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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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What are the different types of contraceptives?

There are many forms of contraception, but they can be broken down into four main categories. The types of female contraception, with examples of each, are as follows:

  • Hormonal or chemical contraceptives

  • Barrier methods

  • Awareness methods

  • Permanent methods

  • Combined/mini pills
  • Patch
  • Ring
  • Injection
  • Implant
  • Intrauterine system (IUS)
  • Intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Condoms 
  • Diaphragms
  • Family planning 
  • Withdrawal 
  • Standard days method
  • Sterilisation

On this page, we’ll discuss each of the types of contraceptive methods to help give you a balanced idea of which may be best for you.

Contraceptive pills

How many different types of birth control pills are available in the UK? Well, the short answer is there are lots. The reason there are so many different types of contraceptive pills is because they were first approved over 60 years ago.

Over the years, the pill has become increasingly available to women across the globe – it’s also become far safer to take. There have been several incarnations of the pill since the sixties, known as ‘generations’. Each has aimed to reduce the risk of certain side effects while still guaranteeing a high level of contraceptive effectiveness.

Certain types of birth control pills contain two synthetic female hormones and some contain only one – but they can affect the body in similar ways, and the important thing is that they both guarantee very high levels of contraceptive protection when used correctly.

Combined pills (Combined oral contraceptive pills)

Combined contraceptive pills, the most commonly prescribed pill, contain two versions of naturally occurring female hormones - oestrogen and progesterone. There are also different versions of these synthetic hormones, which surround generational pill changes over the years, and some affect women in different ways.

Each month, levels of oestrogen and progesterone rise and fall naturally which impacts how and when the female body prepares for pregnancy. Ovulation occurs, for example, and the uterus lining thickens to create a safe environment to receive a fertilised egg.

So, how do combined pills work? When you take combined contraceptive pills, natural levels of these hormones are altered. In doing so, the way in which the body prepares for pregnancy changes. Eggs don’t get released, vaginal mucus thickens which makes it difficult for sperm to pass through the cervix and the uterus lining remains thin - meaning in the (now very unlikely) event an egg does get fertilised, it will have a tricky time implanting itself in the uterus where it would normally grow.

Typically, you take the combined pill for 21 days followed by a seven day break, although it is possible to take the combined pill without any breaks. Sometimes, you won’t take any pills during your break, or some pill packets will contain inactive pills that are included to help you maintain a routine. Certain other combined contraceptive pills are taken for 24 days, followed by only four days of taking placebo pills.

Combined pills are over 99% effective when used perfectly. (Perfectly meaning you never forget to take a pill and always take them at the time you’re supposed to.)

Common side effects associated with the combined pill can include feeling sick, stomach ache, putting on weight, headaches, depressive moods or mood swings and sore or painful breasts. However, because certain combined pill brands contain different versions of female hormones, depending on their generation, switching pills can sometimes help reduce certain side effects.

Pros and cons of the combined pill

Advantages of the combined pill:

  • You’re in control, you can start and stop using the method whenever it suits you
  • Won’t interrupt sex in the same way a condom might
  • Can make periods more regular, lighter or less painful
  • Reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, including of the womb and ovaries
  • Can reduce premenstrual symptoms
  • Can reduce acne
  • May reduce the chance of pelvic inflammatory disease
  • May reduce the risk of ovarian cysts and fibroids

Disadvantages of the combined pill:

  • May cause side effects that clear up over time, including headaches, feeling sick, tender breasts and mood swings.
  • May increase blood pressure for some women
  • Doesn’t protect against STIs
  • Spotting is common for the first few months of using the pill
  • Has been linked with a small but increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer.

Mini pills (Progesterone only pills)

Mini pills offer birth control without oestrogen, they’re also known as progestogen-only pills (POP). These might be more suitable for women who experience oestrogenic side effects when using the combined pill. They’re also a safer choice for women who shouldn’t take the combined pill due to their age, smoking habits or medical conditions.

