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What You Can Use

There are three main types of contraception available in Australia - barrier methods such as condoms, hormonal methods such as the contraceptive pill, and natural methods such as the 'rhythm' method.

There are many reasons why you may prefer not to have sex, including:

  • lack of interest
  • your beliefs/values
  • the risk of unwanted pregnancy
  • the risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

You should always think carefully about whether you want to 'go all the way' and have full (penetrative) sex with someone. If you decide that you want to have sex, you should also think about how you're going to avoid sexually transmitted infections and, if you're heterosexual - or bisexual and with a partner of the opposite sex - how you're going to prevent unwanted pregnancies, because while it's true that the only way to 100% guarantee that you/your partner won't get pregnant is to not have sex, using contraception correctly and with care means that you can still have fun with each other with very little risk.

Below you will find details of the forms of contraception most frequently used in Australia (though please be aware that this is not a definitive list - you can find out information on other options via our list of useful websites). Remember that the only form of contraception that also reduces the risk of contracting an STI is the condom.

Much of the content on these pages is reproduced with the kind permission of SHine SA, and is also available in a downloadable leaflet.

  • Barrier Methods

    Barrier methods of contraception block prevent sperm from accessing a woman's ova (eggs). If sperm never comes into contact with an ovum, then the woman can't get pregnant. If you want to use barrier methods, there are three main types:

    This is a latex or polyurethane covering that is placed over an erect penis to ensure semen doesn't enter the vagina. If it's used correctly, the male condom is 98 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy, and can also protect against STIs. Using a male condom correctly means using a condom every time you have sex, and making sure that you put it on before there is any contact between the penis and vagina.

    Positives

    Condoms are relatively inexpensive and readily available without prescription from a range of locations, including supermarkets and pharmacies.

    Negatives

    Some people are allergic to latex, which can be painful. Condoms need to be used every time you have sex, so forward planning is necessary, and while they're very effective, they're not quite as effective at preventing pregnancy as hormonal treatments.

    Where to get them

    You can get condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets, sexual health clinics and some pubs and clubs - and for free at the Fix Student Lounge on the North Terrace Campus!

    Instructions for use

    For clear and easy-to-understand instructions and advice on condom use, you can check our information page.

    A female condom is a loose polyurethane sheath with a flexible ring at each end. It sits inside the vagina, and collects semen when the man ejaculates. It can be inserted several hours before having sex and is stronger than the male latex condom - though both inserting it and using it correctly may take some practice!. If it's used correctly every time you have sex, the female condom is 95 per cent effective at preventing pregnancy.

    Positives

    They're relatively inexpensive and empower women to share in the responsibility of preventing STIs as well as unwanted pregnancies. They also stay in place even if your partner loses his erection. They provide a barrier option that people who are allergic to latex can use, don't require a prescription and don't affect your natural hormones.

    Negatives

    Female condoms are not as readily available as other forms of contraception, and although they're relatively cheap they still cost more than the male condom. If your partner's penis accidentally enters the vagina outside of the condom, it becomes useless as a method of preventing both pregnancy and STIs.

    A diaphragm is a soft, shallow, rubber dome that fits inside the vagina, covering the cervix and stopping sperm from entering the uterus.

    Positives

    If your diaphragm is used, fitted and positioned correctly, it's 94 per cent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

    Negatives

    A diaphragm doesn't protect you against sexually transmitted infections. You'll need to see a doctor or nurse to have one fitted, and there's a cost involved. You need to feel comfortable about putting the diaphragm into your vagina before you have sex, and it will need to stay in place for at least six hours after you have sex.

    Where to get them

    As diaphragms have to be fitted by a doctor or nurse, you'll need to contact your doctor's surgery or medical centre to get one.

  • Hormonal Methods

    Hormonal contraception for women is available in the four main forms: tablets that moderate hormone levels (the 'combined pill' and the 'mini pill'), implants or injections that release a controlled level of hormones into the body over a sustained period of time i.e. 'Long Acting Reversible Contraception or LARC, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Most hormonal methods prevent you from ovulating (releasing eggs), meaning that there's nothing in your uterus for sperm to fertilise and so you can't get pregnant. IUDs, however, prevent sperm from fertilising eggs instead.

    You may find that different methods of hormonal contraception suit you better at different times in your life. A doctor or nurse can advise you about the benefits and risks of using oral contraception, and about the alternative methods that are available, and help you to choose the method that best suits your needs. The Dr Marie Stopes websiteLink to Dr Marie Stopes website in a new window has useful information on the various hormonal contraception options.

    Options for hormonal methods of contraception include:

    When used correctly, oral hormonal contraception is a very effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancies. In Australia, there are two types available - the combined pill, known as ‘the pill’, and the mini pill. Neither type protects against sexually transmitted infections (STI). Both types can be purchased from pharmacies, but only if you have a doctor’s prescription. It's important to remember that for oral contraception to work effectively you have to follow the instructions about how to take them exactly - which usually means taking a pill every day, at approximately the same time every day. You can't simply take a pill when you think you're likely to have sex and expect to be protected.

