World Contraception Day takes place on September 26th. The campaign’s mission is to promote awareness, provide support and educate the public about the different methods of contraception that are available.
We embrace the importance of the campaign and have therefore compiled a quick-study guide to educate all women in South Africa about the different types of female contraception. This allows them to make an informed decision about which contraceptive methods suit them best.
Long acting, short acting, barrier, permanent and emergency methods
- Copper IUD (Intrauterine device): An IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into your uterus. Copper wire is wrapped around the stem of the IUD – the reason for this is that copper is toxic to sperm and causes the uterus and fallopian tubes to produce a fluid that kills the sperm before it can reach the egg. A copper IUD (depending on the model) can last between 5 – 10 years. They are non-hormonal and only require one visit to a clinic for fitting, followed by an annual check-up.
- Hormonal IUS (Intrauterine system): The device slowly releases levonorgestrel, which is a form of a hormone called progestin. It prevents pregnancy in two ways: 1) it thickens the mucous in the cervix, trapping the sperm; 2) it can also stop ovulation, meaning that eggs don’t leave the ovaries – no egg, no pregnancy. Hormonal IUDs last for five years and, like a copper IUD, only require a single visit to a clinic for fitting, followed by a check-up on an annual basis.
- Implant: The implant is a plastic rod that is inserted under the skin of the upper, inner part of the arm. It releases small amounts of progestogen into the body. Like the hormonal IUD, it stops ovulation and thickens the mucous in the uterus, preventing sperm from getting through. It also alters the lining of the uterus so that a fertilised egg cannot implant and begin to grow. The implant is non-invasive, lasts between 3 – 5 years and only requires one visit to a clinic to be fitted.
- Combined pill: More commonly known as ‘the Pill’, the oral contraceptive (meaning that it needs to be ingested) contains a mixture of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone which prevent ovulation. It’s important to note that combination pills should be taken at the same time every day.
- Progestogen-only pill: This pill works the same way as the combination pill, but it doesn’t contain any oestrogen. It’s recommended for women who are breastfeeding or can’t take the combined pill for medical reasons. You can purchase packs containing a one month’s supply. It should also be taken at the same time every day.
- Injection: Also known as the ‘birth-control shot’, the injection is a safe, convenient contraceptive method. However, you need to ensure that you have the shot every 2 -3 months. The injection contains progestogen which prevents ovulation.
- Patch: The patch contains the same hormones found in combination pills (oestrogen and progesterone.) All you need to do is to apply it to your skin (belly, upper arm or back is recommended.) Put on the patch once a week for three weeks, keep it off for one week and then repeat the cycle. You can purchase packs containing a one month’s supply.
Female condoms: Female condoms need to be inserted internally. One of the benefits is that you can insert it up to eight hours before sex and the condom will still be effective. It covers a larger surface area than a male condom which decreases the amount of skin-to-skin contact, lessening the chances of contracting a STD.
For increased protection, it is advised that condoms are used in conjunction with other contraceptive methods. Female condoms are sold in packs of three or can be picked up for free at government clinics.
- Tubal ligation / female sterilisation: Colloquially referred to as having your ‘tubes tied’, tubal ligation is a surgical procedure; your fallopian tubes are severed and tied. This prevents the egg from travelling to the uterus. The procedure is approximately 99% effective and can be reversed if necessary.
- Emergency contraception pills (A.K.A ‘morning-after pill’): Accidents happen. Should you have unprotected sex, forget to take birth control pills or a condom breaks during sex, emergency contraception can be used to prevent unplanned pregnancy. The morning-after pill needs to be taken within 72 hours after sex. You’ll be able to get it at your local government clinic or pharmacy. Please note that because of the high levels of hormones that are released, it shouldn’t be used as a regular birth-control method.
- Copper IUD: The device can be fitted within five days of unprotected sex and can last for up to 10 years.
Although World Contraception Day only takes place once a year, education and awareness about the different types of contraceptive methods are timeless. Please ensure that you have all the knowledge you need, so that you can make an informed decision about the ways by which you can protect your sexual and reproductive health.