Did you know that the contraceptive pill can lower your libido? If you’re unsure which birth control is best for you, we’ve put together a handy checklist so you can weigh up all your options when it comes to contraception
Can’t decide which birth control is best for you? Women have a plethora of choice when it comes to contraception, but do you know which one is the most effective?
It can be tricky finding the right one that works for you and your body. Whatever mode of birth control you choose, there are always side effects to consider — from hormonal changes to loss of libido — so it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before you make your final choice.
So, to help you on your contraceptive quest, we’ve put together an essential checklist of things to consider when it comes to contraception, so you know what options are available to you, and how effective they are. Here’s your handy list of pros and cons for every type of birth control.
The condom is the only form of contraception that prevents pregnancy and protects against most STIs. You can choose between male and female condoms, although the female condom isn’t quite as effective, and it may take a little practice to get used to.
Pros: They’re the best form of protection against STIs, they’re hormone free, you can use them on demand, and they’re easy to carry around with you.
Cons: They can tear off during sex if not used properly, and some people are allergic to latex.
The Oral Contraceptive Pill
If you’ve taken the pill before but found it didn’t agree with you, the good news is there are a variety of types to choose from, all with different doses of hormones, so you can shop around until you find your perfect fit.
The combined pill contains oestrogen and progestogen and the mini pill contains only one hormone; progestogen. The mini pill isn’t as effective as the combined pill, particularly with younger women, but it does suit those who cannot take oestrogen, and it can also be used while breastfeeding.
Pros: When used correctly it’s highly effective at protecting against unwanted pregnancy. It does’t interrupt sex — you can be as spontaneous as you like! And it can also reduce heavy and painful periods. It can also work as an effective acne treatment.
Cons: If you forget to take your pill, it won’t be as effective. It’s not suitable for women who can't take oestrogen-containing contraception, and it doesn’t protect against STIs, so you’ll need to wear a condom too. Some pills can also decrease your sex drive.
The pill is only available with a prescription, so visit your local doctor or sexual health clinic to discuss further.
The Contraceptive Ring
The contraceptive or vaginal ring has similar hormones to the combined pill. You insert into the vagina and it stays in place for three weeks. It slowly releases hormones that move from the vagina into the bloodstream to protect against pregnancy. After this three-week period, the ring is taken out and a new ring is put in one week later.
Pros: It’s as easy as using tampons, and there aren’t many side effects. It helps control your periods, and as soon as the ring is removed, your fertility will return quickly. You also don’t have to set a reminder to take a pill every day.
Cons: It’s not suitable for women who can't take oestrogen-containing contraception. You need to remember to replace it at the right time, and it doesn’t protect against STIs.
THE IUD (Intrauterine Device)
An IUD is a small, T-shaped device contraceptive device that’s placed in your uterus. It’s made of material containing progestogen hormone or plastic and copper, and is fitted inside a woman’s uterus by a trained healthcare provider. It's a long-acting and reversible method of contraception, which can stay in place for five to 10 years, depending on the type.
Pros: IUDs containing coppers are 99% effective and the ones containing hormones are 99.8% effective, so you’re about as protected as you possibly can be. The copper IUD lasts for 5-10 years, and the hormone IUD lasts for 5 years, so you don’t have to worry or think about birth control for long periods of time, and it also doesn’t disrupt sex. The hormonal IUD will also make your periods lighter or stop them completely, so if you suffer with heavy, painful periods, this could provide effective relief.
Cons: It can be painful fitting the device, and it must be inserted by a healthcare professional. The copper IUD may make your periods heavier, and you can experience irregular bleeding or spotting in the first 6 months. It also does’t protect against STIs.
The Contraceptive Implant
A contraceptive implant is a small, flexible rod that’s placed under the skin in your upper arm. It slowly releases a low dose of the hormone progestogen, which stops your ovaries releasing an egg each month and thickens the cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to enter the womb. It requires a small procedure using local anaesthetic to fit and remove, and it needs to be replaced after three years.
Pros: The implant is highly effective, it’s long-lasting, and it doesn’t interrupt sex. It’s also easy to remove, so it’s a great reversible contraceptive option. It’s safe to use if you’re breastfeeding and it will make your periods lighter, if not stop them altogether.
Cons: Requires a trained healthcare provider for insertion and removal. You may experience irregular bleeding initially, and it does not protect against STIs.
The diaphragm is a soft, shallow, silicone dome that fits in the vagina to stop sperm from entering the uterus, essentially acting as a physical barrier between the man's sperm and the woman's egg, like a condom. The diaphragm needs to stay in place for at least six hours (but no longer than 24 hours) after having sex, before you take it out and clean.
Pros: If used the right way, this method is 86% effective. You can use the same diaphragm more than once, and it can last up to two years if you look after it.
Cons: Using a diaphragm can be a little tricky, and you have to keep track of the hours inserted. It works well when used correctly, but it’s not as effective as the pill, a contraceptive implant or an IUD.
The Contraceptive Injection
This hormonal injection contains a progesterone-like hormone that’s given every 12 to 14 weeks. This method stops ovulation and makes the fluid at the opening to the uterus thicker, stopping any sperm from getting through. You will most likely notice a change in your period or it may stop altogether.
Pros: The injection lasts for up to three months, it’s 99% effective, it permits sexual spontaneity and doesn’t interrupt sex.
Cons: It can disrupt periods or cause irregular bleeding, and you you have to keep track of the number of months used. It also doesn’t protect against STIs.
Emergency Contraceptive Pill (The Morning After Pill)
Commonly referred to as the ‘Morning After’ pill, this form of emergency contraception can actually be effective for up to five days after having unprotected sex. The sooner it’s taken however, the more effective it is — it prevents about 85% of pregnancies if it’s taken in the first three days after sex.
This pill contains a special dose of female hormones, and it’s safe for most women — even those who cannot take other oral contraceptive pills.
Pros: It’s convenient and can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy or chemist without a prescription, there are no serious side effects, and if taken the ‘morning after’, it can be 95% effective.
Cons: There can be unwanted side effects including nausea and vomiting, and it can disrupt your periods; the next period may be early or delayed. It does’t protect against STIs.
Loved our guide to contraception? We've got plenty more women's health advice on our Health & Wellness Edit, guaranteed to give your body a well-deserved boost. Suffer with dry skin? Here are 11 questions about menstrual cups you're too scared to ask, plus, if you have any burning vagina questions, we've got you covered.