People use contraception, or birth control, when having sex to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

There are several different types of contraception, but almost all of these are designed to be used by women and many of them work in similar ways. There is only one main type of contraception designed for men to use, the condom, and this is also the only form of contraception which protects against the transmission of most sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Where do you get it?

Most contraception needs to be prescribed by a doctor, and so you can visit your GP, register at another GP’s surgery for family planning services only, or see a doctor at a family planning or young person’s clinic. You don’t need a prescription to get condoms, but you can pick up free condoms at all of these places too. You can also buy condoms in a variety of shops, pharmacies and supermarket.

How much does it cost?

All prescribed contraception is free, so it will not cost you anything at all. It is also possible to get condoms free, but you can also buy condoms. Condoms are available in different shapes, sizes, colours, flavours and quantities and cost from about £2.50 for a pack of three.

Do you have to be over 16 to get contraception?

Once you are 16 you can consent to and make decisions about your medical treatment.

If you are under 16, although it is not legal to have sex this does not mean that a doctor cannot give you contraception. A doctor or practice nurse can give you contraception, as long as they feel you are mature enough to understand properly the decision you are making.

In particular, they will consider and explore if you are able to tell your parents, if it is likely that you will have sex even if you don’t have contraception, and if it is within your best interests to receive medical treatment without your parent or guardian’s knowledge.

Again, condoms are different and there are no age restrictions on buying condoms, or on picking them up free from clinics.

Types of contraception

There are four main types of contraception; barrier methods, hormonal methods, permanent contraception and natural. You can read about the different types further on.

What is NOT contraception

It is really important to realise that a man withdrawing from his partner’s vagina or anus before he ejaculates (cums) is NOT a method of contraception or a safeguard against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

This is because once the penis is erect it releases a small amount of liquid called pre-cum, which may contain sperm. This could be enough to cause pregnancy or pass on an infection.

Page content supplied by Copyright 2012 © Terrence Higgins Trust.

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