    The Combined Pill

    The combined pill contains synthetic versions of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen, both of which occur naturally in females. Together, these hormones prevent the monthly release of an egg into your uterus, and also thicken your cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus.

    Positives

    When used as recommended, the combined pill is 99.7% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. It usually makes your periods shorter, lighter and more regular, and can decrease symptoms associated with periods, such as cramping, mood swings and headaches. It also reduces the risk of cancer of the ovaries and uterus. You can use it to used to safely skip periods. It usually helps to treat acne.

    Negatives

    If you don't take your pill every day it won't work to protect you from pregnancy. The pill is also more costly than some other forms of contraception, and you have to renew your prescription regularly, which requires a visit to the doctor or medical clinic  There can be side effects including weight gain, nausea, breast tenderness and headaches. On rare occasions there can be serious complications such as deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), heart attacks and strokes. The combined pill is not suitable for all women, so you'll need to discuss with your doctor whether it's appropriate for you. It has been suggested that using the combined pill may increase the risk of breast cancer by a very small amount, but studies have been inconclusive so far. Vomiting and diarrhoea can prevent the absorption of the hormones in the combined pill, meaning you're at risk of pregnancy for a month, and some antibiotics can also interfere with the pill and prevent it from working.

    Mini Pill

    The only synthetic hormone contained in the mini pill is progesterone, a hormone that naturally occurs in women. The mini pill thickens the mucus in the cervix, preventing sperm from entering the uterus and fertilising any egg that may be there.

    Positives
    When it's used as recommended, the mini pill is 99.7% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. It provides a possible alternative for women who can't take synthetic oestrogen. It can be can be taken whilst breastfeeding.

     

    Negatives

    You have to take the mini pill at the same time each day, give or take 3 hours, for it to be effective. Vomiting and diarrhoea can prevent the absorption of the hormone in the mini pill, and some antibiotics can interfere with its effectiveness. The mini pill can produce unpredictable bleeding patterns.

    The contraceptive implant is a hormonal implant shaped like a small rod the size of a matchstick containing etonogestrel, a progesterone-like hormone that prevents ovulation and also thickens the mucus in the cervix (entrance to the uterus), preventing sperm from entering the uterus. The rod is inserted under the skin on the inside of your upper arm. It slowly releases its hormone load to provide protection against pregnancy for a period of three years.

    Positives

    The biggest positive for implants is that you don't need to remember to take a pill or carry something around with you, the way you do for other forms of contraception. Implants are almost 100 per cent effective and last for three years, and they're relatively cheap. At most, it takes one week for the implant to start working (depending on what point of your menstrual cycle it's inserted at). Breastfeeding mothers are able to safely use the implant as their means of contraception, and after the implant is removed you usually start ovulating again quite quickly.

    Negatives

    The implant can cause bruising and discomfort for up to a week. Your periods may become irregular. The implant can cause headaches, acne, breast tenderness and increased appetite. The implant may move from its original position under the skin, and there's a slight risk of infection and bleeding around it. The implant doesn't provide protection from sexually transmissible infections (STIs). Some medications can also make the implant less effective, so you'll need to discuss it with your doctor.

    Where to get them

    Hormonal implants need to be inserted by a trained doctor, using a local anaesthetic. You'll therefore need to make an appointment with your local GP to discuss this method of contraception further.

    The contraceptive injection is a hormonal injection given every 3 months. It prevents ovulation and thickens the mucus in the cervix, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. It can also be used to treat women with menstrual problems. Each injection lasts for between 12 and 14 weeks.

    Positives

    The injections are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, and you don’t have to remember to do something every day the way you do with the oral contraceptive. They're safe to use whilst breastfeeding, and around 50% of women experience no bleeding while using the injection. There are no medicines which make it less effective.

    Negatives

    You'll need to remember to get your injection every 3 months. Some women experience side effects such as headaches and weight gain, depression and irregular periods. Hormonal injections can't protect you from STIs, and they are not reversible, which means that if you decide you want to get pregnant, you'll need to wait until your most recent injection has worn off. This means of contraception is not suitable for all women and it can be associated with a loss of bone density.

    There are two types of 'Long Acting Reversible Contraception' (LARC) available in South Australia. One is the copper IUD, and the other is the hormonal IUD. Both of these are small T-shaped devices that are placed inside your uterus. The main difference between them is that the copper IUD is made of plastic and copper and doesn't contain any hormones, while the hormonal IUD is made only of plastic, and contains the hormone progestogen. Copper IUDs work by preventing sperm from reaching the egg and preventing the egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus. Hormonal IUDs work by thickening the mucus at the neck of the uterus and blocking sperm from entering. They also change the lining of the uterus to make it harder for a fertilised egg to take hold.

