Contraception: The Pill and Other Options

What Is The Pill?

The contraceptive pill is a tablet that can be taken by people who can get pregnant to help prevent pregnancy as a result of sex. The pill will NOT protect against sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). There are two types of contraceptive pill – the combined pill (usually just called ‘the pill’), and the progestogen-only pill (often called the ‘mini-pill’).

The Combined Pill

The combined pill is a mix of female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone). At a basic level, it works by preventing the body from releasing an egg each month from the ovaries and makes it harder for sperm to enter the womb. The pill can be taken in three different ways to cater for your needs and preferences:

This is the most common type of pill. Each pill has the same amount of hormones in it. You take one pill a day for 21 days, and then take a break for 7 days, during which you will have your period.

Phasic pills contain different amounts of hormones. It is really important to follow either the instructions in the packet or the guidance of your medical professional to make sure you are taking the right pills in the right order. You still only have to take one pill a day for 21 days and then take a break for 7 days, during which you will have your period.

These pills each contain the same amount of hormones, similar to monophasic 21-day pills. There are 28 pills in a pack: 21 have hormones (active pills) and 7 don’t (dummy pills). The two types of pills look different to help you know which is which. Usually, you will take the 21 ‘active’ pills (one per day), and then take the 7 ‘dummy’ pills (one per day). This can be useful if you prefer the routine of taking a pill every day without skipping a week. You will still have your period during the 7 days that you take the ‘dummy’ pills.

The NHS contraception guide states the combined pill as being over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly. It is not recommended to people over the age of 35 who smoke, or people with certain medical conditions. You can read about the side effects of the pill as well on the NHS contraception guide.

The “Mini” Pill

The mini pill only contains one female hormone (progestogen). Because of this, it only prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb – making it harder for sperm to reach the eggs. The Mini pill needs to be taken once a day, every day (with no breaks). It must be taken at the same time each day, otherwise it may not be as effective.

The Mini pill is a useful option if you are over the age of 35 or cannot take medication that contains oestrogen.

Alternatives to the Pill

If you find that the pill is not a good fit for you, or you want to see what other options are available, check out this list of other methods of contraception:

Small, circular dome made of soft silicon that is inserted into the vagina before sex. It blocks sperm from entering the womb by covering the cervix but must also be used with a gel that kills sperm (called a ‘spermicide’) to be fully effective.

Small plastic flexible rod that is inserted under the skin in your upper arm by a doctor or nurse. It releases the female hormone progestogen into your bloodstream over time to prevent pregnancy. It lasts for 3 years, after which it will need to be replaced with a new implant.

Direct injection of the female hormone progestogen that provides protection against pregnancy for about 13 weeks, after which you will need to have another injection. You can have this done by your GP.

Small sticky patch (like a plaster) that you stick to yourself (it can be stuck almost anywhere as long as the area of skin is clean, dry, and not too hairy). It is made up of two female hormones (oestrogen and progestogen), the same as the combined pill. The patch releases these hormones into your body through your skin to prevent pregnancy. Each patch lasts for 1 week, after which you will need to apply a new patch. You will normally apply one patch a week for 3 weeks, and then take a break of 1 week during which you will have a withdrawal bleed (like a period) before applying patches for another 3 weeks.

Small T-shaped plastic and copper device that is inserted into your womb. It slowly releases copper into the womb, which thickens the cervical mucus, helping stop fertilized eggs from getting comfortable and starting to grow.

Silicone ring that is inserted into the vagina. It releases a mix of hormones (progestogen and oestrogen) into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. You put the ring in place and leave it for 21 days, then take it out. You can either switch it for a new one straight away (taking no break), or you can wait 7 days before putting a new ring in, during which you may have a withdrawal bleed similar to a period.

Femidoms, also called female condoms or internal condoms, are made from soft, thin synthetic latex. Latex ones are available but these are less common. They are a barrier method which are worn inside the vagina to prevent semen getting to the womb or to prevent transfer of STI’s during oral or other sex. When used properly, they are estimated to be 95% effective at preventing pregnancy and against STI’s transmitted through bodily fluids. They protect a larger area of the body than a standard external condom.

If you want to go on the pill

If you are considering going on the pill, or simply wondering what type of contraception is right for you, you can arrange to speak to either your GP, a community contraception clinic, or a local sexual health clinic, who will provide you with more information, discuss your options and arrange the correct pill prescription if you decide you want to start using it. Contraception is free to everyone through the NHS. You can visit this link to find your nearest sexual health clinic.

You can also access the pill via online pharmacies such as Llodys, Superdrug and Boots.

Further support with the pill and other options

You can visit the complete NHS contraception guide here, which has detailed information about all forms of contraception, including an FAQ and a guide to help you figure out what type of contraceptive might be best for you.

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