So you want to have sex without the risk of getting pregnant, good for you. But what contraception is best suited to you and your lifestyle? A condom is your go-to method but if it splits, or you don’t have one at your disposal at the time you’re getting freaky, then it’s good to have a back-up. So I’ve put together a list of other contraceptive options for you, and the better news, nearly all of them are free.
1. The Male Condom
As you all know because you will have had everyone tell you this, whether in your sex ed. class at school or from parents and medical professionals. A condom should always be used because it is the only form of contraception that protects you against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
But when you are in a committed relationship and want to stop spending money on condoms, or you had a drunken mistake one night where a condom was forgotten to be used, a secondary contraception option is preferred.
The male condom has benefits other than protection against STIs, it is also hormone-free so it doesn’t affect the hormonal balance of the body like many of the contraceptive options here.
However, you can only use it once and is only 97% effective (81% effective when it isn’t used properly). The other issue with condoms is that it interrupts sex which can hinder the mood slightly.
So what other options are there if you want to move away from the male condom?
2. The Female Condom
As we have the male condom, we also have the female condom. A less popular option but one that still provides adequate protection against pregnancy and doesn’t include hormonal changes to the body.
At 95% effectiveness it is one of the lower-end contraceptive options but one that gives the female a bit more control.
The condom can be fitted at any point before sex, but the application process is a bit more complicated than the male.
The bigger issue is that you have to make sure the male actually goes inside the female condom during sex, it is easy for it to be pushed to the side or pushed inside. And you only have protection against pregnancy if the penis stays inside the condom.
You can get access to the female condom in sexual health clinics as well as pharmacies and online sites, but they are not as widely available as the male condom.
3. Diaphragms and Caps
These are another barrier method to pregnancy as they are placed over the entrance to your cervix and stay there by suction. However, their effectiveness at actually preventing pregnancy is only around 92-96%.
The caps and diaphragms are a good option for you if you want to have control over your body, and don’t want to go through any hormonal changes.
However, there are some issues. They require the use of spermicide (chemicals that kill sperm), which in recent studies show can increase the risk of you getting an STI, like chlamydia or HIV.
Also, the cap or diaphragm have to be left in for at least 6 hours after sex to prevent any sperm moving to your cervix.
This is also not a suitable option for anyone who suffers from repeated urinary infections, vaginal infections or has a cervix of an unusual shape.
4. The Pill
You have two main types of pill, the progestogen-only pill and then the combined pill which contains both progesterone and oestrogen.
The combined pill can help with heavy and painful periods as well as protection against pregnancy. It can be 99% effective but because a lot of people miss a day at taking it, the average rate is actually at 91%.
However, if you think you can commit to taking one pill every day, at a similar time then you shouldn’t have any issues.
You have to be careful when you are sick because you will not be protected if you vomit the pill back up before it has been absorbed into your bloodstream.
The progestogen-only pill is slightly different from the combined in that there is no pill-free week. Also, the time schedule is a lot stricter, this pill has to be taken on time each day, if you are more than 3 hours late you may not be protected.
This is still a good option for women who can’t take oestrogen based contraceptive methods.
The only issue you face is whether you have the memory to take a pill every day at similar times.
5. Contraceptive Patch
This is a small square on your skin, measuring nearly 5cm x 5cm. It releases the hormones oestrogen and progesterone like the combined pill, but the patch secretes it through the skin into the bloodstream.
It works by having 3 weeks using the patch, applying a new one each week, and then having a patch-free week where you have a withdrawal bleed. The patch requires less administration as it only needs to be applied once a week, but it may cause skin irritation due to the strong glue that holds it to your skin.
There are factors that may make it not the right for you personally: if you are over 14 stone (90kg), a smoker, and suffer from certain medical conditions such as blood clots forming in any veins or arteries, then other contraceptive methods are needed.
But if you are healthy and a non-smoker then this is a viable option for you up until you’re 50.
At 99% effectiveness, it is a good contraceptive option. Not only as contraception but it can also make periods lighter and less painful, as well as helping with premenstrual symptoms.
6. Vaginal Ring
The vaginal ring is a more uncommon form of contraception but an effective one at around 99% when used correctly. It works for 4 weeks, the longest protection so far.
