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Contraception

To avoid pregnancy, some form of contraception should always be used during sexual intercourse, however, most don’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

There are many different types of contraception and different methods will suit different people.

Remember no form of contraception is 100% effective.

Male condoms

  • Made of very thin latex, a condom is put over the erect penis to stop sperm entering the women’s vagina
  • Condoms are 98% effective if used properly
  • Condoms can protect partners against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV - see the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) section
  • Condoms are free at any family planning clinic, sexual health clinic and places participating in the C-Card Scheme
  • They can also be purchased in chemists, supermarkets and toilet vending machines
  • A new condom must be used each time you have sex
  • Only use condoms with a BSI Kitemark (BS EN 600) and CE Mark on the pack
  • Always check the expiry date before using a condom and if the packing looks damaged the condom probably is too
  • If using lubrication oil-based products (e.g. hand cream, Vaseline) can damage latex condoms so it's important to avoid these and use a water-based lubricant
  • Non-latex condoms are also widely available

Contraceptive pill

  • Also known as the combined pill, the combined contraceptive pill or simply the pill, it is over 99% effective if used properly and is taken daily by the women to prevent pregnancy
  • The pill will not protect partners from sexually transmitted diseases
  • The pill works by using two hormones – oestrogen and progestogen – to stop ovulation (when the ovary releases an egg)
  • It can reduce period pains and bleeding during periods
  • The pill is not suitable for all women and can have rare, but serious side effects, such as blood clots (thrombosis), breast cancer and cervical cancer
  • It is not suitable for smokers
  • If you are more than 12 hours late taking a pill, always use a condom for the next seven days as you might not be protected
  • The pill may also not work if you vomit or have diarrhoea, so use a condom if you think you might not be protected
  • There are different types of contraceptive pill. Please see your family planning clinic or GP to find the right one for you

LARC

LARC stands for long acting reversible contraception.

These methods of contraception last more than a month.

Once in place you do not have to think about them until they need replacing. LARCs start working very quickly, are completely reversible, are suitable for women of all ages and don't affect your fertility. They are 99% effective.

There are four types of LARC:

  • The IUS (Intra Uterine System) - A small T-shaped plastic device is placed in the uterus by a doctor or nurse and slowly releases the hormone progesterone. It works for five years
  • The IUD (Intra Uterine Device or coil) - A small plastic and copper device is placed in the uterus by a doctor or nurse. It lasts for up to 10 years depending on the type
  • The contraceptive injection (Depo) - An injection given every 11-12 weeks at your GP surgery or sexual health clinic
  • The Implant - A small flexible tube is inserted under the skin in the inner upper arm. It slowly releases the hormone progesterone. It works for three years
  • All of these methods of contraception are free and available from your GP or local sexual health clinic

LARCs prevent pregnancy. They do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A condom is the only form of contraception that will protect against STIs. Young people aged 13-25 can access free condoms from the C-Card Scheme.

For more information about LARC visit www.youchoose.wales.nhs.uk or www.fpa.org.uk.

You can also make an appointment at your GP surgery or local sexual health clinic to talk about your options.

Other forms of contraception include:

  • The female condom - Female condoms are like male condoms except they fit inside the vagina instead of covering the penis. They are 95% effective in preventing pregnancy if used correctly every time you have sex
  • The diaphragm - A contraceptive diaphragm is inserted into the vagina before sex, and it covers the cervix so that sperm can't get into the womb (uterus). You need to use spermicide with it (spermicides kill sperm). 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. They're reusable. Diaphragms come in different sizes – you must be fitted for the correct size by a trained doctor or nurse
  • The cap (92-96% effective) - Caps are small rubber domes which fit into the vagina and go over the cervix and you need to use spermicide with it. The cap must be left in place for six hours after sex. After that time, you take out the cap and wash it. Caps are reusable. They come in different sizes, and you must be fitted for the correct size by a trained doctor or nurse
  • Progestogen-only pill (99% effective) – stops ovulation. Suitable for smokers
  • Contraceptive Patch – The contraceptive patch is a sticky patch, a bit like a nicotine patch, measuring 5x5cm. It delivers hormones into your body through your skin. In the UK the patch's brand name is Evra. It contains the same hormones as the combined pill, and it works in the same way
  • Vaginal Ring - The vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring that you place inside your vagina. It’s about 4mm thick and 5.5cm in diameter. You leave it in your vagina for 21 days, then remove it and throw it in the bin (not down the toilet) in a special disposal bag. The ring releases oestrogen and progestogen
  • Female sterilisation (over 99% effective) – cuts the fallopian tubes permanently to stop sperm ever reaching an egg. Requires an operation
  • Male sterilisation (over 99% effective) – cuts the tubes carrying sperm so no sperm is present in semen. It is permanent and requires an operation. There are ways to reverse the sterilisation, but it is difficult and expensive

If you have any questions about choosing contraception, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, please visit your GP or family planning clinic for advice or see the links below.

Emergency contraception

If you’ve had sex without using contraception or think your method might have failed, there are two emergency measures you can take:

  • Emergency contraceptive pills (known as morning-after pills) - These are available free from your local family planning clinic or GP and must be taken up to 72 hours (three days) after sex to be effective. The earlier they are taken, the more effective they will be. You can also buy them from a chemist if you are 16 or over for approximately £20
  • An IUD - see information above. This can be fitted up to five days after sex

Remember it's against the law in the UK to have sex if you're under 16, see Sexual Activity section.

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