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The different types of contraception and birth control explained

What is birth control? Birth control and contraceptive methods help protect people from getting pregnant and from catching infections during sexual activity. It is vitally important for adolescents to learn about the many different birth control pills, emergency contraception etc. that will allows them to make safe and healthy decisions for themselves.

Birth control stops pregnancy from happening by keep the egg and sperm apart, stopping egg production and stopping the combined sperm and egg attaching to the lining of the womb.

In the UK, contraception is free for the majority of people, whilst male contraceptive options (condoms) can be purchased from pharmacies and supermarkets. With over 15 different methods and options to choose from, find the one that suits you best can be difficult.

If you’re struggling to find further answers to questions such as “What is birth control?” the National Health Service has an entire web catalogue dedicated with answers and advice.

The 15 different types of contraception/birth control

The long list of different types of contraception can be daunting and off putting to people. Listed below will be a brief overview of each one and how they work. In the UK contraceptive services are free and confidential. Almost all, if not all of the below options will be available for free from: most GP surgeries, community clinics, sexual health clinics and some young people’s services.

Contraceptive cap or diaphragm contraceptive

A contraceptive cap is a circular dome made of thin, soft silicone that’s inserted into the vagina before sex. The cervix is covered so sperm cannot get into the womb to fertilise eggs. This diaphragm contraceptive must be left in place for up to six hours after sex to ensure it’s effective.

Combined pill

Often called “the pill”, the combined pill contains artificial versions of female hormones, oestrogen and progestogen. Naturally, these are produced in the ovaries. When taken correctly, this form of birth control is over 99% effective.

Female condoms

Made from soft, thin synthetic latex or latex. They are worn inside the vagina to prevent sperm from reaching the womb.

Male contraceptive (condoms)

Male condoms are external and are worn on the penis.

Contraceptive implant

The contraceptive implant, otherwise known as Nexplanon, are small flexible plastic rods that are placed under the skin in the upper arm. This should only be done by a doctor or nurse. Progestogen is released into the blood stream to prevent pregnancy and lasts for 3 years.

Contraceptive injection

Similar to the implant, the contraceptive injection release progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Different brands have longer or smaller periods of protection. Dep-Provera is most commonly given in the UK and lasts for 13 weeks, where as other such as Noristerat lasts for 8 weeks.

Contraceptive patch/birth control patch

In the UK the birth control patch is under the brand name Evra. The contraceptive patch is a small sticky patch that’s attached to the skin, allowing it to release hormones that prevent pregnancy.

Coil contraception (Intrauterine Device)

This is a small t-shaped plastic and copper device (coil contraception) that’s put into the womb by a doctor or nurse. Copper is released to stop pregnancy, and can protect against pregnancy for up to 5 and 10 years. Although the official name is Intrauterine Device, it is sometimes also called a coil birth control device.

Intrauterine system

The IUS is a small, t-shaped plastic device that is put into the womb by a doctor or nurse. This can provide protection for up to 3 to 5 years.

Natural family planning

This is a contraceptive method where the woman monitors the different fertility signals during the menstrual cycle. By doing so, you can work out when you’re most likely to get pregnant.

Progestogen-only pill

This method prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop the sperm from reaching any eggs. For it to work, it needs to be taken daily.

Vaginal ring

The vaginal ring is a small soft, plastic ring that is place inside the vagina. A continuous dose of oestrogen and progestogen is released into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy.

The follow final two methods are permanent and are very hard to restore once done. Considerable thought should be put into this before deciding to go ahead with it. Discussions with your doctor and partner would be appropriate.

Female sterilisation

This is an operation that will permanently prevent pregnancy. To prevent eggs from becoming fertilised, the fallopian tubes are blocked or sealed. The operation will be performed under a general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic.


A surgical procedure that cuts or seals the tubes that carry a man’s sperm. Typically carried out under local anaesthetic and take takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Making the best choice according to lifestyle and daily routine

People who are generally well organised and have a regular routine, a wide choice of birth control pills and contraceptive method are available. This is because people who have a predictable day are less likely to forget taking a pill or reapplying a birth control patch.

You may want a method that only needs using when having sex, or a method that needs to be taken every day, such as the progestogen-only pill. Or you may want to consider methods like the injection, patch or implant, which don’t need to be used very day, with some being ‘apply-and-forget’.

Depending on the type of method used, it can last for up to 10 years. They are typically inserted by a health professional into the arm or uterus. The intrauterine device is one of these so called apply-and-forget methods and is suitable for most women. It also won’t interrupt sex, can be used whilst breastfeeding and after it’s been removed, fertility returns to normal.

Another choice to decide is if you’re going to use non hormonal birth control or the opposite. Despite it being popular, hormonal birth control comes with quite a lot of baggage that includes side effects and risks. Hormonal contraceptives have been associated with higher risk of breast cancer, blood clots, and stroke. If for some reason you can’t use hormonal contraceptives, maybe you’ve been diagnosed with thrombosis, using a non hormonal birth control alternative if your best option.

The choice you make will be entirely up to you and your lifestyle. Choices can be discussed with your GP. Your GP could provide further advice and knowledge surrounding different methods.

Emergency contraception and unprotected sex

Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if your method of standard contraception has failed, such as missing the pill or because the condom split during sex.

If you are taking an emergency contraceptive pill, you’ll need to take it within 3 days (Levonelle) or 5 days (ellaOne) of unprotected sex for it to be effective and prevent pregnancy. The sooner it’s taken, the more effective it will be.

The IUD (Intrauterine Device) also fits into the category of emergency contraception. The device can be fitted up to 5 days after unprotected sex for it to be effective. The IUD is the more effective contraceptive method when compared to the pill, with less than 1% of women who use it get pregnant.

If at any time during the two hour period of taking Levonelle or the 3 hours of taking ellaOne you vomit, go to your GP, pharmacist or genitourinary medicine clinic, as you’ll need to take another dose to prevent pregnancy.

In some areas, emergency contraception can be free of charge in pharmacies through a local NHS service (subject to eligibility criteria and pharmacist availability). Ask in store if this applies in your area. You may also be able to get the morning after pill for free on the NHS if it’s prescribed by your GP or a sexual health/contraception clinic. You will have to pay for emergency contraception if you choose to purchase online for future use.

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