There are lots of ways to prevent pregnancy.
Only condoms can prevent pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Find out about different kinds of contraception and how to get them here.
- Emergency contraception
- How to get free condoms
- The 'pill'
- Implants, injections and patches
- Intrauterine Devices (IUD) and Intrauterine Systems (IUS)
- Natural family planning
- Male and female sterilisation
Emergency contraception is only for emergencies, for example:
- if you've had a condom break
- forgotten to take a contraceptive pill
- had sex without a condom and regretted it.
There are three types.
Emergency contraception pills are mistakenly known as “the morning after pill”.
Levonelle is effective up to 72 hours after having sexual intercourse and is available from all the places listed below and from pharmacies.
A pill called EllaOne can be used up to 5 days after having sex. It is available from Sexual Health and Family Planning Clinics, GPs and A&E Departments.
An Intrauterine Device can also be used up to five days after having sexual intercourse. You need to see a doctor or specialist nurse to have one fitted. See your doctor or nearest sexual health clinic.
If you want to use emergency contraception do not delay. All forms of emergency contraception should be used as soon as possible after having unprotected sexual intercourse.
Taking emergency contraception will not protect you against sexually transmitted infections.
Condoms come in two basic types - male and female.
Condoms come in different sizes (e.g. trim, regular and large). It's important to get the right size for you because if the condom is too small it might split and if it's too big it might slip off. If you are not sure of the size it's best to try some before having sex.
Condoms also come in different types too. for example: flavoured, which can be used for oral sex, ribbed condoms and non-latex ones which can be used if you have an allergy towards latex.
Male and female condoms should never be used together as this may cause one or both to break. Using either type is enough to protect against pregnancy and most sexually transmitted infections.
Used properly, both types can offer good protection against pregnancy and most sexually transmitted infections.
Watch our online condom demonstration.
If you've never put one on, it's a good idea to practice before you get into a situation where you need to use one (women can practice putting male condoms on a banana).
Alternatively, you could ask for practise nurse at your GP surgery to go through this with you using a condom demonstrator.
You can buy condoms at supermarkets, pharmacies, small shops and from vending machines in toilets in places like bars, restaurants and shopping centres.
Also known as 'oral contraceptives', the 'minipill' or 'combined pill', they prevent pregnancy by changing the balance of hormones in a woman's body that control her periods.
You have to keep taking them for them to work. Even missing just one pill can mean a woman can get pregnant.
Some medicines stop the pill working properly, so always tell your doctor you're taking the pill if they are prescribing other medicines to you.
The pill offers no protection at all against sexually transmitted infections.
If you want to start taking the pill, see your GP doctor or go along to your nearest sexual health service.
These work in the same way as contraceptive pills but are easier to use because they are longer lasting and you don't have to remember to take them all the time.
However, you do have to remember to put on a fresh contraceptive patch at the right time.
As with contraceptive pills, some medicines stop them working properly. Always tell your doctor you're using contraceptive implants, injections or patches if they are prescribing other medicines to you.
Implants, injections and patches give no protection at all against sexually transmitted infections.
If you want to start using implants, injections or patches, see your GP doctor or go along to your nearest sexual health service.
Sometimes called 'the coil', these devices work inside the womb to stop a fertilised egg implanting in the soft lining of the womb so that it can grow into a baby.
IUDs work by releasing copper while IUSs work by releasing a hormone.
They are easy to use because you don't need to remember to use them and last a long time but give no protection at all against sexually transmitted infections.
They must be fitted by a specially trained doctor or nurse.
If you want to start using an IUD or IUS, see your GP doctor or go along to your nearest sexual health service.
Natural family planning works by:
- a woman taking her temperature first thing every morning and
- making observations of when her periods start and stop and
- noting changes in her natural discharge.
After several months of diary keeping, she should be able to work out when in the month she's likely to get pregnant and when it's safe to have sex without contraception.
Carried out properly, it can work well in adults. It's not suitable for young people because periods can be irregular.
Stress or illness can also interrupt fertility signs and make this method less effective.
It offers no protection at all against sexually transmitted infections.
If you want to know more, speak to your doctor or visit your nearest sexual health service.
Sometimes known as vasectomy, male sterilisation works by blocking or cutting the tubes that carry sperm out from the testes.
This method is considered permanent. It can sometimes be reversed but fertility doesn’t always return.
Female sterilisation works by blocking or cutting the tubes that allow eggs to pass from the ovaries into the womb.
This can sometimes be reversed but the chance of fertility returning is only 50% to 80%.
To find out more, speak to your doctor or visit your nearest sexual health service.