The Independent Pharmacy

Your Guide To The Different Types Of Female Contraception

Andy Boysan
Andy BoysanBPharmDirector & Superintendent Pharmacist

Reviewed on 14 Feb 2024

There has never been a better time for women in terms of contraceptive healthcare. For women who wish to prevent pregnancy or reduce the risk of STIs, both your GP's office and local pharmacy provide a dizzying array of products to achieve that goal. The types of contraceptives are numerous, and they range from a wide variety of pills to multiple barrier methods. No matter what your personal preference, female contraception is widely available, highly varied, and easy to procure from The Independent Pharmacy.

Different types of female contraception & how they work

Depending on the type you choose, contraception prevents STIs and pregnancy in various ways.

Pills or hormonal contraceptives

These are the most popular contraceptive method among women. Birth control pills are taken orally and emit a low dose of synthetic hormones that suppress ovulation and inhibit the movement of sperm and the implantation of eggs. All of these actions lead to a significantly reduced chance of becoming pregnant following unprotected intercourse.

There are numerous contraceptive pills available on the market to suit each woman’s individual circumstances. Some may be taken every day and will stop your periods whilst others are taken in cycles with a regular period in-between. Oral contraceptives by themselves do not prevent against HIV/STIs and should be used in conjunction with a barrier method. Oral hormonal contraceptives have the advantage that they can be taken every day and do not require any interruption during sex.

There are two main types of contraceptive pills: combined pills and progesterone-only pills:

Combined pills

  • Are over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when they are taken regularly, as prescribed.
  • Are normally taken at the same time every day for 21 days, followed by a 7 days break when you will have a period. You start the next 21-day cycle after this. Note: there are different cycle patterns depending on the type of combined pill you are prescribed - always follow your GPs instructions.
  • May help with PMS or heavy periods - your GP will be able to advise you on the right combined pill for this.
  • Can be used to delay a period safely by running two cycles back-to-back.
  • Does not make you gain weight - there is no scientific evidence to prove this.
  • Are not suitable for women over 35 who smoke, or women with certain medical conditions.
  • Can be affected by other medicines - check with your GP to ensure there are no interactions.
  • May not be effective if you vomit or have diarrhoea within three hours of taking the pill.
  • Carries very small risks of serious side effects such as blood clots and cervical cancer.

You can read more about combined pills here.

Progesterone-only pills

  • Are over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when they are taken regularly, as prescribed.
  • You take a pill at the same time every day with no breaks in between packs.
  • Normally cause your periods to stop or become much lighter.
  • Are more suitable for women who have high blood pressure, are overweight, that smoke, are over 35, or have a history of blood clots.
  • Can be affected by other medicines - check with your GP to ensure there are no interactions.
  • May not be effective if you vomit or have diarrhoea within three hours of taking the pill.
  • Can cause acne or breast tenderness (this normally only lasts for a few months after starting the pill).

You can read more about progesterone-only pills here.

Morning after pills

In the event of barrier or hormonal birth control failure, there also exist morning-after pills, which are single pills, taken orally, that can prevent pregnancy for up to five days after the event of unprotected sex. Emergency contraception (EC) can inhibit implantation and delay ovulation if it has not already occurred.

Emergency contraception is ineffective against an egg that has already implanted. This means that emergency contraception must be taken as soon as possible, but within 72 hours and 120 hours for Levonelle and EllaOne respectively. EllaOne is now considered to be the best form of emergency contraception due to its longer window of action. It remains very effective during the entire 120 hour period following unprotected sex, whereas the effectiveness of Levonelle decreases to less than 60% by 48-72 hours.

Emergency contraception should only be used when regular methods of contraception, such as barrier methods like condoms, have failed and there is a risk that unprotected sex has occurred. It should not be used regularly as the first line of contraception.

Remember, hormonal contraceptive pills, whether they are regular contraceptive pills or emergency contraception, can protect against pregnancy but does not protect against STIs.

Barrier methods

Condoms are some of the most popular choices of contraception when it comes to family planning. With a barrier method like condoms, the contraceptive device acts as a literal barrier between egg and sperm. This means that as well as helping to prevent pregnancy, if used properly, they can reduce the risk of STIs as well. Condoms and other barrier methods carry the advantage that they do not need to be incorporated into your daily routine and can be used as and when required.

What contraception can The Independent Pharmacy supply?

At The Independent Pharmacy, our Online Doctor is able to offer women repeat supplies of their contraceptive pills (see below for a full list) that have been previously prescribed by their GP, following an online consultation. The Independent Pharmacy can help you to quickly and easily get a repeat supply of your pill if you can’t make it to your GP. Our services are economical, easy, and confidential.

The Independent Pharmacy service is able to make repeat supplies of your current contraceptive pill from the following list:

Brevinor, Cerazette, Cerelle, Cilest, Cilique, Desogestrel 75mcg, Dianette, Eloine, Feanolla, Femodette, Femodene, Femodene ED, Femodette, Gedarel 20/150, Gedarel 30/150, Kayta, Levest, Loestrin 20, Loestrin 30, Logynon, Logynon ED, Lucette, Mercilon, Microgynon, Microgynon ED, Millinette 20, Millinette 30, Noriday, Norimin, Ovranette, Rigevidon, Synphase, Triadene, Triregol, Yasmin, Zelleta.

You can now also buy the progesterone-only pill over-the-counter without the need for a prescription as Lovima tablets have been approved for pharmacy supply.

As a woman, you may have to try a few different birth control options until you find one that works for you. There are other options like the hormonal coil, natural planning, and the implant that your GP can take you through. One of them might be appropriate for you.

Related Guides

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Scott McDougall
Written by Scott McDougall

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