This section contains frequently asked questions about contraception.
You can always as a medical practitioner, such as your General Practitioner (GP) any questions you have about contraception.
Much of the content on these pages is reproduced with the kind permission of SHine SA, and is also available in a downloadable leaflet.
- Questions Relating to Condoms
There are so many different types of condoms. Which should I buy?
Condoms are available in a variety of widths, lengths, colours, textures, materials and even flavours. The first priority will be to get the correct fit, as correctly fitted condoms are less likely to tear or come off. Getting the right fit, just as with clothes, will involve a bit of trial and error. You'll need to try a few on! And, just as with clothes, different brands can be slightly different sizes. You will need one that's not so tight that it's uncomfortable and not so loose that it could slip off.
All condoms are designed to do two basic things: prevent pregnancy, and prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, if you expect a bit more from your condom, you might want to think about using thin or ultra-thin ones, as these allow greater sensitivity. Ribbed or shaped condoms are designed to provide additional stimulation to your partner; however, not everyone finds them pleasurable, and they can even cause discomfort for some people, so it's worth chatting with your partner about your preferences. Colours and flavours are of course just personal preference.
Some people are allergic to latex, and there are an increasing number of condom brands offering an alternative. It's also best to use lubrication with a condom, and if you're using a latex condom, remember to use a water-based or silicone lubricant, because oil-based lubrication can damage the latex and make your condom split.
I would prefer not to wear a condom - is there any other form of contraception I can use?
Unfortunately, for men, the condom is the only form of contraception you can personally use. Women have several options to consider if avoiding pregnancy is the only requirement, but you should both remember that the condom is the only form of contraception that also lowers the risk of contracting or spreading STIs.
If you're reluctant to wear a condom because you think you'll lose some sensitivity while using it, you should visit the condom use page to learn more about condom fit and types. If you're nervous about 'losing the moment' whilst putting on the condom, you might like to get your partner involved your partner in putting it on, making it all 'part of the fun'.
Using a condom of the correct size and following the instructions provided on the pack should limit the risk of it breaking, splitting or slipping off. However, if one of these things happens after all, there's a risk of pregnancy. A woman can take emergency contraception (also called the 'morning after pill', though it can actually be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex) to reduce this possibility. Have a look at our condom use page if you need further information.
Be aware that if a condom breaks you and your partner may have been exposed to sexually transmitted infection (STI). You should consider visiting your doctor or a sexual health clinic for tests.
Condoms aren't just for preventing pregnancy; they're also a very effective means of preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If your partner has previously had sex with other people without using a condom, then it it's possible that they might have an STI which they could pass on to you. You can't necessarily tell if you have an STI, as many have no symptoms in their initial stages, so even if your partner says they don't have an STI, they may not be correct.
Your partner may give you many different reasons for not wanting to wear a condom, but none of the usual excuses really stand up to scrutiny. Ask your partner what their reasons are, and try and work through them. If they truly care about you, they'll understand that you want to have safe sex and be willing to compromise. But if, after discussing the issue and looking at options, they still won't wear one, then you might need to consider whether they're truly interested in you and your wellbeing, or just in having sex.
- Questions Relating to Hormonal Contraception
I'm nervous about using hormonal contraception as I've heard it can have many side effects. Is this true?
Hormonal methods of contraception, particularly oral contraception, can have side effects including weight gain, acne, headaches, dizziness, nausea, breast tenderness, irregular bleeding or spotting, decreased sex drive, and moodiness. There is also an increased risk of blood clots, particularly if you're overweight or a smoker. However, these side effects aren't universal, and there are also positive side effects, such as a degree of protection from some forms of cancer, regular periods, reduction in acne and a reduction in menstrual pain.
If you're considering using a hormonal contraceptive, you should be aware that they don't protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections and that you need to use them as directed to ensure maximum effectiveness. If you have concerns about which contraceptive to use, discuss the options with your doctor.