It is a small flexible ring that you place inside your vagina, like you would need to for the diaphragm and contraceptive caps. After 21 days you remove the ring and have a ring-free week.
The contraception releases oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream, and like the pill and patch, the ring can help decrease the pain of periods and their heaviness.
However, unlike the diaphragms and caps, this doesn’t cover the cervix, and there is a possibility that the ring can fall out, even during sex. If it does you can pop it back in with no issues if it has been under 3 hours, but if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of having to check inside your vagina that it is still there, perhaps this contraceptive option isn’t for you.
An injection provides protection against pregnancy for 8-13 weeks depending on the type of contraceptive injection you’re given. Again its effectiveness is around 99% when administered correctly.
This is a great option for women who can’t use contraception that contains oestrogen, as the injection only includes the hormone progestogen to prevent the release of an egg each month.
However, the problems you face with this option is that you have to remember to make an appointment with the nurse for your next injection within the time frame so that you are always protected.
Also, your periods may become heavier and more irregular, this is only for some women, others have become shorter and lighter. It depends on the woman it seems.
The other issue is that it can take up to a year for your fertility to return to normal if you reach a stage where you want to try for a baby instead. The other contraceptive options can be stopped straight away and you will return to your normal level of function. This may be something to consider on any future plans you have?
I have recently had one of these fitted myself and it wasn’t as terrifying as I had been told it would be. You hear horror stories that put you off, for example, it’s going to hurt and you’ll be left with a scar. However, after the anaesthetic was administered the procedure was over within 15 seconds at most.
You are faced with what resembles a Stanley knife which holds the implant (a small flexible rod), and because of the local anaesthetic you don’t feel the knife pierce your skin. It is just a lot of pressure on your arm.
And as soon as the pressure is applied, it is soon enough gone.
I even asked at the end “is that it?” because I was confused. I thought “well where is the implant?”. But it had already been pushed inside my arm lying flat against the skin.
I must say it is strange being able to feel it in your arm, but the fact that I no longer have to think about contraception is great. Before I ran the risk of forgetting a pill on a hectic day, but now I don’t have to worry. I carry the contraception around with me permanently.
Well for 3 years at least. At which point a new one will have to be fitted.
But between those years I don’t have to worry about any check-ups or repeat prescriptions, I can just get on with my day-to-day life.
The implant releases progesterone which prevents the release of an egg and thickens your cervical mucus. It is around 99% effective when used correctly. Although you have to be careful not to knock your arm too much or bend/snap the implant. It is durable but not durable enough to withstand a fiddler constantly bending it.
9. The Copper IUD and the Hormonal IUS
The first is the Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD), which as the name would suggest, has copper wrapped around it. The other, the Hormonal Intrauterine System (IUS), is a more modern take on the ‘coil’ which uses progestogen rather than metal to prevent pregnancy.
The hormonal IUS doesn’t last as long as the copper IUD, the latter lasting between 5 to 10 years, while the former is between 3-5 years.
Both devices are placed inside the uterus by a doctor or nurse and can be quite painful. Local anaesthetic can be used to make the operation more comfortable for you.
There are issues in that the device can lead to an infection, this is only a small chance but one that you may want to consider if you have a low immune system perhaps. Also, it can lead to heavier, longer and more painful periods for the first 3-6 months.
However, on the bright side, this is the longest coverage a girl can get without being sterilised, and once it is in, there is little that you have to do yourself other than check that the threads are still present every now and again.
If you can handle a bit of pain, and the doctor deems your cervix suitable, this could be a great contraceptive option for you.
10. Side Note – Emergency Contraception
If you think your contraceptive method has not been effective or you didn’t use any then you may want to consider which emergency contraception option is best for you.
You have the emergency contraceptive pill, otherwise known as the “morning-after pill” or the IUD (coil).
The pill has to be taken within 3 days of unprotected sex to be effective, the coil is more lenient in that you can have it fitted within 5 days. The IUD is more effective, but as stated above, it is a more invasive procedure.
There can be side effects involved in taking these, the pill can make you feel sick, give you stomach pains and a headache. But there are no serious side effects so don’t be scared if you have to use these methods of contraception.