The Combined Pill
Best For: Anyone who doesn’t struggle to remember to take a pill daily, and those who don’t have any risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure or a history of blood clots. Because the combined pill is simple and straightforward, it continues to be favoured among women. It’s also a great option if you struggle with acne: for many women, the pill clears up skin issues. In particular, Yasmin and Beyaz both use drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol to clear up excess oil.
How It Works: "The contraceptive pill is the most popular form of female contraception. It’s a tablet containing lab-made hormones that stop you from getting pregnant," explains Dr Simran Deo. "There are two different types of pill: the combined contraceptive pill and the progesterone only pill. The combined pill contains the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and the progesterone only pill contains progesterone. They are both more than 99% effective when used correctly. There are a number of different brands available which contain slightly different hormones. A visit to your doctor can help to suggest the most suitable for you."
Side Effects: Common side effects are often mild, including nausea, breast tenderness, headaches and some breakthrough spotting. But the pill can also improve other symptoms, such as cramps, PMS, heavy bleeding and an irregular cycle.
Effectiveness: They’re both more than 99% effective when used correctly at the same time each day. Since most people aren’t perfectly on point all the time, actual effectiveness is closer to 92%.
The Intra-Uterine System (IUS)
Best For: Those who like an IUS often tend to because of its longevity. It lasts for up to ten years and is effective as soon as it is inserted. There are different varieties, so ask your doctor which is best for you. Generally speaking, it’s best for anyone with heavy or crampy periods, as it works to ease the monthly pain, as well as get rid of the bleed almost entirely.
How It Works: "This is a plastic, T-shaped device which releases progesterone," says Simran. "It’s fitted in the womb by a doctor or nurse, and can stay there for 3 to 5 years. Similarly to the contraceptive pill, it’s also more than 99% effective, and has been reported to make periods lighter, less painful or stop altogether."
Side Effects: The key one is experiencing lighter (or no) periods. It’s also not uncommon to suffer from acne flare-ups at first, but this is reported to settle after a few months. The side effects of IUDs are typically much lower than those of other types of birth control, so it’s one to look into if you’re keen to avoid adding extra hormones into your system.
Effectiveness: Possibly one of the most effective forms of birth controls, IUS effectiveness is more than 99% – because it stays put, there is no room for user error and you’ll never forget to take it.
The Vaginal Ring
Best For: With a smaller dose of oestrogen than most versions of the pill, this is good for those wanting to pare back on added hormones. It’s effective immediately and, despite popular belief, once it’s fitted properly, it will stay put. It’s very rare for it to fall out.
How It Works: "The vaginal ring is a piece of circular plastic placed in the vagina, which continually releases hormones to prevent pregnancy and is more than 99% effective," Simran adds. "The ring works in the same way as the combined pill, releasing both progesterone and oestrogen and is effective for 21 days before needing replacement, however unlike the pill you are covered if you suffer from diarrhoea or vomiting."
Side Effects: It has similar side effects to the contraceptive pill. A little spotting or breakthrough bleeding when it’s first inserted is not uncommon, but this should ease up after the first month or so.
Effectiveness: When used properly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective. You’ll need to ensure it is fitted correctly. Once it stays put, you’ll soon forget it is there. If the ring does come out on its own, rinse it in warm water and put it back in straight away – your GP will have shown you how to do this, so it will become second nature.
Best For: Just like an IUS, the implant is long-acting. It releases smaller amounts of hormones daily to suppress ovulation, so it’s a great option for someone that wants a contraceptive they can forget about. It carries more side effects than an IUS, but these are rare and usually short-lived.
How It Works: The implant is a matchstick-sized piece of plastic which is inserted under the skin on your upper arm and can be left safely in place for three years. It’s more than 99% effective and can be removed if there are any side effects, or if contraception is no longer required for you.
Side Effects: It comes with the usual list of potential side effects, but you may also notice mood swings, a decreased sex drive and unpredictable bleeding. The latter is the most common and complained about, with around 20% of women saying they experience more bleeding. Should this be the case, it can be removed by your GP but, more often than not, the symptoms will settle.
Effectiveness: At more than 99% effective, it is one of the most effective types of birth control available.
Best For: Containing no oestrogen, this is an option worth investigating if you’re not able to use the combined pill for health reasons. While it requires you to remember to have a repeat injection, you don’t have to remember daily to take a pill, so it’s handy for anyone that’s prone to forgetfulness or doesn’t like taking tablets.
How It Works: It contains progesterone only and lasts for eight to 12 weeks, depending on the injection. Used correctly, it’s highly effective and irreversible. Just remember to take the next one on time to ensure contraceptive cover is continued.
Side Effects: As with some of the other methods, side effects can include weight gain, headaches, mood swings and irregular bleeding. It’s also worth noting it can take up to a year for your fertility to return to normal after the injection wears off, so if you’re planning to fall pregnant in the not-too-distant future, this may not be for you.
Effectiveness: It’s incredibly effective at over 99%, but this only holds true if you’re having the repeat injection before it expires – otherwise it becomes ineffective. You’ll need a top-up after eight to 13 weeks – your GP can advise, depending on the injection you have.
The Contraceptive Patch
Best For: As it sits on your skin, it’s often recommended to those not wanting to take a pill every day, but also anyone wanting to avoid a longer-term method. It does, however, have a higher dose of oestrogen than the pill, so if you have a history of smoking, high blood pressure or clots, it’s worth discussing with your GP.
How It Works: "More unusual forms of hormonal contraception such as the patch, (a plaster-like application worn on the skin) are becoming popular," explains Simran. "It is more than 99% effective providing similar levels of protection against pregnancy as the pill and can be worn on different places around the body. It needs to be changed once a week and like the pill after the 3rd week a 7 day break is taken. Unlike the contraceptive pill, contraceptive cover is still maintained if you have diarrhoea or vomiting, but like the pill it does not protect you against STIs, so condoms should always be worn."
Side Effects: As above, the higher dose of oestrogen means you should always chat the patch through with your GP. You can also expect nausea, breast tenderness and headaches, mainly in the first few months of use before they subside.
Effectiveness: If you’re using it perfectly with no slip-ups, it’s about 98% effective. Typical use is closer to 92%.
Condoms (Male Or Female)
Best For: They contain zero hormones, so they’re a great option for those not wanting to mess with their system. They’re also easy-to-use and accessible, with no long-term effects.
How It Works: They work by providing a barrier to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. They’re also the only form of birth control that helps prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI), so even if you’re on another method of protection, you should always use them to protect you from STIs, especially with new partners.
Side Effects: Side effects are minimal. At most, condoms can cause irritation or allergies, but they’re generally considered very safe.
Effectiveness: It’s no secret they leave room for error. From breakage to slippage, and the temptation to not use one every time, they are said to be only 82% effective at preventing pregnancy, which is why they should always be used as a second means. Don’t rely on them as your only line of defence.