are made from this too).

When used correctly during vaginal sex, they help to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Currently, there is only one brand of female condom available in the UK, called Femidom

If used correctly and consistently, female condoms are 95% effective. This means that five out of 100 women using female condoms as contraception will become pregnant in a year.

Do not use a female condom more than once. If you have sex again, use a new female condom.

Read more about female condoms from NHS Choices

Male condoms are made from very thin latex (rubber), polyisoprene or polyurethane, and are designed to stop a man's semen from coming into contact with his sexual partner.

If used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% effective. This means that two out of 100 women using male condoms as contraception will become pregnant in one year.

A condom must not be used more than once. Use a new one each time you have sex.

Read more about male condoms from NHS Choices

The contraceptive implant is a small flexible tube about 40mm long that's inserted under the skin of your upper arm. It's inserted by a trained professional, such as a doctor, and lasts for three years. 

The implant stops the release of an egg from the ovary by slowly releasing progestogen into your body. Progestogen also thickens the cervical mucus and thins the womb lining. This makes it harder for sperm to move through your cervix, and less likely for your womb to accept a fertilised egg.

If implanted correctly, it's more than 99% effective. Fewer than one woman in 1,000 who have the implant as contraception for three years will get pregnant.

It can be very useful for women who know they don't want to get pregnant for a while. Once the implant is in place, you don't have to think about contraception for three years. 

The implant does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the implant, you'll help to protect yourself against STIs.

Read more about the implant from NHS Choices

There are three types of contraceptive injections in the UK: Depo-Provera, which lasts for 12 weeks, Sayana Press, which lasts for 13 weeks, and Noristerat, which lasts for eight weeks. The most popular is Depo-Provera. Noristerat is usually used for only short periods of time – for example, if your partner is waiting for a vasectomy.

The injection contains progestogen. This thickens the mucus in the cervix, stopping sperm reaching an egg. It also thins the womb lining and, in some, prevents the release of an egg.

If used correctly, the contraceptive injection is more than 99% effective. This means that less than one woman in 100 who use the injection will become pregnant in a year.

The injection lasts for eight, 12 or 13 weeks (depending on the type), so you don't have to think about contraception every day or every time you have sex.

It can be useful for women who might forget to take the contraceptive pill every day or who can't use contraception that contains oestrogen. It can take up to one year for your fertility to return to normal after the injection wears off, so it may not be suitable if you want to have a baby in the near future.

The injection does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the injection, you'll help to protect yourself against STIs.

Read more about the contraceptive injection from NHS Choices

The contraceptive patch is a sticky patch, a bit like a nicotine patch, measuring 5x5cm. It delivers hormones into your body through your skin. In the UK, the patch's brand name is Evra.  It contains the same hormones as the combined pill, and it works in the same way. This means that it prevents ovulation (the release of an egg); it thickens cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to travel through the cervix; and it thins the womb lining, making it less likely that a fertilised egg will implant there.

If used correctly, the patch is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Each patch lasts for one week. You change the patch every week for three weeks, then have a week off without a patch. You don't need to think about it every day, and it's still effective if you vomit or have diarrhoea.

The patch does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so using a condom as well will help to protect you against STIs.

Read more about the contraceptive patch from NHS Choices

A contraceptive diaphragm is inserted into the vagina before sex, and it covers the cervix so that sperm can't get into the womb (uterus). You need to use spermicide with it (spermicides kill sperm). The diaphragm must be left in place for at least six hours after sex. After that time, you take out the diaphragm and wash it (they're reusable). Diaphragms come in different sizes – you must be fitted for the correct size by a trained doctor or nurse.

When used correctly with spermicide, a diaphragm is 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy – this means that between four and eight women out of every 100 who use a diaphragm as contraception will become pregnant within a year.

By using condoms as well as a diaphragm, you'll help to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  

Read more about the diaphragm from NHS Choices

An IUD is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that’s inserted into your womb (uterus) by a specially trained doctor or nurse.  You can use an IUS whether or not you've had children.

The IUD works by stopping the sperm and egg from surviving in the womb or fallopian tubes. It may also prevent a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb.

