If you use condoms and another form of contraceptive protection you are making sex even safer from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections

All contraception, including condoms, is free


Contraception - what's it for?

There are so many reasons why people might choose to have sex - because it feels good, it's exciting, they feel closer to their partner, they are really turned on... It's an endless list. Of course sometimes when straight people have sex they are trying to get pregnant, but the vast majority of people have sex for pleasure.

Using contraception allows a woman to have some control over when or if she gets pregnant, and in the UK there are 15 methods she can discuss and choose from at free and confidential clinics.

Male condoms and female (or 'internal') condoms are the only forms of contraception which help to protect against STIs as well as pregnancy because they form a physical barrier. Whatever other method of contraception is being used to prevent pregnancy, many people use condoms as well - as a contraception safety net and to protect against STIs.

Where to get it
Using contraception is free and confidential, including for people under 16 as long as they are mature enough to understand the information and decisions involved. There are strict guidelines to for care professionals who work with people under 16.

You can get contraception free from:
  • iCaSH(integrated Contraception and Sexual Health) clinics offer a wide range of types of contraception
  • most GP surgeries offer a choice of types of contraception (talk to your GP or practice nurse). 

Contact details for iCaSH clinics are on 'The Facts' page

Many of these places also offer information, testing and treatment for STIs. If you've been exposed to the risk of pregnancy, you're also at risk of catching an STI.

Before you make an appointment, make sure you’re as informed as possible about the contraceptive options available. A person's choice of contraception may vary over time, depending on their lifestyle and circumstances.

There are lots of methods to choose from, so don't be put off if the first thing you use isn't quite right for you and your partner; you can try another:

  • Caps
  • Combined pill
  • Condoms (female)
  • Condoms (male)  
  • Contraceptive implant
  • Contraceptive injection
  • Contraceptive patch
  • Diaphragms
  • Intrauterine device (IUD, sometimes called the copper coil)
  • Intrauterine system (IUS, sometimes called the mirena coil)
  • Natural family planning
  • Progestogen-only pill
  • Vaginal ring

There are also two permanent methods of contraception:

  • Female sterilisation.
  • Male sterilisation (vasectomy).

Emergency Contraception

What is it?
A woman can use emergency contraception in order to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or if her usual method of contraception has failed, e.g. a condom split or fell off during sex for example. There are two types:

  • Emergency hormonal contraception (sometimes called the Morning After Pill).
  • The IUD (intrauterine device, sometimes called copper coil).

Where can I get it?
There are two types of emergency hormonal contraception.
  • Levonelle is widely available for free from GPs, most pharmacies, Integrated Contraceptive and Sexual Health Clinics (iCaSH), NHS Walk-In Centres and some hospital Accident and Emergency areas. It can be taken up to 72 hours/3 days after unprotected sex but its effectiveness drops significantly throughout that time frame.

    Most pharmacies will also sell the Levonelle morning after pill if you're aged 16 or over. It can cost up to £26. Check first to see if it's available for free.

    • EllaOne is also free but can only be obtained with a prescription, so requires a visit to the GP or iCaSH. It can be taken up to 120 hours/5 days after unprotected sex and remains over 99% effective.

      IUD (Copper Coil) is available at iCaSH clinics and some GP surgeries.

      How does it work?
      • Levonelle has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It's more effective the sooner it's taken. EllaOne can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex. Emergency hormonal contraception works by postponing ovulation, if it has not already happened. This means that the sperm waiting in the fallopian tubes will be unable to meet an egg and fertilise it.
      • The IUD can be inserted into a female’s uterus up to five days after unprotected sex, or up to five days after the earliest time that the female could have ovulated. It may prevent an egg from implanting in the womb or being fertilised.

      How effective is it?
      ul> If taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, the Levonelle will prevent 95% of pregnancies that could be expected if no emergency contraception were used.

      Eighty-five per cent of pregnancies are prevented if the pill is taken between 25 and 48 hours after unprotected sex, and up to 58% of pregnancies if taken 49-72 hours after unprotected sex. The sooner it's taken, the more effective it will be.

      EllaOne and the IUD will prevent 99% of pregnancies even at 120 hours/ 5 days after unprotected sex.

      Added benefits?
      • If a female uses the IUD as emergency contraception, she can also use it as an ongoing contraceptive method.

      What else should I know?
      • When a female uses emergency hormonal contraception it can make her feel sick, dizzy or tired, or give her a headache, tender breasts or abdominal pain.
      • It can make her next period earlier or later than usual.
      • There are no serious side effects.
      • Repeated use is not harmful but if you are sexually active it is not a good idea to reply on emergency hormonal contraception, especially Levonelle, because it is not as effective as many other types of contraception and the risk of an unplanned pregnancy is far greater.
      • There can be some discomfort when the IUD is put in. Painkillers can help to relieve this.
      • If a female uses the IUD as an ongoing method of contraception, it might make her periods longer, heavier or more painful.

