Contraception Guide

Contraception, also known as family planning or birth control, refers to any measure that you, or your partner, take to prevent a pregnancy occurring after sexual intercourse. There are many different methods of contraception available in the UK today for both men and women, meaning that if you are looking for a method of birth control there are many options available to you, and so you are bound to find one that works for you.

Why use contraception?

Contraception is the cornerstone of family planning, and is broadly used to prevent a pregnancy from occurring between couples who feel they aren’t ready for a child for any of a plethora of different reasons. In essence contraception allows couples to enjoy sexual intercourse while minimizing the chances of an unwanted pregnancy occurring.

While birth control is the main reason for which contraceptive measures are taken, there are other reasons to practice so called ‘safe sex’. Barrier methods of contraception (which prevent the exchange of reproductive fluids) like condoms and diaphragms are also used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs are a serious concern in some parts of the UK, where infections like Chlamydia are spreading rapidly. Barrier contraceptives are also an important practice to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.

What kinds of contraceptives are there?

There are many different types of contraceptives available in the UK today, ranging from simple, one use barriers like condoms to longer term measures.

Barrier methods of contraception are available for both men and women, and as mentioned briefly above, work by preventing the exchange of sexual fluids between two partners. The most popular barrier methods are condoms (for men), and diaphragms or caps (for women). Barrier methods are very effective, but like any other form of contraception, do not guarantee 100% protection against pregnancy.

Hormonal methods of contraception are available for women. While there are products being developed for men, the nature of male fertility makes the development of safe hormonal contraceptives trickier. Female fertility is dependent on a monthly menstrual cycle which can be affected by hormonal methods of contraception. The most popular female contraceptive is probably the contraceptive pill, which is in fact available as either the mini-pill or the combined pill. The pill needs to be taken every day, preferably at the same time to ensure its effectiveness.

There are now a number of alternatives to the pill that also work by affecting hormones, and thereby female fertility. These include a subcutaneous patch which is placed underneath your skin by a doctor, and an injection which is applied every few weeks.

Implants, namely intra-uterine devices (IUDs), are specially designed coils which are placed within the female reproductive tract where they prevent sperm, the male sex cells responsible for pregnancy, from accessing the egg. There are a number of different IUDs on the market, some of which work by also releasing hormones to control fertility.

Surgical methods of contraception are more permanent measures that are not as widely utilized because of the invasive nature of the procedures involved. The male procedure is called the vasectomy, and the female surgery is called tubal ligation.

Regardless of your reasons for using contraceptives, the range of options available to you means that you can find a method of birth control that suits you. If you are uncertain about a method of contraception that interests you, then your GP is a great source of information.