What are contraceptives?
Contraceptives, also commonly referred to as family planning or birth control methods, are a range of devices, procedures and medications which assist women to prevent pregnancy. The way they prevent pregnancy differs, but most methods are either hormone or barrier dependent.
Contraceptive methods which are hormone dependent may either:
- Alter the body’s hormones so that an egg cannot be fertilised. Contraceptives that do this are commonly known as hormonal contraceptive methods; or
- Monitor the changes to hormone levels which naturally occur throughout the menstrual cycle, and avoid sex during periods when it is possible to become pregnant. These known as fertility awareness methods.
Barrier methods on the other hand rely on a physical barrier, which prevents the male’s sperm and the female egg coming into contact during sexual intercourse, and in doing so, prevents fertilisation.
Hormonal contraceptives are typically long term methods which provide protection at all times whilst they are being taken, regardless of whether the user is sexually active.
Emergency contraceptives are also hormonal contraceptives which can be taken immediately (within five days) after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy occurring.
Barrier methods are inserted or applied just prior to sexual intercourse. They must be applied before each act of intercourse to protect against pregnancy.
Who uses contraceptives?
Hormonal contraceptives are used by fertile women (i.e. women who experience menstrual cycles, typically aged 15-49) who wish to prevent pregnancy. They are typically used by women who are regularly sexually active, and therefore require ongoing protection from pregnancy.
Barrier methods of contraception are also used by women of reproductive age who wish to prevent pregnancy. However, they are particularly appropriate for women who also need to protect themselves from STIs (i.e. women who have partners of unknown STI status).