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Contraception is used by sexually active people to prevent pregnancy. Most types are designed to prevent pregnancy only, but condoms can also prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI).

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is taken after sex when no other form of contraception has been used. It must be used 3-5 days after unprotected sex to be effective.

There are two types: the emergency contraceptive pill (or “morning after pill”) and the intrauterine device (IUD), or “coil”.

Contraceptive pills

A popular form of regular contraception is the contraceptive pill (often referred to as “the pill”), a small tablet taken once a day.

  • The combined pill contains synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone. It is usually taken every day for 21 days, followed by a break of seven days.
  • The progestogen-only pill (or “mini pill”) contains only synthetic progesterone and must be taken every day, without a break.

Two alternatives to the pill which work in a similar way are the contraceptive patch and the contraceptive vaginal ring, both of which contain synthetic oestrogen and progesterone.

Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC)

Long-acting reversible contraception is contraception that does not require daily or regular upkeep.

  • The intrauterine device (IUD), or coil, is a small device inserted into the womb. It releases small amounts of copper, preventing pregnancy, and can be kept in for five to 10 years.
  • The intrauterine system (IUS) is similar to the IUD, but it releases synthetic progesterone instead of copper. It can be kept in for three to five years.
  • The contraceptive implant is a small rod inserted under the skin of the arm that releases synthetic progesterone. It can be kept in for three years.
  • The contraceptive injection is an injection of synthetic progesterone which is administered every eight or 13 weeks.

Condoms, caps & diaphragms

If you don’t want to use hormones or have a LARC such as the IUD inserted you can use condoms. Male condoms are placed over the penis and female condoms are inserted into the vagina. Both protect against STIs and pregnancy, but male condoms are more effective.

A diaphragm or cap is a soft and flexible piece of plastic, which is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix. It is an effective way to prevent pregnancy, but cannot prevent STIs.

Pregnancy

There are plenty of services available to support women during pregnancy. The first step is taking a test to confirm the pregnancy. Once you know you’re pregnant you can visit a GP or midwife to begin your antenatal care.

If you become pregnant and don’t want to carry the baby to term, you can speak to a doctor about terminating the pregnancy. Terminations require medication or minor surgery.

 

Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP