Methods of contraception

What are the differences between methods of contraception?

Contraceptives can be split into two categories: user dependent contraceptives and long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC)[1]. User dependent contraceptive methods will only work if you use them correctly, whereas LARC methods don't rely on you remembering to use them regularly.

Each method has advantages and disadvantages and what works well for one person won't always work well for someone else. You might have to try a range of different methods of contraception before you find one that works well for you.

Looking for emergency contraception? There is support available on the NHS website or you can talk to a pharmacist, your GP, NHS 111 or visit your local sexual health clinic.

User dependent contraceptives

User dependent contraceptive methods will only work if you use them correctly. They include oral contraceptive tablets and condoms.

Oral contraceptive tablets

Oral contraceptive tablets are split into two categories: combined pills, which contain the hormones oestrogen and progestogen, and progestogen only pills (POPs). Oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy, but you’ll need to use another method of contraception, such as condoms, to be protected against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Progestogen only pill (POP)

These types of pills work by thickening the lining of the cervix (part of the female reproductive system) to stop sperm reaching an egg.

There are two types of POP:

  • the pill commonly known as the ‘mini pill’.

  • the desogestrel POP, which can also stop ovulation (an egg being released from the ovary), whilst you’re taking it[2].

The POP needs to be taken at the same time each day for it to work well. If you’re taking the mini pill, you need to make sure there’s no longer than 27 hours between two doses of the pill to be protected against pregnancy[2]. If you’re taking a desogestrel pill, such as Hana, you need to make sure there’s no longer than 36 hours between two doses of the pill[2].

There are days of the week and arrows printed on the pill packet, to help you. Some people also set reminder alarms, so they don’t miss a pill.

Some reported benefits of the POP include:

  • it doesn’t contain oestrogen, so is suitable for people who can’t take this hormone

  • women who are breastfeeding can take it

  • it’s suitable for people who smoke[2]

  • it’s suitable for women at risk of health issues such as strokes[3].

Some reported side effects of POPs include:

  • irregular menstrual bleeding (periods)

  • changes in sex drive (libido)

  • mood changes

  • acne (spots and changes to the skin)[3,4].

There’s also a risk of some women developing functional ovarian cysts (small fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries)[3,5]. These are usually harmless and go away without treatment[2].

Talk to your local Well pharmacist, your doctor or sexual health nurse if you have any questions about the possible side effects of the POP.

Why wait for an appointment?

We can check your suitability for Hana contraception and process your order online with our free, private consultation service.

Start your consultation
Combined pill

The combined pill works by stopping ovulation (an egg being released from the ovary). It also thickens the mucus in the entrance to the womb to make it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg[6]. The combined pill thins the lining of the womb to reduce the chance of a fertilised egg implanting[6].

You need to take the combined pill at the same time each day for it to work well[6]. There are days of the week and arrows printed on the pill packet, to help you. Some people also set reminder alarms, so they don’t miss a pill.

Some benefits of the combined pill include:

  • regulating periods

  • lighter periods

  • improved premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms[4]

  • a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers[7].

The combined pill has also been shown to cause a number of side effects for some women, including:

  • weight gain

  • nausea (feeling sick)

  • breast tenderness

  • acne (spots and changes to the skin)

  • depression[3].

There is also an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes[7] when taking the combined pill. This means it won’t usually be suitable for women who are already at high risk of developing these types of health conditions. Talk to a pharmacist, your doctor or sexual health nurse if you have one of these health conditions. They'll be able to talk you through other contraception methods suitable for you.

"

Our pharmacists can help you if you're unsure about how to use your chosen method of contraception correctly.

Gill Stone - MRPharmS

Male condoms

Male condoms are worn on the penis, to avoid contact with sperm. When used correctly, male condoms protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Male condoms are available for free from your local sexual health clinic and some GP surgeries. You can also buy male condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets and online retailers. Find out more about male condoms on the NHS website.

Female condoms

Female condoms are worn inside the vagina, to avoid contact with sperm. When used correctly, female condoms protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Female condoms are available for free from your local sexual health clinic and some GP surgeries. You can also buy female condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets and online retailers. Find out more about female condoms on the NHS website.

