Get to know your contraceptives:
The six main most
accessible methods (UK)
1. Condoms & Dental Dams
We’ve all been there - sex ed class at school with a banana and a condom. It doesn’t feel cool does it - attempting this perhaps for the first time IN FRONT OF ALL YOUR PEERS, but it may come back to surprise you - these latex (and latex free versions) are your friends. They have so many benefits, but aren’t seen as sexy (and STI’s are?!). Definitely worth having if you have multiple sexual partners, and can be used by most people. Dental dams also come under this category - who uses them? Get in touch! Dental dams are good for if you have multiple sexual partners, and enjoy performing (or receiving) oral sex.
Protecting yourself against STI’s. They do not alter your mind or body with hormones. They are not invasive. They are free from sexual health clinics (or else they may cost you a tenner a pack). They come in different sizes, colours, flavours, and textures. They are discreet and can fit into your wallet or pocket.
‘Ruining the moment’ - taking a pause to put one on can be awkward with a new lover, (but fine with a long-term partner). They have a texture - not quite the same as skin-to-skin. Costly - if you don’t live near, or don’t want to visit a sexual health clinic to stock up. They can break! If they rip or snap, you don’t get any of the good, but all of the bad. They can go out of date - check on each individual condom before using!
2. The Implant
The Implant - (Nexplanon) - is a small flexible plastic rod that's placed under the skin in your upper arm by your GP.
It releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy and lasts for up to 3 years. You can see this lil guy in people's’ arms sometimes and is one of two invasive methods. You are put under a local anaesthetic before it happens. Some medicines can reduce the effectiveness of this method, so make sure your doctor checks that with you if you take prescription drugs.
Usual side effects include hormonal swings, weight gain, breast tenderness and irregular bleeding.
Not having to think about protecting yourself from pregnancy once it’s in (if inserted during your period). Good for people who can’t take oestrogen methods. No interruption during sex. It may lessen heavy and painful periods. Good for people who forget to take contraceptive pills daily.
Interrupted menstrual cycle - irregularity, they may stop altogether (amenorrhoea), or you may have a continuous period for months at at time when first inserted. Acne may increase and worsen. STI’s are still a risk. You may bruise badly after being inserted. You have to wait for an appointment to have it taken out.
3. The Injection
The Injection controls the hormone progesterone, and there are three brands: Depo-Provera (lasts for 13 weeks), Sayana Press (13) or Noristerat (8). It works by releasing the hormone into your system, preventing the release of an egg.
You get the injection via an appointment with your GP, and it’s up to you to remember when the hormones expire - you’ll have to book ahead to get your next dose so that you don’t have gaps in your journey to avoid pregnancy. The injection goes into your butt / upper arm. Usual side effects include hormonal swings, weight gain, breast tenderness and irregular bleeding (these are practically a given, right - pfft).
Not having to remember until you have to remember again... Works right away (if injected during the first 5 days of your cycle - which may get hard to work out if your periods become irregular - using apps like Clue may help with this!). It’s not affected by other medicines.
Having to arrange appointments with your doctor and taking the time to travel there each time. It hurts - manageable, but still. You’re not protected against STI’s. It can take up to a year before your fertility goes back to normal, once you stop getting the injections. Other side effects are possible, like headaches, acne, hair loss and decreased sex drive - these effects will last once the hormones are out of your system - up to 13 weeks! If you move house constantly or aren’t in the same place, this may not be the one for you.
4. Copper IUD & IUS Coils
Overview of both:
The ‘coil’ and the ‘copper coil’ are not to be confused as one and the same. The copper version - the IUD - doesn’t use hormones to counteract pregnancy but instead releases copper, whilst the coil - the IUS - does use the hormone progesterone. They are both invasive methods of contraception and are inserted by a doctor into your womb. Both types of the coil can alter your periods - (reduce or increase, although both are likely to increase your period length and heaviness at the start), and both work in the same way at stopping pregnancy.
They alter/thicken the cervical mucus in order to make it harder for sperm to move through the cervix, while also thinning the lining of the womb so that it’s harder for an egg to implant itself.
They can be fitted at any time during your menstrual cycle, as long as you're not pregnant. You'll be protected against pregnancy straight away. Before you get one put in, your GP will want to check the position of your vagina and size of your womb, and also if you have any pre-existing STI’s or infections. An appointment to have one inserted can take up to 30 minutes. (P.S Ever been for a pap smear? We want to publish your experience!) Your vagina is held open like it does during a cervical screening. Doctors say that after inserting the coil, it can be uncomfortable, and you’re likely to have menstrual type cramps afterwards, as well as heavy bleeding for a few weeks/months after, while your body regulates itself.
Your IUD can be removed at any time in your menstrual cycle by your GP. If you're not having another IUD put in and don't want to get pregnant, they recommend using another form of contraceptives such as condoms for 7 days before it’s out!!
Copper Coil (IUD) Overview:
An IUD is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device that's put into your womb (uterus) by a doctor or nurse. It releases copper in your womb to stop you getting pregnant, and lasts between 5 to 10 years. You can use this type if you are HIV positive, on average 4 weeks after giving birth, and for people under 16 years old.
Being protected for a long period of time, no hormonal side effects, you can use even if breastfeeding, it’s not affected by other medicines. There is also no evidence to suggest it could increase your risk of cervical, ovarian or cancer of the uterus - phew!
Long and painful periods for a while after insertion. You’re not protected from STI’s. Rejection from the womb - uncommon but something to watch out for. If the IUD fails and you become pregnant, there's also a small increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Hormonal Coil (IUS) Overview:
The IUS lasts for less time than the IUD and also depends on the brand you use. In the UK, the two brands are Mirena (5 years) and Jaydess (3 years). Using an IUS can make your periods lighter, but not always. If it's fitted in the first 7 days of your cycle, you'll be protected against pregnancy straight away. The appointment tends to be 20 minutes long, but actual insertion is no longer than 5 minutes. Not suitable for people who have had (in the last five years), breast cancer, cervical cancer, womb cancer, liver disease, arterial disease or heart disease/stroke.
Once it’s in you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Your periods become lighter eventually. You can use while breastfeeding. It’s not affected by other medicines. An option for people who can’t take oestrogen based methods.
Side effects include mood swings, skin problems or breast tenderness. Your periods may become irregular or stop altogether. There can be changes in libido. In some cases, some people can form small fluid-filled cysts on their ovaries but they tend to disappear without treatment. (In my experience using the POP pill, I’ve also felt this!) The most reported reason for women stopping using the IUS, is because of increased bleeding and pain during your periods. Rejection from the womb can also occur, although rare. Infections are not likely, but are more likely to occur during the first 20 days.