Are you using contraception? Here are some things you might not know.

April 23, 2021

Since ancient times, there have been all sorts of creative and interesting ways of preventing pregnancy. Be it olive oil, crocodile dung, pomegranates or a well-timed sneeze: it seems our ancestors tried it all.

But since the 1960s, scientific research has provided more proven methods of birth control. The most recent products are up to 99% effective when used correctly.

This practical guide will take you through current contraceptive methods, medicines and devices.

Which type of contraception is best for me?

Each contraceptive product or method has advantages and disadvantages. Your choice will depend on your medical history and personal preferences.

Hormonal contraceptives

A hormonal contraceptive contains synthetic hormones that prevent pregnancy. These hormones are called oestrogens and progestogens. They mimic the activity of the hormones produced by the ovaries. They are sometimes also used to treat other medical conditions.

Hormonal contraceptives come in different forms:

  • Oral contraceptive are pills that you need to take daily. There are two main types of oral contraceptive pill:
    • Combined Hormonal Contraceptive (CHC) pills, ‘the Pill’, which contain an oestrogen and a progestogen
    • Progestogen-only pills (POPs), the ‘mini-Pill’ which contain only progestogen. They are useful for people who can’t use oestrogen-containing contraceptives.
  • Vaginal ring (NuvaRing) is a contraceptive product inserted into the vagina. It contains a combination of oestrogen and progestogen. 
  • Contraceptive injections are progestogen-only injections given into a muscle. They prevent pregnancy for 12 weeks, at which point you will need to get another contraceptive injection.

Starting hormonal contraceptives

Traditional start method

  • You start your hormonal contraceptive during the first 5 days of your menstrual cycle
  • Contraception is effective immediately

“Quick-start” method

  • You start your hormonal contraceptive at any other time in your menstrual cycle
  • Allow 7 days for the product to start working
  • Use condoms or abstain from sex during these 7 days to prevent unwanted pregnancy

Speak with a doctor if you’re not sure how to start using a hormonal contraceptive.

Long-term contraceptives

Long-term contraceptives are birth-control devices that stay in your body for a long time (3-10 years). They include contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs). These products are inserted and removed by trained healthcare professionals.

  • A contraceptive implant is a small, flexible rod put under the skin of your upper arm. It can stay there for up to 3 years. It slowly releases a progestogen hormone into your bloodstream.
  • IUDs are small, flexible devices fitted into the uterus (womb), and include:
    • Copper IUDs: These contain no hormones and are made from plastic and copper. They need to be replaced every 5-10 years, depending on the type you use.
    • Hormonal IUDs: These are small, T-shaped devices that slowly release a very low dose of progestogen into the uterus. They can stay there for up to 5 years.

Barrier methods of contraception

You can use a physical barrier to prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching and fertilising an egg. The two main barrier methods are:

  • Condoms: these are sheaths made of rubber or plastic. They’re more commonly purchased as a male contraceptive, but female condoms are also available. They also protect against STIs, including—HIV—stopping them from being passed from one sexual partner to another.
  • Diaphragms and caps are used by women. They fit inside the vagina and prevent sperm from passing through the entrance of the womb (cervix).

Barrier methods of contraception are not as effective at preventing pregnancy as contraceptive pills, implants or IUD contraception.

Other types of contraception

There are a few other types of contraception that you may wish to consider:

  • Vasectomy (also called male sterilisation) is a more permanent type of male contraception. Quick and relatively painless, this surgical procedure is usually performed under local anaesthetic. It’s typically considered permanent. That makes it a big decision that should be fully discussed with your GP beforehand.
  • Female sterilisation usually involves a surgical procedure to cut or block the fallopian tubes. These carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb (uterus). Like a vasectomy, female sterilisation is a big decision. You should discuss this with your GP and/or a specialist.
  • Natural family planning (fertility awareness-based methods) uses natural signs, such as cervical fluid or body temperature, to determine when a woman is at her least—or most—fertile during her menstrual cycle. Natural family planning is thought to be around 75 to 99.6% effective.

Emergency contraception (morning after pill)

A woman can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or when another contraceptive method has failed.

Emergency contraception is sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’. This term is a bit misleading, since it can still be effective 3-5 days after sexual intercourse. It is more effective when taken sooner, however.

You can get emergency contraception without a prescription from a pharmacy or sexual health clinic. However, you should consult a doctor for a follow-up after using the medicine. A doctor can help you with:

What should I know about using contraception?

Birth control medicines and devices are not without their risks. To maximise your safety when using these products:

  • Take or use your contraceptive as directed. If you are having trouble, speak to a GP
  • Book a consultation if you experience any of the side effects mentioned by your GP or listed on your medicine information
  • Remind any doctor or other healthcare professional you visit that you are using a contraceptive; medicinal contraceptives can interact with other medications
  • Practice safe-sex; hormonal contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Is it safe to get an online prescription for the pill?

Like other medications, the pill has benefits and risks. It is best to consult your usual doctor if you’re considering going on the pill.

But if you need a repeat prescription for the contraceptive pill—and your health and STI screening is up to date—you can safely get a prescription using an online service like InstantScripts®.

To speak with an InstantScripts GP:

Request Consultation

To request a script:

Find Your Medication

Our RACGP-accredited doctors are experts in women’s health and will provide discrete and timely care when you haven’t got time to sit in a waiting room.

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