The only way to be 100% safe is not to have sex at all. But to have sex and stay safe you need to use contraception.
What is contraception?
Contraception is the name for all the different methods of preventing pregnancy. Condoms are the only method of contraception that also reduces the risk of catching an sexually transmitted infection (STI).
There are now many types of contraception, so if something doesn't suit you, you still have other options.
Types of contraception
Here's a very quick rundown of all the different methods.
(M) = for males (F) = for females
- Condom (M) - Latex or polyurethane sheath that covers the penis and holds the sperm after ejaculation so it doesn't go inside the woman.
- Female Condom (F) - Basically a larger version of the male condom that goes inside the woman's vagina.
- Contraceptive Pill (F) - Either the combined pill or the mini-pill. The pill prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg and thickens the mucus around the cervix making it hard for sperm to pass through. Highly effective at preventing pregnancy, there are lots of different types so if you find you get side-effects with one (such as feeling sick, spots and mood swings) you can try another.
- Contraceptive Injection (F) - An injection of hormones given to females every twelve weeks. It can change a women's periods but it is very effective.
- Contraceptive Patch (F) - Small sticky patch you stick on your body (usually upper arms or bum) which releases hormones. You wear one a week (continuously) then have a week's break, when you will have your period.
- Contraceptive Implant (F) - Tiny plastic tube inserted in your arm under local anaesthetic. It slowly releases hormones and can be kept in for up the five years.
- Intra-Uterine Device (F) - Also called an IUD it's a small t-shaped coil fitted in your womb to prevent pregnancy. Can make your periods heavier and is usually not given to women who have not had children.
- Intra-Uterine System (F) - Also called IUS, it's similar to the IUD but is plastic and releases a small amount of hormone. There are less problems associated with the IUS than the IUD.
- Nuvaring (Contraceptive Ring) (F)- Small flexible plastic ring that is placed inside the vagina. Over 99% effective. Inserted into the vagina for 3 weeks then you have a break for a week before starting again. Contains 2 hormones, oestrogen and progestogen and works like the pill.
- Caps and Diaphragms (F) - Small dome-shaped devices that are inserted into the vagina to prevent the sperm meeting an egg. Need to be fitted by a doctor or nurse and you also need to use spermicide with them.
- Natural Methods (F) - You work out when you are fertile and avoid sex (or use protection) at these times. Works best if you have very regular periods. Good idea to get professional support as it can take a while to work out, plus stress can change your cycle.
If you have had unprotected sex you can use emergency contraception up to 5 days afterwards. For more information visit our page on emergency contraception.
If you want to find out more information about different contraceptives such as what they look like and how it works then check out the Healthy Respect website.
Where to access contraception
You can find out more about natural family planning methods, or get contraceptives such as the condom (male and female), the Pill, Mini-Pill and diaphragm free from your doctor or from local family planning clinics. To find you nearest service see the Family Planning Association's search page.
You can buy condoms (male and female) over the counter from chemists, supermarkets and various other shops.
Many areas have a C Card scheme that means you can access free condoms from different drop-in centres around your area. As well as the condoms you can also get advice about sexual health. If you want to know more about what happens at a sexual health clinic, then watch this video: