Choosing the right birth control is a very personal decision, and depends on many factors, such as your lifestyle, potential side effects, whether you also want protection against sexually transmitted diseases and how soon you would like to have children.
To support you to make the right choice, we’ve put together our helpful guide to finding your ideal method of contraception.
The lowdown on birth control
Also known as contraception, birth control comes in many forms, and all are designed to help prevent pregnancy and, in some cases, protect against sexually transmitted diseases or STDs. With products predominantly available for women, men can also use contraception in the form of condoms.
The various methods of birth control all work in different ways, with some coming under the banner of hormonal contraception to stop ovulation and others known as barrier methods, designed to prevent sperm reaching the egg to fertilise it. No one form of birth control suits everyone, and each has its pros and cons to carefully consider. And the type of contraception that works for you may also change over time, so it is essential to always discuss your birth control needs with your GP or healthcare professional, if you are considering a change. Birth control is useful for countless women and many are also very easy to use and keep up with.
The types on offer
When looking at birth control, there are two main forms of contraception currently available – hormonal and barrier.
Available as a tablet, implant or injection, hormonal contraceptives work to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg every month. There are also forms of hormonal birth control that also cause other changes in your body to reduce the likelihood of an egg being fertilised, such as thickening the cervical mucus, which creates a barrier to prevent the sperm getting through.
Hormonal contraceptives include the birth control pill, hormonal patch or implant, hormonal injection, a vaginal ring and an intrauterine device or IUD and can be divided into two types – short and long acting.
Short acting hormonal birth control
These include the birth control pill, the patch and the vaginal ring, and involve more effort on the user’s part in terms of remembering to take or use them. With the exception of the mini-pill, short acting hormonal birth control contains oestrogen, which prevents eggs from being released from the ovaries. Short acting hormonal birth control also contains progesterone, which thickens the womb lining to prevent any fertilised eggs attaching to the uterus.
Long-acting hormonal methods
Also known as LARCs or long-acting reversible contraceptives. LARCs include hormone injections, implants and IUDs and offer protection against pregnancy from three months to 10 years, depending on the type you choose. LARCs take away the need to remember to take your birth control every day, but they will need to be removed by a medical professional or stopped if you are wanting to try for a baby.
Hormonal birth control does not provide any additional protection against STDs but can be used in conjunction with a condom for extra peace of mind.
These methods include condoms (for both men and women), cervical caps, sponges and diaphragms. They work by creating a physical barrier that prevents the sperm from reaching the egg for fertilisation. Barrier methods need to be applied – whether that is inserted into the vagina or placed onto the penis – every time you have sex and condoms have the added benefit of being able to help protect against STDs.
What to consider when making your decision
When looking to use a method of birth control or considering a switch to a new contraceptive, always talk to your GP or sexual healthcare professional so you can make a choice based on what is right for you. When discussing your birth control needs, you will be asked to consider the following:
- Your health, including any pre-existing health conditions as well as whether you are a smoker or are overweight
- Your lifestyle, including whether you are able to make taking birth control part of your daily routine or whether a long-acting contraceptive such as a patch or IUD would work better
- If you are considering having children at some point, and if so, how soon – this can determine whether a daily pill or a longer acting contraceptive is the best option
- Your sexual health – including how often you have sex and how many partners you may have and whether you are also looking for protection against STDs
- The potential side effects to the various birth control options available for you
How effective is contraception?
Although today’s contraceptive methods have a high success rate – typically between 95-99% – no form of birth control can claim to be 100% effective. To work, your chosen form of contraceptive also has to be used correctly to give you the maximum protection against falling pregnant. Forgetting to take the daily pill at the same time every day, a split condom or certain other prescription medications, for example, can drastically all reduce the effectiveness of your birth control.
If you suspect your birth control has failed, then you can take emergency contraceptive, which taken within three to five days of unprotected sex can help to prevent a pregnancy.
The emergency contraceptive pill can be obtained from most pharmacies as well as your GP, NHS walk in centre or sexual health clinic.