Your guide to protecting yourself against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
In a nutshell
Whatever the state of your love life right now, even if it's non-existent, you owe it to yourself to know about contraception. There's a wide range of different methods on offer to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Just be aware that only condoms also guard against sexually transmitted infection. Here's the lowdown on the lot.
In contraception terms, a barrier is a block that physically prevents sperm from entering the womb. The male condom is made from thin latex (or polyurethane), and fits over the erect penis. The female condom is made from polyurethane and is inserted inside the vagina before sex. Diaphragms and caps are each designed to fit over the female cervix, while all methods are most effective when used along with a spermicidal. Condoms can also be used in oral and anal sex, to prevent the transfer of sexually transmitted infections.
Hormones are basically chemicals that occur naturally in the body, which are used to control certain functions. Some hormones can be created artificially and used to encourage the body to behave in a certain way. The combined or progesterone only pills are hormonal contraceptives. Hormonal methods of contraception are a safe and effective method of birth control for women, though none protect against sex infections.
Over 60% of you who responded to TheSite.org's Sexual Health Survey choose condoms as your most popular form of contraception while 23% are on the pill.
These are tiny devices (about the size of a matchstick) inserted into the womb through the vagina and cervix. There are several different types, including the IUS which contains slow release hormones. Both methods prevent sperm meeting an egg, or may stop a fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
Using natural indicators, such as changes in body temperature and/or cervical mucus, a woman is able to calculate what days she is fertile each month. When she knows she is fertile, she and her partner avoid sex or use a barrier method such as condoms. These techniques can be complicated, and take a great deal of commitment.
A permanent method of preventing pregnancy for men or women, often because they have decided they don't want any more kids. For women, it involves an operation to cut or seal the fallopian tubes. For men, it means a procedure (called a vasectomy) to cut or block the tubes carrying sperm from the testes to the penis. It is unlikely that a UK surgeon would perform a sterilisation operation on a young person who hasn't had any children.
Safe oral sex
Contraception isn't all about preventing pregancy but about protecting your sexual health as well. Remember, it's not just penetrative sex that transfers STIs. You can catch chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, LGV and gonorrhoea from having unprotected oral sex. The HPV virus, which can cause warts and (though rarely) cancer, can also be caught from having oral sex. Make sure you're protected and practice safe oral sex by using a condom or dental dam.
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