Contraception guide

Which method of contraception suits me?

There are 15 different methods of contraception. The type that works best for you will depend on your health and your circumstances.

A woman can get pregnant if a man's sperm reaches one of her eggs (ova). Contraception tries to stop this happening by keeping the egg and sperm apart or by stopping egg production.

There are several issues to consider when deciding which method of contraception is right for you.

Once you've read this information, go to your GP or local contraceptive (or family planning) clinic to discuss your choices.

And remember, 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 they don't protect against STIs.

There are lots of things to consider when deciding which form of contraception is best for you. The following questions can help you decide which method is most suitable:

How effective are the different methods? 

Can you make contraception part of your daily routine? 

Would you prefer contraception that you don't have to remember every day? 

Are you comfortable inserting contraceptives into your vagina? 

Do you mind if your periods change? 

Do you smoke? 

Are you overweight? 

What if you can't use hormonal contraceptives? 

What if you can't use contraceptives that contain oestrogen? 

Are you taking medicines for other conditions? 

Do you want to get pregnant in the near future?

The 'My contraception' tool

Sexual health charities Brook and FPA have developed an interactive tool that can help you find out which methods of contraception may be best for you.

The tool asks questions about your health, lifestyle and contraceptive preferences. All your answers are completely confidential and can't be linked back to you. The tool is available on both charities' websites: 

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 100 who uses it will get pregnant in a year.

Some methods listed below, such as the pill, include the phrase "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:

Contraceptives that are 99% effective if used according to teaching instructions:

Contraceptives that are 98% effective if used correctly:

Contraceptives that are 95% effective if used correctly:

Contraceptives 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, 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 or 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 a doctor or nurse at your local clinic for more details.

Contraceptive methods that are used each time you have sex:

Contraceptive methods that are taken every day:

Contraceptive methods that are replaced every week:

Contraceptive methods that are replaced every month:

Contraceptive methods that are renewed every three months:

Contraceptive methods that are renewed up to every three years:

Contraceptive methods that are renewed up to every five years:

Would you prefer contraception that you don't have to remember every day?

Not all contraceptives have to be taken every day or each time you have sex.

You don't have to think about some contraceptives for months or years. These methods need to be inserted by a health professional into your uterus (IUD or IUS) or arm (the implant):

Other contraceptives need to be changed or replaced every month or week:

Other contraceptives are used or inserted just before sex:

Ask your GP or a doctor or nurse at your local contraceptive clinic for more details.

Are you comfortable inserting contraceptives into your vagina?

If you're a woman, are you comfortable inserting contraceptives into your own vagina? If so, you could consider using:

If you'd like a method that's longer term and you don't mind a health professional putting a contraceptive into your uterus through your vagina, you could consider using:

Contraceptives that don't need to be inserted through your vagina are:

Do you mind if your periods change?

Some contraceptives can affect your periods. Some may make your periods lighter or more infrequent. Others may make your periods heavier or more irregular. Ask your GP or a doctor or nurse at your local clinic for more details.

Contraceptives that can make your periods lighter include:

Do you smoke?

Smokers can use most types of contraception. But if you're a smoker and you're over 35 years old, some contraceptives (such as the combined pill or the vaginal ring) might not be suitable for you. Ask your GP or a doctor or nurse at your local clinic for more details.

If you're over 35 and you smoke, you can consider the following types of contraceptive:

Find out more about stopping smoking.

Are you overweight?

Your weight won't affect most types of contraception, and most contraception won't make you put on weight. However, the contraceptive injection has been linked to a small amount of weight gain if used for two years or more.

Find out about losing weight.

What if you can't use hormonal contraceptives?

Some contraceptives work by using hormones that are similar to the hormones that women produce naturally. These hormones are oestrogen and progestogen.

Contraceptives that contain these hormones aren't suitable for some women – for example, those who have medical conditions, such as breast cancer, problems with blood circulation or migraine.

Not all contraceptive methods use hormones. Some work in other ways, including:

What if you can't use contraceptives that contain oestrogen?

Contraceptives that contain oestrogen aren't suitable for women who:

  • are over 35 and who smoke
  • are very overweight 
  • take certain medicines 
  • have certain medical conditions, such as migraines with aura

If you can't use contraceptives that contain oestrogen, there are plenty of other options, including:

Are you taking medicines for other conditions?

Some contraceptives can be affected if you're taking other medicines, but there are plenty of options. Ask your GP, nurse or your local clinic for more details.

Contraceptives that are not affected by other medicines are:

Do you want to get pregnant in the near future?

All methods of contraception can be stopped if you want to have a baby. Your fertility may take longer to return to normal after using certain methods. If you want your fertility to return to normal as soon as you stop using contraception, consider these methods:

You can get pregnant as soon as you stop taking the combined pill, the progestogen-only pill or using the vaginal ring or contraceptive patch.

It can take up to a year for your fertility to return to normal after stopping the contraceptive injection. Most women's fertility will return to normal in a few months. 

Find out more about getting pregnant.

Page last reviewed: 02/01/2014

Next review due: 02/01/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 95 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

Where to get contraception

Find out where you can go for confidential access to the contraception that's right for you.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015

Sexual health services

Find out where you can go if you need advice about STIs, contraception or pregnancy

Contraception after a baby

You can get pregnant 21 days after having a baby. Find out when to start contraception

Missed pill (combined pill)

What to do if you're on the combined pill and miss one or more pills

Missed pill (progestogen-only)

What to do if you're on the progestogen-only pill and you miss one or more