Our products

All prices include delivery. The pack size available to you will be based on your consultation.

Hana
Hana

Hana is a daily contraceptive pill for women that doesn't require a prescription. There are no pill-free breaks when taking Hana. Once you've finished one 28 day strip, you'll start your next strip of tablets the following day.

1 month

£9.95

3 months

£21.95

6 months

£43.90

9 months

£65.85

12 months

£87.80

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC)

LARC methods provide long term protection against pregnancy. They don’t rely on you remembering to use them regularly. Types of LARC include intrauterine device, intrauterine system, implant and injection.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

You may also hear this being called a coil or copper coil, which is a small T-shaped device that's put into your womb (uterus) by a doctor or nurse[8]. It releases copper to stop you getting pregnant. It protects against pregnancy for between five and 10 years and can be removed at any time by a doctor or nurse[8]. Find out more about the IUD on the NHS website.

Intrauterine system (IUS)

An IUS is a small, T-shaped plastic device that's put into your womb (uterus) by a doctor or nurse[9]. You may also hear this being called the Mirena coil. It releases the hormone progestogen to stop you getting pregnant. It protects against pregnancy for between three and five years and can be removed at any time by a doctor or nurse[9]. Find out more about the IUS on the NHS website.

Implant

The implant is a small, flexible plastic rod that's placed under the skin in your arm by a doctor or nurse[10]. It releases the hormone progestogen into your blood to stop you getting pregnant. It protects against pregnancy for three years and can be removed at any time by a doctor or nurse[10]. Find out more about the implant on the NHS website.

Contraceptive injection

The injectable contraceptive releases the hormone progestogen into your blood to prevent pregnancy and normally lasts about 13 weeks[11]. Find out more about the contraceptive injection on the NHS website.

Published

August 2021

Next review

August 2022

Reviewed by

Gill Stone MRPharmS

Where can I get further support and information?
As well as talking to your pharmacist or GP, there are a number of organisations offering information and support about contraception and sexual health.

References

  1. 1.

    Sexual and Reproductive Health Services, England (Contraception) 2019/20 | NHS Digital | Accessed January 14, 2021.

    https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/sexual-and-reproductive-health-services/2019-20
  2. 2.

    The progestogen-only pill | nhs.uk | Published December 21, 2017 | Accessed October 5, 2020.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/the-pill-progestogen-only
  3. 3.

    MacGregor A | Efficacy and side-effects of oral contraceptives | Prescriber | 2017;28(8):19-26 | doi:10.1002/psb.1600

  4. 4.

    Britton A | Contraception-Your Questions Answered 5th edition | Obstet Gynaecol | 2009;11(3):224-224 | doi:10.1576/toag.11.3.224.27510

  5. 5.

    FSRH Clinical Guideline: Progestogen-only Pills (March 2015, Amended April 2019) - Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare | Accessed September 30, 2020.

    https://www.fsrh.org/standards-and-guidance/documents/cec-ceu-guidance-pop-mar-2015
  6. 6.

    Combined pill | nhs.uk | Published December 21, 2017 | Accessed January 19, 2021.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/combined-contraceptive-pill
  7. 7.

    Melvin L | Cancer risk among users of oral contraceptives: cohort data from the Royal College of General Practitioners’ oral contraception study | J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care | 2008;34(1):18-18 | doi:10.1783/jfp.34.1.18a

  8. 8.

    Intrauterine device (IUD) | nhs.uk | Published December 21, 2017 | Accessed January 14, 2021.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/iud-coil
  9. 9.

    Intrauterine system (IUS) | nhs.uk | Published December 21, 2017 | Accessed January 14, 2021.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/ius-intrauterine-system
  10. 10.

    Contraceptive implant | nhs.uk | Published December 21, 2017 | Accessed November 23, 2020.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/contraceptive-implant
  11. 11.

    The contraceptive injection | nhs.uk | Published December 21, 2017 | Accessed November 23, 2020.

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/contraceptive-injection