While contraception was once mostly unknown among the general public and was taboo topic for years, in the 21st century there is an abundance of various contraceptive options available for everybody. Contraception methods are freely discussed today, they are a legitimate subject of medical and otherwise scientific study and are used by people all across the globe in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but in some cases also to provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
From contraceptive pills, to barrier contraceptives such as condoms and even permanent surgery-based solutions such as vasectomy, this richness of contraception methods and forms will ensure that there will be a perfect contraceptive for everybody.
This of course calls for a review of all those different approaches to contraception and here we decided to do exactly that. We will provide our readers with a short overview of most popular contraception methods, dealing with the questions such as how does each of them work and what are its pros and cons.
What’s on this page?
Major contraception methods
Most popular and most efficient contraceptives can be roughly divided into four categories, with each of them containing a number of options belonging to it. This will serve as an outline of this article. Without further ado, the contraceptive options can be classified as follows:
- No-pill approach
- Vaginal rings
- Contraception devices (Intrauterine devices or IUDs for short)
- Intrauterine systems (IUSs for short)
- Barrier contraception
- Male condoms
- Female condoms
- Cervical caps (better known as diaphragms)
- Contraceptive pills
- Permanent contraception
- Female sterilisation
Below, we will briefly discuss each of these options. For an easier navigation, please use the table of contents provided here.
For more information on any of these options, please click to the relevant links in the list above.
No-pill contraception methods
So-called no-pill contraception methods involve a number of different devices which don’t act as barrier contraceptives and also some chemical solutions available in forms different than that of a conventional contraceptive pill of whatever type.
Contraceptive implant is a small progesterone-containing device that is around 40mm in length. It is intended to be inserted underneath the skin of the upper arm. There, it will release a regulated dose of progesterone in order to prevent ovulation from taking place. Despite their somewhat unconventional mode of administration, contraceptive implants are considered to be effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy in more than 99% of the cases which places them in the same protection level as the traditional contraceptive pills.
Contraceptive implants can also be considered to be long-term solution as they can be left in place for as much as three years and still provide the same level of protection. However, after the removal of the device, the fertility levels should return to normal rather quickly following the removal of the device.
Contraceptive implants are a very popular choice for women who are highly sensitive to oestrogen and those who don’t plan to conceive for the time being. Additionally, this approach can also decrease the symptoms of exceptionally heavy and painful periods.
Contraceptive injection – the pill alternative
Another contraceptive method that has very high success rates is contraceptive injection. Similarly to contraceptive implants, the injections are also progesterone-only solutions which are preferred by women who are intolerant to oestrogen and who don’t like the idea of having to remember to take the pill every day. Shorter-lasting than the implants, contraceptive injections provide protection for a period of 12 weeks with one administration.
However, the fertility rates can remain very low for months following the cessation of the treatment, which makes contraceptive injections less popular for women who are planning to conceive at some point in the future.
Vaginal ring, also known as contraceptive ring, is a term that most commonly refers to NuvaRing, a small device, 55mm in diameter which is made of flexible plastic. It is intended to be inserted into the vagina where it will release a dosed mix of oestrogen and progesterone in order to provide protection from pregnancy. Once placed, the vaginal ring should be left there for 21 consecutive days. After removal, most women will experience a period-like withdrawal bleed. Following one week from that day, a new ring should be applied again.
With the mechanism of action and active ingredients identical to those of combined birth control pills, vaginal contraceptive ring also comes with the same high success rates, but also with the risk of same side effects.
Intrauterine contraceptive devices or IUDs
Intrauterine contraceptive device, often abbreviated to IUD, is much better known by its colloquial nickname, the coil. However, this might be a bit misleading – in the past, IUDs really were shaped like a coil, getting their name from that fact. But today, they are mostly available in the form of small T-shape plastic and copper devices which are inserted into the womb during a specialised procedure undertaken by a medical professional.
