Your guide to contraception

Contraception helps you prevent pregnancy. There are 15 available contraceptive methods in the UK.

There's information about all contraception methods on the Sexwise website.

For each method, we look at how it works, how effective it is at preventing pregnancy, and the main advantages and disadvantages.

Contraception needs to be used until the menopause. This is two years after last having a period if you’re aged under 50, or one year if aged over 50. This advice may be different if you’re using hormonal contraception.

Contraception at a glance

Download our Contraception at a glance chart

Download contraception at a glance chart

How do I choose a method?

It's worth taking the time to find out more about each method so you can choose one that suits you.

There are two methods of contraception specifically for men – the external (male) condom and male sterilisation (vasectomy) – and 13 for women.

As well as looking at the Sexwise website you can talk through the different methods with a doctor or nurse.

Some of the things you might want to think about are:

  • whether you (or a partner) want to become pregnant fairly soon, many years away or not at all
  • how you (and/or a partner) want contraception to suit your lifestyle
  • whether you (or a partner) want to use a method every day, every time you have sex or less often.

Your answers should influence your decision about what contraception to use.

Is contraception free and where can I go to get it?

See Contraception: frequently asked questions for more details.

How can I find a contraceptive service?

See Contraception: frequently asked questions for more details.

Emergency contraception

If you’ve had sex without contraception, or think your method might’ve failed there are different types of emergency contraception you can use. You can use emergency contraception up to 5 days after unprotected sex but try and get it as soon as possible.

Can I use breastfeeding as a form of contraception?

Breastfeeding is 98% effective in preventing pregnancy, as long as:

  • you’re fully, or nearly fully, breastfeeding – this means you’re only giving your baby breast milk, or you’re infrequently giving other liquids in addition to your breast milk and
  • your baby is less than six months old and
  • you haven’t had your first period since the birth.

More information about your contraceptive choices after you've had a baby.

What if I get pregnant?

No method of contraception is perfect. If you think you could be pregnant, do a pregnancy test as soon as possible.

You can do a test from the first day of a missed period – before this time the level of pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) may be too low to show up on a test and you may get a negative result even though you are pregnant.

If you don’t know when your next period is due, the earliest time to do a test is 21 days after unprotected sex.

If you’re pregnant you need to think about what you want to do. You can choose to:

  • continue with the pregnancy and be a parent
  • end the pregnancy by having an abortion
  • continue with the pregnancy and choose adoption.

More about your pregnancy choices.

Sexually transmitted infections

Condoms are the only contraception that also help protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). More about STIs.

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This website can only give you general information on contraception. The information is based on evidence-guided research from the World Health Organization and The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

All methods of contraception come with a Patient Information Leaflet which provides detailed information about the method.

Contact your doctor, practice nurse or a sexual health clinic if you’re worried or unsure about anything.