Traditional mini pills prevent pregnancy by thickening cervical mucus, which stops sperm from reaching an egg. Mini pills which contain desogestrel as their active ingredient can also prevent ovulation from occurring.

Like combined pills, mini pills are over 99% effective when taken perfectly. When taken typically their effectiveness drops to around 91%. This means approximately nine out of every 100 women who use the mini pill will become pregnant.

You take the mini pill every day without breaks in between packs. If you’re over the age of 35 and smoke, it’s safe for you to use the mini pill.

Common side effects associated with the progestogen-only pill include feeling sick, headaches, loss of libido, tender breasts, breast enlargement, mood swings, dizziness, fatigue, bleeding between periods and skipped periods.

Pros and cons of the mini pill

Advantages of the mini pill:

  • Doesn’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • Can be taken postnatally and also when breastfeeding
  • Safe to use if you cannot take the oestrogen hormone
  • You can use it at any age
  • Safer for smokers than the combined pill
  • Can make periods less frequent, lighter or even stop

Disadvantages of the mini pill:

  • Your periods may change and become irregular
  • Doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • You need to remember to take it daily and at a similar time each day (though this is dependent on the brand)
  • Certain medications can reduce mini pill effectiveness

Woman with prosthetic arm pulling her hood back outside

Mini pill vs combined pill

What is the difference between combined pills and mini pills, and is the mini pill safer than the combined pill? The fundamental difference between the two is that combined pills contain two hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) and progesterone-only pills contain, you guessed it, progesterone. Progesterone-only pills (POP) are often called mini-pills.

The mini pill is safer for certain women to take when compared with the combined pill – this includes women who smoke and are older than 35, and it can be taken by women of any age.

What's the best pill for heavy, painful periods?

Can birth control lighten periods? Yes, and birth control for heavy periods is also something you can discuss with your doctor or prescriber.

Both combined pills and mini-pills can be used to treat heavy or painful periods.

Combined pills can also help to regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce period pain. Some are specifically licensed for heavy periods, not just for contraception.

What's the best contraceptive pill?

Reading all of the above might have left you wondering – which pill is best for me? It’s quite natural to feel overwhelmed about the different types of pills, sometimes finding the best one for you is just a matter of trying out which one suits you best. A chat between you and your doctor or prescriber can be a good starting point. But before you do, it’s worth thinking about what’s important to you.

Finding the ‘best’ birth control pill isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. Each has their own pros and cons and certain women may experience side effects when taking a particular pill, whereas others won’t. It’s quite common to switch pills a few times before you find the right one for you.


There are also a number of hormonal contraceptives that aren’t taken orally as tablets. These include the contraceptive patch, ring and intrauterine systems (IUS). You also don’t need to remember to use or administer these methods daily, which can make them more beneficial if you’re prone to forgetfulness or if you struggle to swallow pills. Read on to find out more.

Contraceptive patch

The contraceptive patch, or the transdermal contraceptive patch, is applied to the skin and releases hormones directly into the bloodstream. (It works similarly to a nicotine patch.)

It’s a small, sticky patch that can be applied to any area of the skin - providing it’s clean, dry and not too hairy. It contains and releases two synthetic versions of female hormones called oestrogen and progesterone. When these are absorbed into the bloodstream, they affect how the body prepares for pregnancy.

The main contraceptive patch used here in the UK is known as Evra. It works by releasing hormones which prevent ovulation from occurring each month. However, the patch also causes mucus found in the vagina to thicken, this can block sperm from travelling through the cervix. Lastly, the uterus lining will remain thin - meaning fertilised eggs cannot implant themselves and grow.

You apply a patch and leave it on for seven days. On the eighth day, apply a new one. Do this for three weeks and then spend the fourth week ‘patch-free.’ (You’re still fully protected in the fourth week.)

The most common side effects of the contraceptive patch include headaches, nausea, tender breasts and mood changes, however less than 1 in 10 women experience these. These are more likely to occur when you first start using the patch and usually subside over time.