As opposed to other discussed contraception methods, IUDs can’t be used without the help of an expert and the procedure to put them into place can take around 20 minutes for an experienced professional. However, once the IUD is in place, it will instantly provide a very high level of protection.
Intrauterine devices are certainly a long-term contraception solution as they can easily remain in place for a minimum of five years and without any issues or changes in family planning, they can safely stay in place for as much as ten years.
However, intrauterine devices work without hormones, by simply making it harder for the sperm to reach the egg cell and for the egg cell to implant into the uterine wall. This means that they won’t be of help with heavy periods and in some cases they can even exaggerate the symptoms.
Intrauterine system or IUS
Intrauterine systems are somewhere between intrauterine contraceptive devices and vaginal rings. Just like IUDs, they are small plastic T-shaped devices, but unlike the formerly mentioned method, they actually release a regulated dose of progesterone into the body. They can remain effective for between three and five years.
Barrier contraception methods
Barrier contraceptives include all contraceptive methods which rely on physical obstacle that prevents the contact between sperm and the egg cell. Barrier contraceptives are the most popular form of birth control in the UK since they not only reliably prevent contact that might result in pregnancy but also provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
Condom is undoubtedly the most popular and best-known barrier contraceptive that provides 98% protection against pregnancy and a very high level of protection from STIs. Straightforward to use, condom is placed over the penis prior to sex which will prevent the sperm from entering the vagina and the contact between bodily fluids. Latex condoms are thus safe and reliable in more ways than one and the only possible side effect is an allergic reaction to latex.
Female condom is 95% effective in preventing pregnancy and its core principle is virtually identical to that of a male condom. However, female condom (known under the brand name Femidom in the UK) can be worn inside the vagina for up to eight hours prior to sexual activity so it will cause no disruption to the flow of situation as opposed to the male condom which will be required to be placed carefully before the sex continues.
Cervical caps or diaphragms
As the name implies, cervical caps are used as a barrier method that caps the cervix, thus preventing the sperm from reaching the womb. It is reusable and can be put into place hours prior to sex. However, diaphragms do not offer the same level of protection as other barrier methods, being effective in around 92% of cases. Because of this, the doctors advise that they should be used alongside spermicide for the best results. The main pro of this approach is that diaphragms are a viable alternative for women who are allergic to latex.
Contraceptive pills or birth control pills
Contraceptive or birth control pills are well known contraceptive method that is considered to be effective in as much as 99% of cases, provided that they are used properly. They come in numerous different forms and variations, with the two main categories being progesterone-only pills and combined contraceptive pills.
Combined contraceptive pills
Combined contraceptive pills, commonly known simply as “the pill” are oral contraceptives that are available in the form of daily tablets, each of which contains both synthetic progesterone and synthetic oestrogen. The differences between different brands of combined oral contraceptives available in the UK mostly correlate to the active ingredients, the exact synthetic hormones they rely upon as well as their concentrations in any given medication.
Combined contraceptive pills are considered to be somewhat more reliable that their progesterone-only counterparts due to their multidimensional approach to preventing pregnancy. In other words, they not only prevent ovulation thanks to the synthetic version of progesterone, but also contribute to the thickening of the vaginal fluids which makes it more difficult for the sperm to enter the womb and reach the egg cell.
Progesterone-only pills (mini-pills)
Only slightly less efficient than combined birth control tablets, progesterone-only pills (POPs) or mini-pills are a type of oral contraceptive that contains only progesterone analogue. As such, they primarily rely on preventing ovulation. They are especially suitable for women who are too sensitive to oestrogen.
Permanent contraceptive methods
Permanent contraceptive methods are those methods that involve various surgical procedures that result in inability to conceive. They can be reversed only following additional medical procedures. Permanent contraceptive methods can be applied to females and males – in the first case, the procedure of female sterilisation will involve blocking the fallopian tubes so that the egg cells cannot pass to the uterus. In the latter case, the process is called vasectomy and it involves cutting the tubes that transport the sperm from the testicles to the penis. The tubes are sealed with dissolvable stitches and prevent the sperm from exiting the body.