The main points
- You have the right to access contraception and control your fertility.
- Most women who use contraception have little trouble with side effects.
- There are types of contraception that you don’t have to remember to use every day. They can last from three to ten years. They are called LARCs or Long Acting Reversible Contraception.
If you’re having sex and you don’t want to get pregnant, you need to use contraception.
Contraception is also called birth control or family planning.
Every month your ovaries produce an egg. The semen that is released when a man ejaculates contains millions of sperm. It takes only one of these sperm to fertilise one of your eggs to begin a pregnancy. Using contraception reduces your risk of getting pregnant when you have sex.
Choosing your contraception
This fact sheet gives an overview of the methods of contraception available in Australia. To find the best one for you, speak with a doctor or nurse.
Long acting reversible contraception (LARC) is available and gives safe, effective contraception over a number of years, depending on the type.
For more on each contraception method, see our other fact sheets.
A contraceptive implant is a LARC. It is a small plastic rod that is placed under the skin of your upper arm. It slowly releases a low dose of the hormone progestogen, which stops your ovaries releasing an egg each month. You will notice a change to your period or it may stop altogether.
The implant will last for three years and is an excellent method of preventing pregnancy. It can easily be removed and won’t stop you from getting pregnant later on.
An IUD is a small contraceptive device that is placed in your uterus. An IUD is also a LARC. There are two kinds of IUD:
- copper IUD (Cu-IUD) – lasts for 5 to 10 years
- hormone-releasing IUD – lasts for 5 years.
An IUD stops sperm from reaching and fertilising an egg.
It also changes the lining of your uterus so a fertilised egg won’t stick to it.
An IUD can be easily removed by a doctor or nurse and won’t stop you from getting pregnant later on.
The copper IUD may make your periods heavier and the progestogen IUD will make your periods lighter or stop them completely.
Oral contraceptive pills
There are two main types of contraceptive pills that must be swallowed every day.
The COC has two hormones (oestrogen and progestogen) that stop the ovaries releasing an egg each month and thickens the mucus in your cervix. The COC may also reduce acne and menstrual bleeding and pain. The combined pill is very good at preventing pregnancy when used correctly.
This pill has only one hormone and works by changing the mucus at the entrance to the uterus so that sperm cannot pass through to fertilise the egg.
The POP is different to the COC because it doesn’t stop you ovulating (releasing an egg). The POP is very good at preventing pregnancy when used correctly.
Emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the ‘morning-after pill’)
If you had sex without contraception, or you had trouble using your regular method (missed pills or broken condom), you can take an emergency pill to prevent pregnancy.
Emergency contraceptive pills are best taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, ideally within 24 hours (1 day), but still work well within 96 hours (4 days). You can take ECP within 96 to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex, but it won’t be very effective. The emergency pill is available from the chemist with no prescription.
The vaginal ring is a soft plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina. It slowly releases low doses of two hormones, oestrogen and progestogen that are absorbed into your body. It works in a similar way to the COC to prevent pregnancy. The vaginal ring is inserted for three weeks. You remove it for one week to have your regular period. After the week without the ring, you insert a new one.
Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) is a long-acting progesterone hormone that is given as an injection every 12 weeks.
The male condom is a fine rubber or synthetic sheath that is worn on an erect penis. It collects the sperm and stops them entering your vagina and uterus. You can buy condoms from a chemist or supermarket. Condoms reduce the risk of both pregnancy and STIs. Condoms are effective if they are used correctly. If they are not used correctly, which is common, you have a significant risk of getting pregnant or catching an STI.
A latex-free female condom is also available. It fits loosely in your vagina and stops sperm from entering your uterus. A soft removable ring helps to insert it as well as keeping it in place. A large flexible ring stays on the outside of the vagina covering the vulva (outside of the vagina). If used correctly, the female condom reduces the risk of both pregnancy and STI. It is more expensive and less readily available than the male condom.
A diaphragm is a soft silicone cap worn inside the vagina to cover the entrance to the uterus (the cervix). It stops the sperm from getting into the uterus. A diaphragm can be used over and over again. You must insert the diaphragm before having sex (up to six hours before) and leave it in for six hours after.
Natural methods of contraception include the calendar (rhythm) method, cervical mucus method, temperature method or a combination of these methods. These methods help you identify the days you are fertile. Avoiding sex on these days can prevent pregnancy. These methods take practice before you can use them accurately and are best when your periods are regular.
This is when the man takes his penis out of your vagina before he ejaculates and sperm is released. This doesn’t work if he forgets to withdraw his penis or is not quick enough. Also there may be some sperm in the pre-ejaculate (fluid that comes out of his penis before he ejaculates). If he ejaculates at the entrance to your vagina some sperm may still get in and you could get pregnant.
Both men and women can have a simple operation to make them sterile. The operations are permanent. You would only have these operations if you don’t want any more children. For women, the operation involves blocking the fallopian tubes to stop the egg traveling from your ovaries to your uterus. There is also a procedure where tiny inserts are placed inside your fallopian tubes. This procedure can be done through the vagina and can be done while you are awake.