Contraception is free for most people in the UK. With 15 methods to choose from, you'll find one that suits you and your partner.
Contraceptive methods allow you to choose when and if you want to have a baby, but they don’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Condoms help to protect against STIs and pregnancy, so whatever other method of contraception you're using to prevent pregnancy, use condoms as well to protect you and your partner’s health.
Where to get it
Contraceptive services are free and confidential, including to 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:
- most GP surgeries (talk to your GP or practice nurse),
- community contraceptive clinics,
- some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics,
- sexual health clinics (these offer contraceptive and STI testing services)
Contact details are on 'The Facts'
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. People’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:
- Combined pill
- Condoms (female)
- Condoms (male)
- Contraceptive implant
- Contraceptive injection
- Contraceptive patch
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
- Intrauterine system (IUS)
- Natural family planning
- Progestogen-only pill
- Vaginal ring
There are also two permanent methods of contraception:
- Female sterilisation.
- Male sterilisation (vasectomy).
What is it?
The female can use emergency contraception in order to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or if a usual method of contraception might not have worked, if a condom split or fell off during sex for example. There are two types:
Where can I get it?
- The emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the morning-after pill or EHC).
- The IUD (intrauterine device).
Females can get the emergency contraceptive pill and the IUD for free from:
- a GP surgery that provides contraception,
- a contraceptive clinic or sexual health clinic
- some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
The emergency contraceptive pill is also free from:
- some pharmacies,
- most NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units, and
- some Accident and Emergency departments.
Most pharmacies will also sell the emergency contraceptive pill if you're aged 16 or over. It can cost up to £26. Check first to see if it's available for free.
How does it work?
How effective is it?
- The emergency contraceptive pill has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It's more effective the sooner it's taken. It contains progestogen, and it works by delaying or preventing ovulation. Sometimes it can be given up to 120 hours after unprotected sex.
- 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.
If taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, the emergency contraceptive pill 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.
The IUD will prevent 99% of pregnancies.
What else should I know?
- If a female uses the IUD as emergency contraception, she can also use it as an ongoing contraceptive method.
Contraception for the future
- When a female uses the emergency contraceptive pill 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.
- The emergency contraceptive pill ellaOne is a new method. It can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after sex and is only available with a prescription. For more information about ellaOne, speak to a doctor or nurse.
- 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.
If you're not using a regular method of contraception, you might consider doing so in order to lower the risk of unintended pregnancy. Long-active reversible contraception (LARC) offers the most reliable protection against pregnancy, and the female doesn’t have to think about them every day or each time that she has sex. LARC methods are the injection, implant, IUS and IUD. Find out more at www.fitsme.info
You can get help and advice on contraception from a community contraceptive clinic, a GP surgery (if it offers contraceptive services), a sexual health clinic, young people's services, and some GUM clinics. Useful contacts are on 'The Facts'
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.
Although don't forget, the only way to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is to use a condom every time you have sex. Other methods of contraception prevent pregnancy but don't protect against STIs. 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 use 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:
Contraceptives that are more than 99% effective if used correctly:
- Contraceptive injection (renewed every three months).
- Contraceptive implant (up to three years).
- Intrauterine system, or IUS (up to five years).
- Intrauterine device, or IUD, also called the coil (up to five years).
- Female sterilisation (permanent).
- Male sterilisation (permanent).
Contraceptives that are 99% effective if used according to teaching instructions:
- Contraceptive patch (renewed each week for three weeks in every month).
- Vaginal ring (renewed each week for three weeks in every month).
- Combined pill (taken every day for three weeks out of every month).
- Progestogen-only pill (taken every day).
Contaceptives that are 98% effective if used correctly:
- Natural family planning (operates on a monthly basis).
Contaceptives that are 95% effective if used correctly:
- Male condom (every time you have sex).
Contaceptives that are 92-96% effective if used correctly:
- Female condom (every time you have sex).
Can you make contraception part of your daily routine?
- Diaphragm with spermicide (every time you have sex).
- Cap with spermicide (every time you have sex).
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 the male and female condom, 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:
Methods that are taken every day:
- Male and female condoms.
- Diaphragm or cap.
Methods that are replaced every week:
Methods that are replaced every month:
- Pill (the combined pill or the progestogen-only pill).
Methods that are renewed every three months:
Methods that are renewed up to every three years:
Methods that are renewed up to every five years:
Would you prefer contraception that you don’t have to remember every day?
- Intrauterine device (IUD).
- Intrauterine system (IUS).
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):
- Intrauterine device (IUD): up to five years.
- Intrauterine system (IUS): up to five years.
- Contraceptive implant: every three years.
- Contraceptive injection: every three months.
Find out more about these types of LARC at an iCaSH clinic.
Ask your GP, or a doctor or nurse at your local contraceptive clinic, for more details. Some useful contacts are on 'the facts'