Pros and cons of the patch

Advantages of the contraceptive patch:

  • Easy application and won’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • You don’t have to think about it every day. You change your patch once a week for three consecutive weeks and then spend a week without one
  • The hormones are absorbed directly into the bloodstream so sickness and vomiting don’t impact how the patch works
  • Can make periods lighter or less painful
  • May help to lessen premenstrual symptoms
  • May reduce the risk of certain cancers including those of the womb or ovaries.

Disadvantages of the contraceptive patch:

  • Might be visible depending on where you apply it
  • May cause the skin to become irritated or itchy, if you’re sensitive to adhesives
  • Won’t protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • Can cause spotting and bleeding in between periods, especially when you first start using it
  • Certain medications make the patch less effective
  • You need to change the patch weekly. If you’re prone to forgetfulness, the implant or an IUD might be a better method of contraception for you.

Contraceptive ring

The contraceptive ring is a small, soft plastic device which is inserted into the vagina. Unlike the contraceptive cap, it doesn’t need to cover the entrance of the womb to work. It contains two synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone, which affect how the body prepares for pregnancy.

The ring works similarly to combined pills and the contraceptive patch. The hormones released by the ring stops ovulation, thickens vaginal mucus, which blocks sperm from passing through the cervix, and changes the environment in the uterus so that fertilised eggs cannot implant themselves.

The contraceptive ring is inserted once a month, which can be optimal for women who struggle to swallow tablets or forget when to take them. When used perfectly, the contraceptive ring is over 99% effective.

Common side effects associated with the ring include vaginal discharge, breast tenderness or headaches. These are more likely to occur when you first start using the contraceptive ring.

Pros and cons of the ring

Advantages of the contraceptive ring:

  • Doesn’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • Easy to insert and remove
  • It’s an ‘invisible’ method, no one can see a patch or find a packet of pills, only you know you’re using it
  • Shouldn’t feel uncomfortable when you have sex
  • You insert it for a month at a time, meaning you don’t have to think about using it all the time
  • If you’re sick or vomit, this won’t impact how the contraceptive ring works or its effectiveness
  • Can help to reduce premenstrual symptoms
  • Periods can become lighter and less painful

Disadvantages of the contraceptive ring:

  • You need to feel comfortable putting your fingers inside your vagina to get the ring in place and to remove it
  • When you first start using the contraceptive ring, spotting or bleeding in between periods can occur
  • It doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • You need to change it monthly, which may not be beneficial if remembering to do this is difficult
  • Certain medications make the ring less effective

Contraceptive injections

The contraceptive injection is a method of birth control which intravenously releases hormones directly into the bloodstream. Depo-Provera, the main contraceptive injection used in the UK,
can provide protection for up to 13 weeks at a time. Other brands provide protection for eight weeks.

Contraceptive injections contain the hormone progesterone, and work in a similar way to the desogestrel mini pill. Ovulation doesn’t occur, vaginal mucus thickens which blocks sperm from passing through the cervix and the environment within the uterus becomes unsustainable for fertilised eggs to implant themselves and subsequently grow.

It’s usually injected into the buttocks, but you can also have them in the upper arm. You can also have them in the abdomen if you’re using Sayana Press, which is an injection you can use yourself. When used and administered correctly, the contraceptive injection is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Common side effects associated with the contraceptive injection include weight gain, mood changes, headaches or migraines, tender breasts and irregular periods.

Pros and cons of the injection

Advantages of the contraceptive injection:

  • Protection lasts for up to 13 weeks weeks at a time
  • Doesn’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • Beneficial if you cannot take oestrogen-based contraceptives
  • You don’t have to think about using the injection daily, weekly or even monthly
  • Safe to use while you breastfeed
  • Medication won’t affect how the contraceptive injection works
  • May make periods less heavy or painful, and can help to reduce premenstrual symptoms.

