Contraception, also known as ‘birth control’, is a way of preventing pregnancy. Some types of contraception like condoms also protect against STIs. When choosing the right form of contraception for you and your partner, you will need to consider effectiveness, cost, any possible side effects, and your lifestyle. Some of the most common contraceptives are listed below.
Condoms are a latex or polyurethane sleeve worn on the penis. They should be used every time you have sex. Condoms are a barrier (physical) method of contraception and are very effective at preventing both unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STIs. They are also affordable, readily available and convenient as you do not need to visit a doctor for a prescription or remember to take a pill every day. You can buy condoms from many places including pharmacies, supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores. There are other forms of contraception listed below that you may wish to use in addition to condoms.
The contraceptive pill
There are several types of hormonal contraceptive pills (‘the pill’) for women under many brand names, but they all work by preventing ovulation – the release of an egg from the ovaries. Most pills need to be taken every day at around the same time for maximum effectiveness with a pill-free break usually taken for seven days every 28 days. You will need a prescription from a doctor to get the pill, so see your general practitioner to discuss which one could be suitable for you.
Other contraceptive options
There are numerous other methods of contraception, such as the emergency contraceptive pill (also known as the ‘morning after pill’), contraceptive injections which last for 12 weeks, contraceptive implants which last for 3 years, intra-uterine devices (IUDs) which last for 5-10 years, and more. Speak to your doctor about the wide variety of options available to you.
Sexual health checks
If you are sexually active (having sex) you should get a sexual health check once a year as a precautionary measure to make sure everything is okay. The check will be performed by a doctor, nurse or other health worker who will ask you questions about your sexual activity, perform a physical examination, and take swabs, urine or blood samples if testing is required.
You should also get a check-up straight away if you have been sexually assaulted or you are experiencing any symptoms that could indicate an STI, for example bumps, sores or rash around the genitals or mouth, pain during urination or sex, itchiness, discharge or abdominal pain, as well as painful or swollen testicles in men and abnormal bleeding or periods in women. However, be aware that some STIs such as chlamydia often have no symptoms, which is why an annual check is important.