Guide to the Most Common Birth Control Methods

Oral contraception (the pill)

This is a set of pills usually only available on prescription. The combined pill must be taken one each day for 21 days, starting on the fifth day after menstruation begins and ending on the 25th day. During the gap when the pill is not taken, bleeding takes place.

The combined pill contains two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, which control the reproductive organs to prevent ovulation. The mini-pill contains only one hormone, progesterone, and is a useful but slightly less effective alternative for women who cannot tolerate the combined pill.

It is a very safe method, but not recommended for women with high blood pressure, those who are overweight and those suffering from certain medical conditions.

The intra-uterine device (IUD) or Coil

This is a small piece of shaped plastic or copper which is fitted inside the uterus with a special plastic inserter. This must be done by a doctor. A small thread is left so the woman can check that it is still in position.

A safe method, but it can cause bleeding and discomfort in some women. It must then be removed and another method used instead.

The Condom of Sheath

A thin sheath of rubber which is rolled on to the erect penis before intercourse.
A popular method as it requires no medical
consultation. Reliable if carefully used, especially with a spermicide. Sheaths also provide a barrier to diseases such as AIDS.

The diaphragm or Dutch Cap

A rubber cap fitted by a doctor, which fits the neck of the uterus.
It can then be removed and replaced by the woman.
It should not be removed until eight hours after intercourse.


Quite reliable, especially if used with a spermicide. There are two types.

Male sterilisation – vasectomy. The sperm tubes of the male are cut and tied or blocked.
Female sterilisation. The fallopian tubes are cut and tied or blocked.

This is a very safe method, although occasional failures occur (1 in 1000), but it usually means that the sterilised person cannot have more children. It therefore needs careful thought before seeking to have the operation carried out.


These are available as creams, tablets or foams, and are placed in the vagina immediately before intercourse. They are not very reliable on their own, but increase the reliability of a diaphragm or sheath.

The Rhythm Method or Safe Period

A method used by couples who do not believe in the chemical or mechanical birth control methods. This method relies on knowing the stage when there is no egg in the fallopian tube. The menstrual cycle must be worked out to show when it is safe to have intercourse. Only reliable for women with very regular periods.

Withdrawal (coitus interruptus)

A method relying on the penis being withdrawn just before the man’s climax. Not a safe method as some semen may escape before climax, or the man may leave the withdrawal too late.

Spermicidal Sponge

A mushroom-shaped polyurethane sponge, impregnated with a spermicide cream.