Disadvantages of the contraceptive injection include:

  • Will not protect you again sexually transmitted infections
  • May take up to a year before your periods and fertility to return to normal
  • Some women say that their appetite increases while using the contraceptive injection
  • You might experience side effects such as headaches, acne, hair loss, low libido or mood changes.
  • Side effects may take a while to settle, once the medication has been injected it can’t be removed as it's designed to stay in your system for several weeks

Contraceptive devices

Contraceptive devices, namely the intrauterine device (IUD) or the intrauterine system (IUS), are small, T-shaped devices that are inserted into the womb through the vagina. They’re also known as coils. This is because the copper in some devices is coiled around a tiny piece of plastic.

IUD (Intrauterine device)

The IUD is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device that’s inserted into the womb. The copper prevents sperm from reaching the unfertilised egg and reduces the chance of a fertilised egg implanting in the womb lining. It's not a ‘hormonal’ contraceptive method because it doesn’t contain or release hormones. Many women prefer it for this reason.

The IUD protects you from pregnancy for between five and 10 years, which might be beneficial if you don’t want to think about contraception regularly. It provides immediate protection and is over 99% effective. In fact, it's the most reliable contraceptive method available other than sterilisation.

Copper IUDs can make menstrual bleeding slightly heavier for some women, so if your periods are already heavy, IUDs probably won’t be your first choice.

Pros and cons of IUD

Advantages of the IUD:

  • You’re protected for five to 10 years, meaning you can forget about the IUD once it’s inserted
  • Works immediately
  • Hormonal side effects do not occur such as acne, headaches and nausea
  • Doesn’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • Safe to use the IUD following birth and while you’re breastfeeding
  • Possible to get pregnant immediately after having the copper coil removed
  • IUD effectiveness isn’t impacted when you take certain medication

Disadvantages of the IUD:

  • Periods may get heavier, more painful or last longer
  • Doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • Uncommon side effects include vaginal bleeding and discharge

IUS (Intrauterine system)

The intrauterine system (IUS) looks similar to the copper coil. It works by releasing tiny amounts of progesterone. It can stop you from getting pregnant for between three and five years.

The effects are similar to certain mini pills - specifically that it thickens vaginal mucus which can block sperm from passing easily through the cervix and reaching an egg. The IUS can also thin the uterus lining which makes it difficult for fertilised eggs to implant, and in a minority of cases the IUS can also prevent eggs from being released.

It’s over 99% effective when inserted correctly, and a medical professional can remove it at any time of your choosing. If you’re aged 45 or older, you can have the IUS fitted and leave it until you start to experience menopause.

If you have the IUS fitted on day one to seven of your menstrual cycle, it’s effective immediately. If you have it inserted on day eight or any day leading to the end of your menstrual cycle, you’ll need to make use of additional contraception, like barrier methods, for seven days.

Common side effects associated with the hormonal coil can include vaginal bleeding, absent, light or infrequent periods, ovarian cysts, painful periods, weight gain, depression, nervousness, headache and migraine, dizziness, abdominal, pelvic or back pain, nausea, acne, excess hair growth, loss of libido, vaginal discharge, vaginal inflammation, tender breasts or the coil getting displaced.

Pros and cons of IUS

Advantages of the IUS:

  • It can remain effective for between three and five years, brand dependent
  • Highly effective method of birth control
  • Doesn’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • Periods usually get lighter, shorter or less painful
  • Periods can stop altogether after using the IUS for one year
  • Safe to use after giving birth and during breastfeeding
  • Medication won’t affect how the IUS works
  • Contains progesterone only, so may be beneficial for women who cannot take oestrogen-based medication
  • You can get pregnant immediately after having it removed
  • Won’t increase your risk of certain cancers including those of the womb or ovaries

Disadvantages of the IUS:

  • Your periods may stop altogether, which might not be agreeable for everyone
  • Initial side effects can occur, including headaches, acne and weight-related problems
  • These may clear up after some time
  • You’re not protected against sexual transmitted infections
  • Infections may occur while having the IUS fitted which can affect the pelvic region

Contraceptive implant

The last hormonal method of contraception on our list is the contraceptive implant, which is a small, flexible plastic rod about the size of a matchstick. The implant is inserted underneath the skin of one of the upper arms by a doctor or nurse. The procedure is quick and should be painless.

