WHEN it comes to safe sex, the first thought that will pop into the minds of most is the humble condom.
And many women will also be familiar with the contraceptive pill – but which method of protection is best for you? We get the lowdown.
Getty Images When it comes to contraception, your first thoughts are likely to turn to the Pill or condoms, but there are 15 different methods available on the NHS in the UK, one expert reveals
How many types of contraception are available in the UK?
There are 15 different types of contraception on offer in the UK, which can be obtained through the NHS.
Of this selection, there are only two options available to men – the male condom and a vasectomy, or sterilisation – one of the more drastic options.
Scientists are, however, in the process of developing two new options, the male pill and male contraceptive injection.
Natika Halil, chief executive of the sexual health charity, the Family Planning Association, told The Sun Online more about the different methods of contraception available, and who they best suit.
What are the long-acting methods of contraception?
Though not as commonly used as the Pill or condoms, there are four methods of contraception which do not require you to remember to take them each day, or when you have sex.
Ms Halil said: “Once you have them they last for months or years.
“They are the most effective methods we have – other than sterilisation – because they don’t rely on you remembering to take or use them, so they’re incredibly reliable at preventing unplanned pregnancy and great if you have trouble remembering to use methods like the Pill.”
Just because they are long-lasting options, Ms Halil said: “it doesn’t mean you can’t stop using them sooner if they don’t suit you, or you decide you want to get pregnant”.
Getty Images Condoms are still one of the most popular choices and have the big advantage of being the only method to also help protect you from sexually transmitted infections
What is the IUD or copper coil?
This is a small plastic and copper device that is fitted in a woman’s womb, and can last for between five and 10 years.
The coil, or intrauterine device, is more than 99 per cent effective, but can cause heavier or painful periods in some women.
Ms Halil told The Sun Online: “We still hear the myth that women who’ve never been pregnant can’t have one – but actually most women can use one.
“It’s a good option for women who can’t, or don’t want to, use hormonal methods of contraception.”
The coil can also be used as emergency contraception, and is more effective at preventing pregnancy than the emergency pill.
What is the implant?
This is a small flexible rod that goes under the skin in your upper arm and releases a progestogen hormone.
It’s more than 99 per cent effective and lasts for three years.
Progestogen-only contraception is good if you can’t use oestrogen methods and in some women can help reduce heavy and/or painful periods, although it can also cause irregular bleeding.
Most women can use progestogen-only contraception but a doctor or nurse will always check your medical history first.
Getty Images Combined hormonal methods contain both oestrogen and progestogen and usually make your periods regular, lighter and less painful, making them a popular choice
What is the IUS?
The IUS (intrauterine system) is a small plastic device put into your uterus where it releases a progestogen hormone.
It can last for three to five years and is more than 99 per cent effective.
Like the IUD, most women can have one, whether or not they have ever been pregnant.
What is the progestogen injection?
This is one of the most commonly used long-acting methods as it’s widely available from GPs as well as contraception and sexual health clinics.
It involves having an injection containing the hormone progestogen every eight to 13 weeks.
It often stops your periods completely which a lot of women (but by no means all) see as an advantage.
It’s not as long-acting as the other long-lasting methods and for it to be most effective you need to get your next injection on time.
It’s 99 per cent effective if used perfectly every time but in real life it’s around 94 per cent effective.
Ms Halil said: “Most women can have one but it won’t suit you if you’re planning to get pregnant quite soon – periods and fertility can take up to a year to get back to normal after stopping the injection.
“And it isn’t the right option if you don’t want your periods to change.”
Getty Images The copper coil is a small plastic and copper device that is fitted in a woman’s womb, and can last for between five and 10 years. The coil is more than 99 per cent effective, but can cause heavier or painful periods in some women
What is the progestogen-only Pill?
This pill is another of the common forms of contraception.
It relies on a woman remembering to take the pill every day, so thought it is more than 99 per cent effective if used perfectly every time, the reality is a little different.
Typically, it is around 91 per cent effective.
Ms Halil said: “It may help with pre-menstrual symptoms and painful periods.”
What is the combined Pill?
Combined hormonal methods contain both oestrogen and progestogen and usually make your periods regular, lighter and less painful, making them a popular choice.
However, not all women can use combined methods.
Ms Halil explained: “A doctor or nurse will always need to go through your medical history first – and they can have some serious side effects to look out for.”
The combined pill is still one of the most commonly used methods but it does rely on you remembering to take a pill every day.
Although it’s 99 per cent effective if used perfectly every time, in real life it’s around 91 per cent effective.
What is the vaginal ring and the patch?
The contraceptive vaginal ring and the contraceptive patch release the same hormones as the pill but the ring lasts for three weeks and the patch only needs to be changed once a week.
So if you want a combined method but taking a pill every day is a problem, these can be better choices, Ms Halil said.
What is the pulling out method?
New research has revealed that more women in Europe rely on the “withdrawal” method of contraception than anywhere else in the world.
The results, which come from analysis of a UN report by Superdrug, show that 7.8 per cent of couples use the method, even though it is one of the least reliable.
When the method is used correctly, the pull-out method is around 96 per cent effective, meaning that in a year, four women in every 100 will get pregnant using the method.
However, the method is rarely used perfectly, leading to around 27 out of 100 women who use withdrawal get pregnant each year – just over one in four.
“Pulling out” dominates Southern Europe, Southern Asia and Western Asia as a popular method of contraception – and has even overtaken the Pill in some countries, such as Iran.
The Sun’s Dr Carol Cooper says: “The withdrawal method is just about the least effective method there is, if you can even call it a method at all.”
Getty Images Ms Halil warned, if you don’t follow the instructions on a condom packet every time they’re only around 82 per cent effective (male condoms) and 79 per cent effective (female condoms)
How effective are condoms?
Condoms are still one of the most popular choices and have the big advantage of being the only method to also help protect you from sexually transmitted infections.
They’re suitable for everyone (although if you have a latex allergy you’ll need a non-latex type) but they do need to be used carefully.
When used perfectly every time, male condoms are up to 98 per cent effective and female condoms up to 95 per cent effective.
But, Ms Halil warned, if you don’t follow the instructions every time they’re only around 82 per cent effective (male condoms) and 79 per cent effective (female condoms).
She said: “You can use condoms alongside a different method of contraception for added protection but never use a male and female condom at the same time as they can damage each other.”