      For more information look at this NHS webpage

      Contraception for the future
      If a woman doesn't want to fall pregnant then she should use a regular method of contraception every time she has sex with a male partner. Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) offers the most reliable protection against pregnancy, and doesn't need to be remembered every day or every time she has sex. LARC methods are the injection, implant, and the two types of coil: IUS and IUD. Find out more by looking at the NHS webpage linked above.

      You can get help and advice on contraception by talking to staff at an iCaSH clinic or your GP surgery. Bear in mind that the widest range of options will be available at iCaSH clinics.
      Useful contacts are on 'The Facts' page.

Choosing Contraception

There are 15 different methods of contraception. The type that works best for you and your partner will depend on your health and your circumstances. 
There is a handy contraception tool here at the fpa website.

The only methods which offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy are male condoms and female (or 'internal') condoms because these form a physical barrier between the two partners' sexual fluids which prevents them from mixing. It's common to use a condom with another form of contraception, giving protection against both pregnancy and STIs.

How effective are the different methods?
The list below shows how effective each of the 15 different methods is, and how often you need to use them or think about them (frequency of use).

The effectiveness of each method is worked out by calculating how many women get pregnant if 100 women use the method for a year. For example, if a particular contraceptive method is 99% effective, one woman out of every hundred who uses it will get pregnant in a year.

Some methods listed below, such as the Pill, include the term ‘if used correctly’. This is because people who are on these methods have to use them every time they have sex, or remember to take or apply them every day, week or month. If the method isn’t used correctly it won't be as effective.

Contraceptives that are more than 99% effective:
  • Contraceptive injection (renewed every three months).
  • Contraceptive implant (up to three years).
  • Intrauterine system, or IUS, also called mirena coil (up to five years).
  • Intrauterine device, or IUD, also called the copper coil (up to five years).
  • Female sterilisation (permanent).
  • Male sterilisation (permanent).

Contraceptives that are more than 99% effective if used correctly:
  • Contraceptive patch (changed each week, worn for three weeks in every month).
  • Vaginal ring (changed each month, stays in place for three weeks in every month).
  • Combined pill (taken every day for three weeks out of every month).
  • Progestogen-only pill (taken every day).

Contraceptives that are 99% effective if used according to teaching instructions:
  • Natural family planning (close monitoring of body changes every day throughout the menstrual cycle, on an ongoing basis).

Contaceptives that are 98% effective if used correctly:
  • Male condom (every time you have sex).

Contaceptives that are 95% effective if used correctly:
  • Female (or 'internal')condom (every time you have sex).

Contaceptives that are 92-96% effective if used correctly:
  • Diaphragm with spermicide (every time you have sex).
  • Cap with spermicide (every time you have sex).

Can you make contraception part of your daily routine?
If you’re a well-organised person with a reasonably regular routine, then you have a wide choice of contraception. This is because you're less likely to forget about your contraception, for example forgetting to take a pill or to reapply a patch.

You may want to use a method that you only need to use when you have sex, such as condoms, or you may prefer a method that you need to take every day, such as the Pill. Or you may want to consider methods such as the patch, injection or implant, which you don’t need to use every day or each time you have sex.

The list below shows how often you need to use, replace or take each contraceptive method. Once you've looked at the list, ask your GP, or doctor or nurse at your local clinic, for more details.

Methods that are used each time you have sex:
  • Male condoms or female (or 'internal') condoms.
  • Diaphragm or cap.

Methods that are taken every day:
  • Pill (the combined pill or the progestogen-only pill).

Methods that are replaced every week:
  • Contraceptive patch.

Methods that are replaced every month:
  • Vaginal ring.

Methods that are renewed every three months:
  • Contraceptive injection.

Methods that are renewed up to every three years:
  • Contraceptive implant.

Methods that are renewed up to every five years:
  • Intrauterine device (IUD).
  • Intrauterine system (IUS).

Would you prefer contraception that you don’t have to remember every day?
Not all contraceptives have to be taken every day like the Pill.

You don't have to think about some contraceptives for months or years. They're often called 'Long Acting Reversible Contraception' (LARC). These methods need to be inserted by a health professional into your uterus (IUD or IUS), or your arm (the implant). The contraceptive injection is commonly injected into the woman's buttock.:

  • Intrauterine device (IUD): up to five years.
  • Intrauterine system (IUS): up to five years.
  • Contraceptive implant: every three years.
  • Contraceptive injection: every three months.

Ask your GP, or a member of staff at an iCaSH (integrated Contraception and Sexual Health) clinic, for more details. Some useful contacts are on 'the facts' page.
Alternately there is a lot of additional information about different methods of contraception here at this NHS webpage Scroll down or hover over the 'methods of contraception' tab.