The brand of contraceptive implant used here in the UK is Nexplanon, which works by releasing synthetic progesterone into the bloodstream. It lasts for up to three years.

Progesterone is steadily released and prevents eggs from being released in the process of ovulation. It can also cause mucus in the vagina to become thicker, which prevents sperm from passing through the cervical canal. It also changes the conditions inside the uterus to prevent implantation from occurring.

The implant is up to 99% effective when applied correctly by a doctor or nurse, and can be effective immediately if fitted within the first five days of your period. If it’s fitted any day thereafter, and before the first day of your next period, you’ll need to make use of additional contraception like barrier methods for up to seven days.

Common side effects associated with the hormonal implant include acne, headaches, weight gain, tender or sore breasts, irregular bleeding and infection of the vagina.

Pros and cons of the implant

Advantages of the contraceptive implant:

  • Remains effective for up to three years
  • Won’t interrupt sex the same way a condom might
  • A good option for women who can’t use oestrogen-based contraceptives
  • Can be used shortly after giving birth and while breastfeeding
  • You’re fertile immediately after having the implant removed
  • Your periods may become lighter or less painful

Disadvantages of the contraceptive implant:

  • Temporary side effects can include mood changes, breast tenderness, nausea or migraines
  • Your periods may stop altogether
  • Your acne may get worse
  • A small procedure has to be carried out when you have the implant fitted and removed, which can be painful
  • You won’t be protected against sexually transmitted infections while using the implant

Barrier methods

Barrier methods have been around for hundreds of years, specifically condoms which were initially used to prevent the transmission of sexual infections. Today, they are used to prevent STIs and pregnancy. They do so by preventing sperm from being ejaculated into the vagina and cervical canal.

Today, barrier methods mainly comprise condoms, but other examples include diaphragms and vaginal caps.


Condoms are the most popular barrier method used in the UK. Condoms are made from thin latex and are either worn around the penis (external condoms) or worn inside the vagina (internal condoms).

Simply, condoms work by preventing sperm from passing into the vagina and cervix. This means sperm doesn’t reach eggs released during ovulation. Essentially, condoms are a thin layer which keep the penis and vagina ‘separated’ during sex.

When used correctly, external condoms can be up to 98% effective. Because condoms are not medication, they very rarely cause any side effects which is a major advantage over hormonal methods of contraception.

Pros and cons of condoms

Advantages of external condoms:

  • Reliable method of contraception when used correctly
  • Prevent sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV
  • You only need to think about condoms when you have sex, suitable for spontaneous or unplanned sexual encounters
  • Medical side effects from condoms are extremely unlikely
  • Easily available without prescription and tailored for different preferences

Disadvantages of external condoms:

  • Condoms can interrupt the flow of sex and ‘kill the mood’
  • Condoms are highly durable, but can split in rare circumstances when used incorrectly
  • If you’re allergic to latex or certain types of rubber, you may not be able to use condoms
  • You have to pull out soon after ejaculating and particularly before the penis gets soft, ensuring the condom remains in place while doing so

Diaphragms and caps

A contraceptive cap or diaphragm is a circular-shaped dome that’s inserted into the vagina and at the base of the cervix. Typically made from silicone, the contraceptive diaphragm blocks the entrance to the cervix and therefore prevents sperm from passing through to the fallopian tube, where it would normally fertilise an egg.

The contraceptive cap is between 92% and 96% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. You may want to use spermicides while using the cap. Spermicides are a type of contraceptive gel that kills sperm.

You can still catch sexual infections while using diaphragms and they can be difficult to get the hang of at first. You can talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you need more advice. Though there aren’t many serious side effects associated with contraceptive caps, it is possible to develop bladder infections while using them.

You cannot use the contraceptive cap or diaphragm while you’re on your period as there is a link between doing so and toxic shock syndrome, a potentially life threatening condition.