The IUD is a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method. This means that once it's in place, you don't have to think about it each day or each time you have sex. There are several types and sizes of IUD.

There are different types of IUD, some with more copper than others. IUDs with more copper are more than 99% effective. This means that fewer than one in 100 women who use an IUD will get pregnant in one year. IUDs with less copper will be less effective. 

An IUD works as soon as it's put in, and lasts for five to 10 years, depending on the type.

It can be put in at any time during your menstrual cycle, as long as you're not pregnant and can be removed at any time by a specially trained doctor or nurse and you'll quickly return to normal levels of fertility.

The IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the IUD, you'll help to protect yourself against STIs.

Read more about the IUD from NHS Choices

An IUS is a small, T-shaped plastic device that is inserted into your womb (uterus) by a specially trained doctor or nurse.

The IUS releases a progestogen hormone into the womb. This thickens the mucus from your cervix, making it difficult for sperm to move through and reach an egg. It also thins the womb lining so that it's less likely to accept a fertilised egg. It may also stop ovulation (the release of an egg) in some women.

The IUS is a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method. It works for five years or three years, depending on the type, so you don't have to think about contraception every day or each time you have sex. Two brands of IUS are used in the UK – Mirena and Jaydess. 

You can use an IUS whether or not you've had children.

It's more than 99% effective. Less than one in every 100 women who use Mirena will get pregnant in five years, and less than one in 100 who use Jaydess will get pregnant in three years. It can be taken out at any time by a specially trained doctor or nurse and your fertility quickly returns to normal.

The IUS does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the IUS, you'll help to protect yourself against STIs.

Read more about the IUS from NHS Choices

Works by plotting the times of the month when you’re fertile and when you’re not. You learn how to record fertility signals, such as body temperature and cervical secretions (fluids or mucus), to identify when it’s safer to have sex. Natural family planning is more effective when more than one fertility signal is monitored.

Read more about natural family planning from NHS Choices

The progestogen-only pill contains the hormone progestogen but doesn't contain oestrogen.

You need to take the progestogen-only pill at or around the same time every day.

The progestogen-only pill thickens the mucus in the cervix, which stops sperm reaching an egg. In can also stop ovulation, depending on the type of progestogen-only pill you take. Newer progestogen-only pills contain desogestrel.

If taken correctly, it can be more than 99% effective. This means that fewer than one woman in 100 who use the progestogen-only pill as contraception will get pregnant in one year.

You take a pill every day, with no break between packs of pills.

The progestogen-only pill can be used by women who can't use contraception that contains oestrogen – for example, because they have high blood pressure, previous blood clots or are overweight. 

The progestogen-only pill doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the progestogen-only pill, you'll help to protect yourself against STIs.

Read more about the progesterone only pill from NHS Choices

The vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring that you place inside your vagina. It’s about 4mm thick and 5.5cm in diameter. You leave it in your vagina for 21 days, then remove it and throw it in the bin (not down the toilet) in a special disposal bag. Seven days after removing the ring, you insert a new one for the next 21 days. 

The ring releases oestrogen and progestogen. This prevents ovulation (release of an egg), makes it difficult for sperm to get to an egg and thins the womb lining, so it’s less likely that an egg will implant there.  

If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective. This means that fewer than one woman out of every 100 who use the vaginal ring as contraception will become pregnant in one year. 

One ring will provide contraception for a month, so you don’t have to think about it every day. 

The vaginal ring doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the ring, you’ll protect yourself against STIs.

Read more about the vaginal ring from NHS Choices

Involves an operation to prevent eggs from travelling down the fallopian tubes. This means a woman's eggs cannot meet sperm, and fertilisation cannot happen

Read more about female sterilisation from NHS Choices

Involves a quick and relatively painless surgical procedure. The tubes that carry sperm from a man's testicles to the penis are cut, blocked or sealed with heat. In most cases, you will be able to return home the same day.

Read more about male sterilisation from NHS Choices

With so many different methods, it can be difficult to choose the right method for you. The My Contraception Tool (created by the Family Planning Association) can help you decide. It will suggest methods to suit you and your lifestyle. 

You can also discuss your contraceptive needs with your GP, practice nurse or at your local sexual health service.