Female Contraception - What is best for you?

People have been using various birth control methods for thousands of years. Today, we have many safe and effective contraceptive methods available to us. It is easy to be confused by all the many options out there, so if you're trying to decide which contraceptive method is the best for you, learning about each method may help you make your decision. Before making a decision, always talk to your doctor about which option would work best for you.

We explain 12 of the most common birth control methods:

  1. The Pill – combination, progestin-only and extended cycle
  2. Injectable contraception.
  3. Vagnal Rings.
  4. Diaphragms
  5. IUD
  6. The IUS
  7. The patch
  8. the implant
  9. Female sterilization
  10. Natural methods
  11. Female condom
  12. Emergency contraception

  1. The pill (99% effective)

    This birth control mainstay is still 99% effective against pregnancy when taken around the same time every day. It's also known for easing hot flashes and restoring regular periods.

    • Combination pill.

      Combination birth control pills suppress ovulation — keeping your ovaries from releasing an egg. Combination birth control pills also thicken cervical mucus and thin the lining of the womb to keep sperm from joining the egg. Combination birth control pills come in different mixtures of active and inactive pills, depending on how frequently you want to have periods:

      Conventional packs usually contain 21 active pills and seven inactive pills, or 24 active pills and four inactive pills. Bleeding occurs every month when you take the inactive pills.

      Continuous dosing or extended cycle. These packs typically contain 84 active pills and seven inactive pills. Bleeding generally occurs only four times a year during the time when you take the inactive pills.

    • Progestin-only pill.

      Also known as the mini pill, progestin-only pills don't contain estrogen. The mini pill thickens cervical mucus and thins the lining of the uterus — preventing sperm from reaching the egg.

      The mini pill can sometimes suppress ovulation. The progestin dose in a mini pill is also lower than the progestin dose in any combination oral contraceptive pill.

  2. Injectable Contraception (Almost 100% effective)

    A contraceptive injection is given by a health care professional approximately every 12 weeks. The hormone progestogen is released very slowly into the body to prevent ovulation (the release of an egg). The injection is a great option for women who forget to take their pill daily and it can be used by women who cannot take estrogen in the combined oral contraceptive pill.

  3. Vaginal ring Contraception (99% effective if properly used)

    The ring is made of flexible plastic and delivers estrogen and progestin, just like the combination pill. You place the ring in your vagina for three weeks, and then remove it for one week so that you have a regular period. The hormones released by the ring prevent ovulation, makes it difficult for sperm to get to an egg and thins the womb (uterus) lining, so it’s less likely that an egg will implant. The ring is about 4mm thick and 5.5cm in diameter and it does not interrupt sex.

  4. Diaphragm (90% to 96% effective)

    Made of rubber and shaped like a dome, a diaphragm prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. The contraceptive diaphragm is inserted into the vagina before sex, and it covers the cervix so that sperm can't get into the womb. Diaphragms come in different sizes – you must be fitted for it in a doctor's room. 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 as it is reusable.

  5. IUD - intrauterine device (98% to 99% effective)

    Also known as The Coil, the IUD is a small plastic and copper device that is inserted into the womb by a specially trained doctor. It works by stopping the sperm from meeting the egg, by delaying the egg getting to the womb, or it may prevent an egg from settling in the womb. The IUD starts working immediately after it is inserted and can stay in the womb for up to 10 year.

  6. IUS - intrauterine system (97% to 98% effective)

    An IUS is a small T-shaped plastic device that is inserted into your womb and releases a progestogen hormone on a daily basis for up to five years. This is similar to the natural progesterone that women produce in their ovaries. It prevents pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus to make it impossible for sperm to enter the womb.Although it lasts for five years, you can remove it at any point by a specially trained physician. The IUS is also not affected by the use of antibiotics or any other medication and can be used in most chronic diseases.

  7. Patch (99% effective if properly used)

    A patch (similar to a small plaster) is worn for seven days, for three weeks, followed by a patch free week. You can place the hormone-releasing patch on your arm, buttock, or abdomen, and rest easy for one week. The patch contains the female hormones estrogen and progestogen. The hormones are absorbed through the skin to stop ovulation.

  8. Implant (Almost 100% effective)

    About the size of a matchstick, the implant is placed under the skin on your upper arm. The continuous release of progestogen stops a woman ovulating every month. Progestogen thickens the mucus of the cervix, making it difficult for sperm to pass through to the womb and reach an unfertilised egg. It also makes the lining of the womb thinner so that it is unable to support a fertilised egg. The implant is 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. You can have the implant removed at any time, and your natural fertility will return very quickly.

  9. Sterilization (Almost 100% effective)

    Women can undergo tubal ligation, a surgical procedure that blocks the fallopian tubes from carrying eggs to the womb, or tubal implants, a nonsurgical technique in which a small coil is inserted into the fallopian tubes. The surgery (carried out under general anaesthetic or under local anaesthetic), involves blocking or sealing the fallopian tubes, which link the ovaries to the womb. This prevents the woman’s eggs from reaching sperm and becoming fertilised. Eggs will still be released from the ovaries as normal, but they will be absorbed naturally into the woman's body. Sterilization won't affect hormone levels; something most women don’t know, is that you'll still have your periods after being sterilised.

  10. Natural Methods (80%-98% effective, depends on careful use and commitment to the method)

    The natural method involves recording the fertile and infertile times of your cycle to plan when to take extra measures to avoid pregnancy. There is no need for chemical or medical intervention. A woman keeps a daily record of her body temperature, changes in cervical mucus and other signs of ovulation. These tell her when she is most fertile and so when she should avoid sex or use a barrier method such as condom or diaphragm. Natural methods should be learnt from a doctor or a specially trained heath professional. This method encourages shared responsibility by the woman and her partner, which can enhance their relationship. It enables a couple to be independent and in control of their fertility. It is also inexpensive, convenient and free of all side effects.

  11. Female condom (98% effective)

    A female condom is a barrier method that a woman can use to help prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. A thin polyurethane sheath, with two rings lines the vagina and the area outside and prevents sperm from entering the woman's vagina during sex. Condoms can be used with other methods of contraception to practice safer sex and to prevent unplanned pregnancy and STIs.

  12. Emergency contraception (Almost 100% effective)

    Emergency contraception isn't meant to be used in place of routine birth control — but it's an option if you've had unprotected sex, your method of birth control failed or you missed a birth control pill; it should be seen as a backup for regular birth control. It should be taken 12 to 72 hours after you had unprotected sex, but the sooner the better. Emergency contraception prevents ovulation and does not cause an abortion. It is important to know that it does not protect you for the rest of your cycle – you could fall pregnant later in that cycle again. Emergency contraception is a safe and effective method of birth control and it is available over the counter from any pharmacy, without a prescription to women 18 years and older.


Dr Elna Rudolph, Sexual Health Practitioner, My Sexual Health, Intercare Silver Lakes, www.health.com, netdoctor.co.uk, www.fpa.org.uk, www.thinkcontraception.ie, www.nhs.uk, www.mayoclinic.org


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