Pros and cons of diaphragms and caps

Advantages of contraceptive diaphragms and caps:

  • You only need to use it when you have sex
  • You can insert it conveniently before sex. Use spermicide if you plan on having it in for three hours or longer

Disadvantages of contraceptive diaphragms and caps:

  • Not as effective as other methods of contraception
  • Doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • Can take some time to learn how to use it properly
  • Can interrupt the flow of sex when inserting it
  • Bladder infection can be a problem for certain women who use caps
  • For some latex and spermicide can be irritating


Permanent contraception refers mainly to either female sterilisation or male vasectomy. Sterilisation refers to any medical procedure or surgery which intentionally leaves a person unable to procreate.

It’s important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of permanent sterilisation and be 100% sure it’s what you want.


Female sterilisation is a medical procedure that either blocks or seals the fallopian tubes to prevent eggs from being released during ovulation, meaning sperm cannot reach and fertilise them. Some procedures are performed while you’re asleep under general anaesthetic, but most are done while you’re awake under local anaesthetic.

Female sterilisation is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and, because it’s permanent, you don’t ever have to think about contraception again after it’s done. (Though sterilisation doesn’t protect you against STIs).

There aren’t many side effects associated with female sterilisation, namely a small risk of complications associated with the surgery including bleeding, infection or damage to other organs.

Male sterilisation, more commonly called a vasectomy, is a similar process that snips or seals the tubes which carry sperm. The procedure takes around 15 minutes and is performed typically under local anaesthetic. Men will still ejaculate semen when they climax but the semen doesn’t contain any sperm.

Male sterilisation is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, in fact it is the most reliable way of preventing pregnancy other than avoiding sex completely. You’ll need to use additional methods of contraception, like barrier methods, for up to 12 weeks after having a vasectomy and until tests show your semen is consistently free of sperm.

Side effects associated with the vasectomy include the scrotum becoming bruised, swollen or even painful and some men experience ongoing problems with their testicles following a vasectomy.

Both female sterilisation and male vasectomies are intended to be permanent - you need to think carefully before going through with either of them. They can be reversed, but reversal is fairly complex and is often unsuccessful. (It’s also highly unlikely to be funded by the NHS).

Pros and cons of sterilisation

Advantages of both male and female sterilisation:

  • Over 99% effective
  • Will not impact your hormones, your sex drive and won’t interfere with the flow of sex the same way condoms might

Disadvantages of both male and female sterilisation:

  • You’re not protected against sexually transmitted infections
  • Cannot be reversed easily
  • Small risks of complications are associated with both surgeries
  • Female sterilisation can cause internal bleeding, infection or damage to other reproductive organs. Male vasectomy can cause haematoma (blood inside the scrotum), sperm granulomas (hard lumps formed by leaking sperm), infection or long-term testicular pain
  • In very rare circumstances - both the vas deferens tubes and the fallopian tubes can reconnect and you can become fertile again.

Male vasectomies are generally said to be safer than female sterilisation, but are not effective immediately the same way female sterilisation is. You need to keep using contraception until tests show your semen is completely free of sperm.

Woman in pink top sat on brown wicker chair looking down and smiling


‘Natural’ family planning or awareness contraception essentially refers to methods which don’t employ devices, systems or medication to prevent pregnancy. Instead they rely on self-awareness techniques and a good understanding of the menstrual cycle and the process of fertilisation. A woman can closely monitor her menstrual cycle to work out the days in which she is less likely to become pregnant.

Another ‘natural’ method of contraception is the withdrawal method, but this is more controversial and isn’t recommended by the NHS. This is because it tends to be less effective at preventing pregnancy when compared with the majority of other methods.

Fertility awareness

Fertility awareness refers to ovulation and menstrual tracking to understand the days in which you are least likely to get pregnant. These are the days you’re able to have sex typically without contraception. When natural family planning is performed consistently and correctly, it’s up to 99% effective.

