Hormonal Contraception

All about the the pill, the mini pill, the IUS, the implant, the injection, the patch, the vaginal ring and the emergency pill.

Hormonal contraception all works in roughly the same way. A small amount of extra hormones (which are already present in females) are taken, which stop eggs from being released and/or the womb lining from being created and sperm getting into the womb. They are very effective if taken properly and very popular.

Some people don’t like hormonal methods of contraception because they worry about side effects. All methods of contraception can have side effects, some good, some manageable, some ok and some bad. They are different for different people, so one person might get a particular side effect but someone else might not. If you don’t like the contraception you are using go back to the clinic and discuss alternative types. Long term use of this kind of contraception is fine: a user of one of these methods are able to have kids very soon after they stop taking them.

Not everyone can use all methods of hormonal contraception: a specially trained nurse or doctor will need to ask you questions about your general health before advising you on which methods you can choose from.

Because they don’t prevent swapping body fluids (semen, vaginal juices, blood) no method of hormonal contraception prevents STIs.

All contraception is available for free (no prescription charges) from free and confidential clinics: even if you are a young person under 16.

The Pill

The pill is the most popular method of contraception and is almost 100% effective. It is only available from a clinic or GP, it can have some side effects. It needs to be taken regularly.

contraception the pill

The contraceptive pill is also known as the ”combined pill’ (because it uses 2 kinds of female hormones) or just “the pill.”All contraceptive clinics will be able to offer this method of contraception.In order to be effective it needs to be taken at roughly the same time every day (usually for 21 days with a 7 day break in between).

There are loads of different kinds of pill with different levels of hormone which have different side effects for different people. So if you’re on a particular brand of pill, which you don’t like, then you can go back to the clinic and try a different brand.

When it became popular in the 1960′s and 1970′s it is credited with helping to change many women’s lives and futures in a major way. Many women found that they could have sex for pleasure and without the risks of pregnancy. This was a big deal back then.

Many young women take the pill for non contraceptive reasons: they can help regulate and control periods and can help prevent and reduce acne.

The Mini Pill*

contraception the mini pill

This pill is for women who cannot take the combined pill (for instance for heavy smokers). It needs to be taken regularly, is only available from a GP or clinic and has some side effects. It is very effective and popular. Women are sometimes given this to take before trying the Implant as they have a similar hormone content.

*I have no idea why it’s called this. The pills are just regular pill size.

The Implant

The implant is a small plastic rod which is inserted just under the skin in the arm of the woman. It can remain there for years slowly releasing the hormone that prevents pregnancy. A specialist nurse or doctor must fit this.

The arm is numbed by an injection of anaesthetic and then the implant is inserted into the arm just under the skin. Not everyone is keen on this but it’s a very straight forward procedure. Only a very small hole is made in the skin and it’s simply covered with a tiny plaster until it heals up.

Most contraceptive clinics can fit it. It has to be done by a trained nurse and sometimes you might need to arrange an appointment to get one. It’s pretty new but it is getting very very popular indeed. Once the implant is inserted you don’t have to do very much at all. Occasionally you just need to check it’s still there, but once in the wearer is protected from pregnancy until it’s taken out or for up to
3 years (when another can be fitted).

The Injection

contraception injection

This is a very effective and increasingly popular method of contraception. An injection (often in the bottom) prevents pregnancy for up to twelve weeks. Only available from a GP or clinic. After the injection the female doesn’t have to do anything or remember to take anything for up to 12 weeks.

Vaginal Ring

contraception vaginal ring

The vaginal ring is a new method of contraception. It fits inside the vagina slowly releasing hormones which prevent pregnancy. As it is so new it isn’t widely available yet.The ring sits in the vagina. It stays in for 3 weeks and then after a 7 day break another one is put back in. They are put in by the user but aren’t great for people who don’t like putting their fingers in their vagina.

The Patch

contraception patch

This is a small thin patch which is stuck to the skin. It releases the hormones that prevent pregnancy into the skin. It is very effective and very easy to use. Super sticky: even stays on in the shower or if you go swimming. Dead easy to use. Stick it on, leave it for a week and then replace. (3 weeks on, 1 week off). Only available in one colour, which is beige: this might blend in on people with beige skin, but less well with other skin colours. COME ON EVRA make different or see through colours!


contraception IUS

The IUS is a small device which fits inside the womb; it is different to the IUD because it also uses a hormone to prevent pregnancy. It needs to be fitted by a trained professional but it is highly effective and popular. It is widely available at contraceptive clinics but you’ll probably need to make an appointment or discuss your options in advance.

Because it goes inside the womb it can be a bit uncomfortable to fit but it is very very safe. The two arms at the top of the device fold down as it goes in and spring out once it’s in place. This is how it goes in and where it goes.

contraception where IUS goes

Once it’s in the user doesn’t have to do very much at all. Just check that the threads are in the right place at the top of the vagina now and again. It lasts for up to five years.

Emergency Pill

contraception emergency pill

The emergency contraception pill (aka the ‘morning after pill’) can prevent pregnancy from happening if another method of contraception has failed (such as the condom). Taken after sex it is more effective if taken within 24 hours. It is not as effective as using other methods of contraception. The emergency contraception pill used to be known as the morning after pill. People still call it this, but just remember that it doesn’t have to be taken in the morning or the next day.

It’s available at all contraception clinics and is available at chemists too. It’s free at clinics but costs around £25 at chemists (though some chemists give them to young women for free). It’s very safe and great for a back up contraception, but it isn’t as effective as other methods of contraception so it’s best to use another method for on-going use. It is more effective the sooner it is taken. It can be taken up to 3 or 5 days after sex but it’s most effective if taken within 24 hours.

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© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

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