Your guide to contraception

Your guide to contraception

Contraception, also known as birth control, is designed to prevent pregnancy. It can work in a number of ways; by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs that could be fertilised, preventing sperm from getting to the egg and fertilising it or by stopping a fertilised egg from embedding into the uterus.

What types of contraception are available?

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

The Contraception choices tool can help you find out which methods of contraception:

  • May be best for you
  • Are most effective at preventing pregnancy

The contraceptive pill

There are two types of the contraceptive pill:

The combined pill

This is usually just called the pill. It contains two hormones – oestrogen and progestogen. These are similar to the natural hormones produced by the ovaries. If the combined pill is always used according to the instructions, it is over 99% effective.

The progestogen only pill (POP)

This contains a progestogen hormone, similar to the progesterone produced by the ovaries. POPs are different to the combined pills because they don’t contain the hormone oestrogen. If the POP is used according to the instructions, it is over 99% effective. This means that less than one POP user in 100 will get pregnant in one year. If the POP is not always used according to the instructions, about nine in 100 POP users will get pregnant in one year.

The implant

The contraceptive implant is a small flexible plastic rod that’s placed under the skin in your upper arm by a doctor or nurse. It releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy and lasts for three years.

You can have the implant put in at any time during your menstrual cycle, as long as you’re not pregnant. If the implant is fitted when you are not on your menstrual cycle, you’ll need to use additional contraception (such as condoms) for seven days.

For further information on how the implanted is fitted,  who can use the implant and to find out about the advantages and disadvantages of the implant, visit the NHS website for more information.

The contraceptive injection

The contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera, Sayana Press or Noristerat) releases the hormone prosterogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Depo-Provera is the most commonly given injection in the UK and last for 13 weeks. On some occasions, Noristerat will be given, this lasts for eight weeks.

Sayana Press also lasts for 13 weeks, but it's a newer type of injection so is not available at all clinics or GP surgeries.

The contraceptive injection steadily releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream, which prevents the release of an egg each month (ovulation). It also thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it difficult for sperm to move through the cervix and thins the lining of the womb, so a fertilised egg is less likely to implant itself.

You usually have the Depo-Provera and Noristerat injections in your bottom, but you can have them in your upper arm. You can have the Sayana Press injection in your tummy (abdomen) or thigh and would normally learn to do this yourself.

You can have the injection at any time during your menstrual cycle, as long as you're not pregnant.

If you have the injection during the first five days of your menstrual cycle, you'll be immediately protected against becoming pregnant. If you have the injection on any other day of your cycle, you'll need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, for seven days.

Mirena Coil

The Mirena Coil is a hormonal intrauterine system (IUS), an effective, long-term and reversible method of contraception. The Mirena Coil continuously releases small amounts of a contraceptive hormone (progestogen) and works where it is needed in the uterus so you need less hormone than if you were taking the pill. The Mirena Coil also stops or minimises periods and reduces painful periods.

Female sterilisation

Female sterilisation is an operation to permanently prevent pregnancy. The fallopian tubes are blocked or sealed to prevent the eggs reaching the sperm and becoming fertilised. Depending on the method used, you would either have a general anaesthetic, where you're asleep during surgery, or local anaesthetic, where you'd be awake. you may experience some pain but each person is different.

Female sterilisation works by preventing eggs travelling down the fallopian tubes, which link the ovaries to the womb (uterus). This means a woman's eggs cannot meet sperm, so fertilisation cannot happen. Eggs will still be released from the ovaries as normal, but they'll be absorbed naturally into the woman's body.

Is sterilisation right for me?

Almost any woman can be sterilised, but it should only be considered by women who do not want any more children or do not want children at all. Once you're sterilised it's very difficult to reverse it, so consider all options before making your decision. Sterilisation reversal is not usually available on the NHS.

You may be more likely to be accepted for the operation if you're over 30 and have had children. You may also want to consider which method of contraception suits you, such as long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) like an implant, device or injections.

You can get more information on sterilisation from:

  • GP surgeries
  • Contraception clinics
  • Sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
  • Some young people's services
  • Find a sexual health clinic

Speak to our experts

If you need help regarding a particular health concern or wish to discuss contraception, help is available. We offer a Private GP service which can get you the answers you need quickly, including consultation regarding Mirena Coil fitting. Contact our Private Patient team by completing our online enquiry form or by calling 01580 363158.

Published on 23 June 2022