You can track your temperature and vaginal mucus discharge daily, for example, to predict when you’ll ovulate, and you can also chart your menstrual cycle on a calendar. It can take several months before you fully learn how to track your fertility signals. But once you’re able to do it, it can be highly effective. There are also a number of websites and apps that help you record and chart this information.

There aren’t any side effects associated with fertility awareness methods, but illness or stress may affect the accuracy of your monitoring.

Pros and cons of natural family planning

Advantages of family planning and awareness methods:

  • Doesn’t cause any side effects
  • Awareness methods are acceptable to all cultures and religions
  • The vast majority of women can benefit from fertility awareness, provided they’re taught correctly how to do it
  • Just as you can use awareness methods to prevent pregnancy, you can also use them to help you get pregnant
  • Doesn’t involve hormones or procedures
  • Can help to make you aware of what normal and irregular discharge looks like
  • Helps you ‘get to know’ your body and menstrual cycle better

Disadvantages of family planning and awareness methods:

  • Doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections
  • You need to use additional contraception, or avoid sex, at the times you’re most likely to get pregnant
  • If you don’t follow fertility awareness methods properly they become less effective than other methods of birth control
  • Can take some time before you fully learn natural family planning methods
  • You need to keep daily records of your fertility signs
  • Your fertility signs can be affected by things like stress, lifestyle or illness

Withdrawal method

The withdrawal method, or ‘pulling out’, refers to the process of removing the penis from the vagina entirely before the point of ejaculation has occurred. The aim is to prevent any sperm from entering the vaginal canal and cervix.

How effective is the withdrawal method? Well, it requires an element of self-control, and even then can remain ineffective. It’s typically between 80% and 86% effective, meaning, at worst, 20 out of every 100 couples who practise this method will become pregnant. However, when it’s done perfectly every time, it can be up to 96% effective, which is as effective as certain methods of hormonal contraception.

Pros and cons of the withdrawal method

Advantages of the withdrawal method:

  • It feels ‘natural’, which some people feel condoms don’t
  • No side effects are associated with the withdrawal method
  • It can be used each time you have sex

Disadvantages of the withdrawal method:

  • It’s not very reliable
  • Pre-ejaculation, which can contain sperm, may be released before withdrawal
  • Some men have difficulty timing their ejaculation
  • You need to completely trust your male partner and their ability to properly withdraw entirely before ejaculation, not during or after
  • If your partner’s inhibitions are lowered, if they’ve consumed alcohol for example, they may not time their withdrawal correctly

What's the most effective contraceptive?

The most effective birth control method may also depend on what is most preferable to you and how well you’re able to use it. Here is each birth control ranked by effectiveness:

Method Perfect use Typical use
Combined pills Over 99% effective 91% effective
Mini pills Over 99% effective 91-93% effective
Contraceptive patch Over 99% effective 91% effective
Contraceptive ring Over 99% effective 91% effective
Contraceptive injection Over 99% effective 94% effective
Intrauterine device (IUD) Over 99% effective n/a
Intrauterine system (IUS) Over 99% effective n/a
Contraceptive implant Over 99% effective n/a
Female and male sterilisation Over 99% effective n/a
Male condoms 98% effective 82% effective
Female condoms 95% effective 89% effective
Diaphragms and caps 92-96% effective 71-88% effective
Family planning and fertility awareness Up to 99% effective Around 76% effective
Withdrawal method Up to 96% effective 80-86% effective

While the different types of birth control and effectiveness rates remain over 90% effective when perfect use or application is observed, most people will struggle to use them perfectly all the time. So keep in mind the ‘typical’ rates of effectiveness when you make your decision.

100% protection against pregnancy can never be guaranteed with any method of contraception, but you can vastly lower the risk by ‘doubling up’. This means combining two methods – such as a hormonal method of birth control combined with a barrier method like condoms. Doing so will highly reduce the risk of pregnancy and also protect you against STIs.

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How we source info.

When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.

This page was medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead on August 02, 2022. Next review due on August 01, 2024.

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