Birth control

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Contraception is the use of hormones, devices or surgery to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. It allows women to choose when and if they want to have a baby.

The male condom is the only type of contraception that also protects men and women from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

There are several types of contraception (see useful links below) which work in different ways.

  • Male and female condoms create a physical barrier against sperm.
  • Hormonal methods for women, such as the contraceptive pill, prevent the release of an egg from the ovaries and change the environment of the womb to prevent pregnancy. 
  • Contraceptive devices, such as the IUD (intrauterine device), are placed in the womb and prevent pregnancy by releasing copper or hormones into the body.

Before recommending a contraceptive, your GP will assess your age, medical history and sex life. Some contraceptives have possible side effects and it is important to consider these when deciding what sort of protection to use.

You may need to change your contraception as you get older, after having children or if your sex life changes in any way.

How effective are contraceptives?

How effective contraceptives are depends on your age, how often you have sex and whether you use the contraceptive properly. Many contraceptives are over 99% effective if used correctly.



The womb (also known as the uterus) is a hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman where a baby grows during pregnancy.


Content provided by NHS Choices and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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