What if I miss taking my contraceptive pill?
Always try to take your contraceptive pill as instructed on the packet, as this is the best method for preventing pregnancy. If you do forget to take one or more pills, re-read the pack instructions for specific directions, as missing a pill will have different implications depending on which type of pill you are taking. If you can't access the instructions, ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider. If neither of these options are immediately available, it's best to use another form of contraception or abstain from sex until you start a new cycle of pills.
I've heard that going on the pill means you will never be able to have a baby, even when you want to. Is this true?
No, it's not true. Being on the Pill doesn't affect your fertility at all, and once you stop taking it your fertility will return to normal and you'll start ovulating within a month or so.
- Other Contraception Questions
What does 'safe sex' mean?
Having safe sex means that you and your partner are protected from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and unwanted pregnancies. You can protect yourself by using a condom when having sex. The condom prevents bodily fluids from transferring between partners. Safe sex is not just about having sex with someone you love and/or who you've been having sex with for some time - unfortunately, being in love doesn't protect you against STIs. You can hear some young people talking about safe sex on this Red Aware YouTube clip .
How does Emergency Contraception (the morning-after pill) work?
Emergency contraception works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg. Without an egg, there is nothing for sperm to fertilise and therefore you can't get pregnant. For maximum effectiveness, emergency contraception should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex - ideally within 24 hours, as its effectiveness diminishes as time after unprotected sex increases, but you can take it up to five days after. If you've taken emergency contraception and you don't start your period within the next three weeks, you should take a pregnancy test.
You can buy emergency contraception from pharmacies or chemists without a prescription, although the pharmacist may ask you a few questions to make sure it's suitable for you, and may not sell it to you if it's been more than 72 hours after you had unprotected sex (this is because of the best-practice instructions given by the manufacturers). You can also get emergency contraception from your doctor or sexual health clinic.
Emergency contraception is not designed to be the only form of contraception you ever use. It's a back-up in case other forms of contraception don't work. Try not to over-use it.
I had sex a week ago without any contraception. Is it too late to use emergency contraception (the morning-after pill)?
Unfortunately, emergency contraception won't be able to help after a week. It's most effective at preventing pregnancy if it's taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. It works by delaying or preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg, so the sooner it's taken the less likely you are to get pregnant. It can be taken up to 5 days after having unprotected sex, but it's much less effective at this point.
You can buy emergency contraception from a pharmacy or chemist without the need for a prescription, although the pharmacist may have a chat with you about your contraception use. You can also get it from your doctor or a sexual health clinic.
Do I need to use contraception every time I have sex?
Unless you and your partner are planning to have a family then yes, you should use some form of contraception every time you have sex. If you have unprotected sex, there's always a chance that you or your partner could get pregnant. It may be a very small chance, but it's still there. Do you want to risk it?
I had sex without using any protection - what should I do now?
Having unprotected sex increases the possibility of getting pregnant for women, and of contracting a sexually transmitted infection for both women and men. If you're female and you don't want to get pregnant, and it's less than 5 days since you had sex, you can take emergency contraception (the sooner you take emergency contraception the more effective it is at preventing pregnancy).
Be aware that you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you should consider visiting your doctor or a sexual health clinic for tests.
Is one form of contraception better than the others? How do I choose?
As you'll see on the Contraception page, there are several methods of contraception available within Australia. Which one you decide to use will depend on several factors: your age, any health conditions you may have, the type of sexual relationship you have, and to a certain extent your personality type - fir example, if you have trouble remembering to do things, will you trust yourself to remember to take a pill every day?
It's worth bearing in mind that most contraceptive methods don't protect against sexually transmitted infections and some can have side-effects. The success rate of the various methods are fairly similar if you make sure to use them correctly, but no method is 100% effective.
If you feel confused by all of the different types of contraception available to you, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about it, or to visit a sexual health clinic where you can get professional advice from someone who understands your circumstances and can help you choose which method is most suitable for you.