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 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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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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