    Copper IUDs are known by the brand names Copper T and Multiload, and the hormonal IUD is known by the brand name Mirena. Copper IUDs last for between five (Multiload) and ten (Copper T) years, and the hormonal IUD (Mirena) works for five years. All IUDs have one or two soft threads on the end. These thin threads hang through the cervix (the opening at the entrance of your uterus) into the top of your vagina and let you check that the device is still in place.

    You can find more detailed information about IUDs in SHine SA's downloadable pamphlet here.

    Positives

    IUDs are between 98 and 99% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. They're a 'fit and forget' type of contraception, meaning that you once you've had an IUD inserted, you don't need to think about contraception each time you have sex. Once placed in the uterus, a Copper T can remain there for up to ten years, and a Multiload or a Mirena for up to five years - IUDs are a very cheap form of contraception if used for their full lifespan! The hormonal IUD Mirena can make periods much lighter, or even non-existent, for many users. All IUDs can be removed at any time by a specially trained doctor or nurse, and fertility returns to normal immediately after the device is removed.

    Negatives

    IUDs provide no protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or HIV, so you'll need to use barrier methods every time you have sex too. IUDs have to be inserted by a doctor or trained nurse, and can be uncomfortable or difficult to insert, particularly for women who haven't had children. Copper IUDs can cause heavier or more painful periods, and they aren't a good choice if you have anaemia (low blood iron) or if you already experience heavy or painful periods. Hormonal IUDs can also have some side effects, including breast tenderness, headaches and acne. If this method of contraception does fail and you get pregnant, there's an increased likelihood of an ectopic pregnancy - that is, a pregnancy that develops outside of the uterus.

    Where to get them

    IUDs and IUSs have to be inserted by a doctor or trained nurse/midwife, so you'll need to go to your doctor or a sexual health clinic to have an initial assessment and schedule your insertion.

    Instructions for use

    After your first period following the insertion of your IUD, you'll need to check that it's still in place. You can do this by putting one or two fingers into your vagina and feeling for the strings. You should also do this if you have severe or unusual pain. If you can't feel the string of your IUD, if you think the string is longer than it should be, or if you can feel the hard stem of the IUD, contact your doctor or sexual health clinic immediately.

  • Fertility Awareness Based Methods

    Fertility awareness based methods of contraception are a good choice for people who can't use 'man-made' contraceptive methods such as the Pill or condoms, or who prefer not to. If you plan to use fertility awareness based methods, though, it's important to be aware that the risk of getting pregnant is higher than for any other method of contraception described on this page - but also lower than taking no precautions at all.

    Using fertility awareness based methods of contraception, you can learn to identify the time of the month when you or your partner are most likely to get pregnant - that is, when you're ovulating - and avoid having sex during that time. The most useful signs to look for are a thickening of the cervical mucus and a slight increase in body temperature, and of course your position in your menstrual cycle. You can record these in a diary or chart and use them to predict when you're most likely to be fertile. You can use the prediction to avoid having sex on your fertile days, but couples trying for a pregnancy often use this method too, to identify when to have sex to increase the likelihood of pregnancy!

    Fertility awareness based methods require a lot of motivation, commitment and co-operation from both partners to work properly, and it's important that you're taught how to use them properly by a trained professional. You can find out more about fertility awareness based methods from SHine SA's downloadable pamphlet here, or contact the Australian Council of Natural Family Planning for more details.

    Remember that fertility awareness-based methods of contraception don't protect you against STIs at all.

  • Emergency Contraception

    Emergency contraception (EC) is sometimes called the 'morning-after pill', but this name is misleading, as it can actually be taken up to 5 days after having unprotected sex! You can use it if your usual method of contraception fails - for example, if a condom breaks, or if you've been sick or missed taking two or more consecutive contraceptive pills - if you didn't use contraception, or if you were sexually assaulted.

    Emergency contraception consists of a high dose of the hormone progestogen, which delays ovulation and thus decreases the likelihood of pregnancy. It may also change the lining of the uterus so that a fertilised egg can't take hold there, and thicken the cervical mucus so that sperm can't enter the uterus. It's 95% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 24 hours of having unprotected sex. However, its effectiveness decreases the longer you wait. If you take it 5 days after having sex, it's only about 60% effective.

    You can buy emergency contraception over the counter at pharmacies. However, it's important to be aware that some pharmacists will only supply it within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, due to the recommendations in the product information. Other places that supply emergency contraception are SHineSA clinics, Clinic 275, the Pregnancy Advisory Centre, and many public hospital emergency departments.

    Taking emergency contraception will not harm a pregnancy that's already started, so if you don't get your period within 3 to 4 weeks of taking emergency contraception, make sure you do a pregnancy test to check that it's worked properly. See your doctor if you have any other concerns.

    You can find more detailed information about emergency contraception in SHine SA's downloadable leaflet here.

 
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