Contraception can be used to reduce the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. There is a choice of more than a dozen methods of contraception and most women are easily able to find a method that is suitable for them. Condoms can be used for protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy. You can get many methods of contraception, including the contraceptive pill from your GP. Sexual and reproductive health clinics offer all methods of contraception.

The right contraception for you

There are a range of choices; some which rely on you, such a taking a pill or inserting a cap (diaphragm), or others which are a long-acting reversible method (LARCs) and are inserted or injected and left in place for a number of years. Choice depends on a number of factors including age, whether you smoke, family history, your BMI and any medications you are taking.

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Routine and emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can be used to reduce the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex - that is, sex without using a condom or other method of contraception. There are two methods of emergency contraception; the emergency contraceptive pill (EHC) and the emergency intrauterine device (IUD). You can get the EHC pill for free from many pharmacies, your GP or from sexual and reproductive health clinics. You will need to attend a sexual & reproductive health clinic for an emergency IUD.

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Condoms protect against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when used correctly. They form a barrier between you and your partner, and ideally used during all types of sexual intercourse. Male condoms are very widely available. You can also get female condoms from most sexual & reproductive health clinics, some pharmacies or buy online.

Contraceptive Implant

The contraceptive implant is a small, flexible rod (like a tiny tube) that’s inserted underneath the skin in your upper arm. It release progestogen to stop you getting pregnant and can be left in place for up to 3 years before needing to be replaced.

Contraceptive Injection

A regular injection of the hormone progestogen which stops the ovaries releasing an egg and also changes the lining of the womb. It is a 97% effective form of contraception, meaning that 3 of every 100 women using this method will get pregnant each year. There are three different types of injections, which last for 8, 12 or 13 weeks.

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

An IUD - sometimes called a coil - is a small, T-shaped device made of plastic and copper, inserted into your womb via your vagina. It stays in place for 5 or 10 years, depending on the type, as a long-term (but reversible) contraceptive, but can be removed sooner.

Intrauterine System (IUS)

Similar to an IUD, an IUS is a plastic device inserted into your uterus that releases progestogen at regular intervals. Depending in the type, it lasts 3 or 5 years. An IUS can also help reduce heavy, painful periods.

Contraceptive Pill

Commonly known as 'the pill', there are two main types. The combined oral contraceptive pill (OCP) contains progestogen and oestrogen to stop your ovaries releasing an egg. An alternative option for women who smoke, are over 35, have other risk factors or are breastfeeding is the progestogen-only (POP) pill. Both types need to be taken every day (or for 21 consecutive days followed by a 7 day break.

Contraceptive Patch

Just like a nicotine patch, you apply this directly to your skin, where it releases hormones to control your fertility. Each patch lasts for seven days, and you change it every week for 3 weeks, with one week off a month.

Vaginal Ring

A vaginal ring is a small plastic circle that's inserted into your vagina, where it releases both oestrogen and progestogen to prevent ovulation and conception. It stays in place for three weeks, and then must be replaced with a new one.

Diaphragm / Cap

Diaphragms and caps work the same way by covering the cervix to stop any sperm reaching an egg. You'll be given the correct size for you, which is then inserted into your vagina before sex. They need to be used with spermicide.


Both male and female sterilisation are permanent methods of contraception. An operation will cut, seal or block the fallopian tubes in women or the tubes carrying sperm in men. It's not a method for anyone planning on having children in the future, as reversing the operation is not always possible.

Emergency Contraceptive Pill

The emergency contraceptive pill needs to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The most common brands of pill (containing levonorgestrel) need to be taken within 72 hours (3 days) of unprotected sex. These pills are available, for free, from many pharmacies and from sexual & reproductive health clinics. Some services also now offer the ulipristal acetate pill that can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Emergency Intrauterine Device

The intrauterine device can be used as emergency contraception. It needs to be fitted within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex. You can get an emergency IUD, for free, from sexual and reproductive health clinics.