It is helpful to plan some form of contraception unless you are prepared for the possibility of parenthood.
Contraception is also no guarantee against getting a sexually transmitted infection, so it is helpful to be at the least well-informed before you embark on a sexual encounter, whether planned or not.
Apart from abstinence, the safest way of protecting yourself from the consequences of sexual contact is to use a barrier method of contraception. Condoms are the most commonly used barrier method. They are inexpensive, readily available, and the most convenient way of lessening the possibility of both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. If used correctly, they are nearly as effective as an oral contraceptive, but this generally requires them to be used with lubricants to make them less likely to break.
It is helpful if you have never used a condom before to find out how to use them – in the heat of the moment you may not put it on correctly, and you must remember to hold the condom on the penis while withdrawing.
The female condom is also available. They are latex free, so are suitable for those people that are allergic to latex in the male condom.
Other methods of contraception do not protect against sexually transmitted infections but are regarded as more reliable contraceptives. These include the combined oral contraceptive and the mini-pill, which contains only one hormone, instead of the two in the combined oral contraceptive. Both of these need to be taken regularly every day, and need to be taken for some days before they are able to be relied on as contraceptives.
Contraceptive implants are now available on prescription. They are small rods that are inserted into the upper arm of a woman and are left in place for three to five years, depending on the type of implant.
The contraceptive coil may also be inserted in the vagina. They contain either a hormone or copper and are effective for up to five years.
If you or your partner is using contraception, it is often helpful to use barrier methods of contraception as well, such as condoms, in order to protect against sexually transmitted infections which are spread by sexual contact from one infected person to their partner. Placing a barrier such as a condom between the partners largely prevents this transmission. Not all sexually transmitted infections show signs of infection, so caution is advisable in the early stages of any relationship.
If you have unprotected sex, or fear contraceptive failure, then the emergency contraceptive pill is available from pharmacies or from your doctor or family planning clinics. This will help prevent pregnancy, but offers no protection against potential sexually transmitted infections, so should be followed up with a check up with a doctor, family planning clinic or hospital sexual health clinic.
If you are concerned about the possibility of unplanned pregnancy or are at risk of a sexually transmitted infection then help and advice is available from your community pharmacist. They will be able to advise you confidentially with information and help about what you need to do to ensure optimum sexual health for you and your family, both now and in the future.