When safe sex comes to mind, the first thought that will pop into the minds of most, is the humble condom.
And for the female of the species that is likely followed by the contraceptive pill.
But, while these are without a doubt the best known forms of contraception, there are in fact, 15 different types of contraception available in the UK – all of which are free through the NHS.
Of these 15, there are still only two options available to men, the male condom and a vasectomy, or sterilisation – one of the more drastic options.
Scientists are, however, in the process of developing two new options, the male pill and male contraceptive injection.
To mark World Contraception Day, Natika Halil, chief executive of the sexual health charity, the Family Planning Association, told The Sun Online more about the different methods of contraception available, and who they best suit.
Long-acting reversible methods are the most effective methods we have because they don?셳 rely on you remembering to take or use themNatika Halil, chief executive of the sexual health charity, the Family Planning Association
Though not as commonly used as the Pill or condoms, there are four methods of contraception which do not require you to remember to take them each day, or when you have sex.
Ms Halil said: “Once you have them they last for months or years.
“They are the most effective methods we have – other than sterilisation – because they don’t rely on you remembering to take or use them, so they’re incredibly reliable at preventing unplanned pregnancy and great if you have trouble remembering to use methods like the Pill.”
Just because they are long-lasting options, Ms Halil said “it doesn’t mean you can’t stop using them sooner if they don’t suit you, or you decide you want to get pregnant”.
The IUD or copper coil
This is a small plastic and copper device that is fitted in a woman’s womb, and can last for between five and 10 years.
The coil is more than 99 per cent effective, but can cause heavier or painful periods in some women.
Ms Halil told The Sun Online: “We still hear the myth that women who’ve never been pregnant can’t have one – but actually most women can use one.
“It’s a good option for women who can’t, or don’t want to, use hormonal methods of contraception.”
The coil can also be used as an emergency contraception, and is more effective at preventing pregnancy than the emergency pill.
Other long-lasting options
The other three long-lasting methods all release the hormone progestogen.
Progestogen-only contraception is good if you can?셳 use oestrogen methods and in some women can help reduce heavy and/or painful periods, although혻it can혻also cause irregular bleeding.
Most women can use progestogen-only contraception but a doctor or nurse will always check your medical history first.
This is a small flexible rod that goes under the skin in your upper arm and releases a progestogen hormone.
It?셲 more than혻99 per cent effective and lasts for three years.
The IUS is a small plastic device put into your uterus where it releases a progestogen hormone.
It can last for three to five혻years and is more than 99 per cent혻effective.
Like the IUD, most women can have one, whether or not they have ever been pregnant.
This is one of the most commonly used long-acting methods as it?셲 widely available from GPs as well as contraception and sexual health clinics.
It involves having an injection containing the hormone progestogen every eight to 13혻weeks.
It often stops your periods completely which a lot of women (but by no means all) see as an advantage.
It?셲 not as long-acting as the other long-lasting혻methods and for it to be most effective you need to get your next injection on time.
It?셲 99 per cent effective if used perfectly every time but in real life it?셲 around 94 per cent effective.
Ms Halil said: “Most women can have one but it won?셳 suit you if you?셱e planning to get pregnant quite soon – periods and fertility can take up to a year to get back to normal after stopping the injection.
“And it isn’t the right option if you don?셳 want your periods to change.”
This pill is another of the common forms of contraception.
It relies on a woman remembering to take the pill every day, so thought it is more than 99 per cent effective if used perfectly every time, the reality is a little different.
Typically, it is around 91 per cent effective.
Ms Halil said: “It may help with pre-menstrual symptoms and painful periods.”
Condoms are still one of the most popular choices and have the big advantage of being the only method to also help protect you from sexually transmitted infectionsMs Halil
The combined Pill
Combined hormonal methods contain both oestrogen and progestogen and usually make your periods regular, lighter and less painful, making them a popular choice.
However, not all women can use combined methods.
Ms Halil explained: “A doctor or nurse will always need to go through your medical history first ??and they can have some serious side effects to look out for.”
The combined pill is still one of the most commonly used methods but it does rely on you remembering to take a pill every day.
Although it?셲 99혻per cent혻effective if used perfectly every time, in real life it?셲 around 91 per cent effective.
The vaginal ring and the patch
The contraceptive vaginal ring and the contraceptive patch release the same hormones as the pill but the ring lasts for three weeks and the patch only needs to be changed once a week.
So if you want a combined method but taking a pill every day is a problem, these can be better choices, Ms Halil said.
Condoms are still one of the most popular choices and have the big advantage of being the only method to also help protect you from sexually transmitted infections.
They?셱e suitable for everyone (although if you have a latex allergy you?셪l need a non-latex type) but they do need to be used carefully.
When used perfectly every time, male condoms are up to 98 per cent effective and female condoms up to 95 per cent effective.
But, Ms Halil warned, if you don?셳 follow the instructions every time they’re only around 82혻per cent혻effective (male condoms) and 79 per cent effective (female condoms).
Combined hormonal methods contain both oestrogen and progestogen and usually make your periods regular, lighter and less painful, making them a popular choice
She said: “You can use condoms alongside a different method of contraception for added protection but never use a male and female condom at the same time as they can damage each other.”
Diaphragms and caps
Diaphragms and caps are another barrier method of contraception ??small latex or silicon devices which fit inside your vagina and cover the cervix –혻entrance to the womb.
Ms Halil said they only have to be used when you have sex, and they are 92-96혻per cent혻effective with perfect use, or 71-88 per cent in real life.
Natural family planning
This is a혻method of contraception which involves using fertility indicators like body temperature, cervical secretions and the length of your menstrual cycle to help you avoid (or plan) pregnancy.
It is up to 99 per cent effective, although in real life it?셲 around 76 per cent effective, Ms Halil warned.
She added: “Sadly there are still only two options that can be used by men ??male condoms and vasectomy, but work is ongoing to develop new methods for men.”