Róisín Monk reviews each method of contraception for its pros and cons, how it works and its effectiveness.
Everyone has heard the old adage; with great power comes great responsibility. Well, the same can be said for the student experience.
Student life brings with it a wealth of new experiences and opportunities, and for a lot of people, college is their first time away from home, without the oh-so-watchful eye of Mammy and Daddy. Naturally for a lot of people, sex is high on the agenda for new experiences to try. For that reason, and for your convenience, I have complied a go-to fact sheet of information on all the various methods of contraception available to us here in Ireland.
College is an exciting time, but you need to make sure that you’re looking after yourself, and with so many types of contraception on offer, it’s important to make a choice that suits you and your body.
The Condom
The condom has been around for donkey’s years, and for many, is the go-to form of contraception. The main selling point of the condom is that is it the only form of contraception that offers protection from many sexually transmitted diseases, which is often a concern that slips under the radar of the sexually active student, but should always be taken into consideration for the wellbeing of both you and your partner
How does it work?
The condom is known as a 'barrier' method of contraception, which literally means it acts as a physical barrier between the sperm and the egg. The condom is offered in both male and female variety, with the male condom being rolled onto the erect penis, and the female condom lining the inside of the vagina.
How effective is it?
Well, the effectiveness of the condom depends on correct usage. You should always check that you have placed the condom correctly; if in doubt on how to do this, it wouldn’t hurt to take some time out of your day and looking up a quick YouTube tutorial. Its ok, we’ve all done it, and practise makes perfect. That being said, when used correctly and consistently, the male condom has a 98% success rate and the female has a 95% success rate.
Other things to keep in mind?
  • Condoms are widely available and able to purchase without a prescription.
  • They are inexpensive.
  • They help to protect both partners from sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Can be used in tandem with hormonal contraception’s. However, NEVER use two condoms at once. This decreases rather than increases the effectiveness of the protection. Seriously, don’t do it. The friction between the two condoms increases the chance of them both tearing.
Combined oral contraception: The Pill
The pill is another well-known method of contraception, this time in the firm of, you guessed it , an ingestible pill.
How does it work?
The pill contains two female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. The pill is taken every day for three weeks of the month, with one week off to allow for your period. It works mainly by stopping the woman from producing an egg. Can’t fertilise an egg if there’s no egg to fertilise.
How effective is it?
The pill has an almost perfect score of over 99% success rate, however, this is only if it is taken correctly. The less careful you are with taking the pill, the less successful it will be. You must take the pill every day of your three-week cycle, and for peak effectiveness, it should be taken at the same time every day. So if you’re a tad bit forgetful, or have a schedule that means you don’t know what you’ll be doing from day to day, this method might not be the best for you.
Other things to keep in mind?
  • The pill is not available without prescription.
  • The pill in Ireland typically costs about 25 euro for a 6-month prescription.
  • As it is a hormonal contraception, the pill will affect different women in different ways. Common side effects include changes in mood, irregular bleeding, headaches and breast pain or enlargement. If you are taking the pill and have any of these symptoms for a long period of time, you should talk to your doctor. There are lots of different pills out there, take the time to find one that suits you and your body.
  • Illnesses that cause vomiting or diarrhoea (Read: Hangovers), and other medications can mess with how the pill works.
  • The pill alone cannot protect you from the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Progesterone Only pill: The Mini-Pill
This adorable sounding method of contraception is very similar to the pill, the main differences being the lack of oestrogen, and the fact that you take this pill every day without a break. I’ll say it again for the ladies in the back: this must be taken every day, at the same time every day, for optimum success.
How does it work?
Different to the pill, the Mini pill works by preventing sperm from getting through the fluid at the neck of the womb. It also works by thinning the lining of the womb, which prevents an egg from implanting there, and may prevent an egg from being released.
How effective is it?
Very similar to the pill, the Mini-pill highly depends on proper and regular use. When used correctly, the mini-pill is 96-99% effective.
Other things to consider?
  • Not available without prescription.
  • The mini-pill in Ireland typically costs about 25 euro for a 6 -month prescription.
  • Suitable for women who cannot or do not want to take oestrogen.
  • Similar side effects to the pill. See above.
  • The mini-pill alone cannot protect you from the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Injectable Contraception: The Hormone injection
We’re starting to get into lesser known territory here, but the contraceptive injection is unsurprisingly, exactly what it sounds like.
How does it work?
The contraceptive hormone works with a woman receiving a single injection of hormone every 12 weeks. The hormone works by stopping the woman from producing an egg.
How effective is it?
The hormonal injection is very successful, with a 99% rate of effectiveness, once the injection is given regularly.
Other things to consider?
  • The injection must be administered by a Doctor or a Nurse.
  • According to the Irish Family Planning Association, the cost of the Injection is 60 euro for students.
  • Useful for those who would find it difficult to remember to take the pill every day.
  • Possible side effects include irregular bleeding or in some cases, no period at all, headaches, changes in moods and weight gain. Again, talk to your Doctor if you experience any of these symptoms persistently.
  • Does not protect against the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Intrauterine System (IUS)
The IUS is a small plastic device that is placed inside the womb and releases the hormone progesterone.
How does it work?
The IUS works in a number of ways: Firstly, by stopping sperm from meeting the egg, by delaying the egg getting to the womb or by preventing the egg from implanting in the womb.
How effective is it?
Once inserted correctly, this is a very effective form of contraception, with an up to 99% success rate.
Other things to consider?
  • Up until recently, the intrauterine system was not typically considered suitable for younger women, or women who had not given birth, as the opening to their cervix, where the device must be implanted, is much smaller and the insertion process can be very painful for the recipient. However, in recent years a new version of the coil, called Jaydess, has been produced, which is a smaller version of the typical coil, which is marketed towards younger women. The reduction in size is meant to considerably reduce levels of discomfort during the insertion process. Hoorah!
  • Can only be inserted and removed by a specially trained doctor.
  • Works as soon as it is inserted and can last for up to 5 years.
  • The cost of the Jaydess coil is around 144 euro in Irish pharmacies, but it can cost up to 195 to insert.
  • Side effects may include changing in period patterns, or no period at all, (however it is reported that there is less chance of no period with the use of the Jaydess coil), headache, nausea, breast tenderness or pain. If any of these symptoms persist, speak to your doctor.
  • The insertion process, while quick, can leave you tired and in discomfort for up to a day after insertion, so time for rest should be allocated afterwards.Does not protect against the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Implant
The implant is a small, flexible bar that is inserted just under the skin of the upper arm, and contains the hormone progesterone.
How does it work?
It works by stopping the woman from producing an egg. It also thickens the fluid at the neck of the womb and thins the lining of the womb; it’s a bit of an all-rounder.
How effective is it?
This method of contraception is highly effective, with a 99% success rate.
Other things to consider?
  • Can only be inserted and removed by a specially trained doctor.
  • The implant itself costs about 200 euro, with a further 120 for insertion, and another 120 for removal thereafter.
  • Once inserted, the implant can last up to 3 years.
  • Side effects include mood swings and irregular bleeding, in a small percentage of women, may cause no period at all.
  • Does not protect against the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Patch
The patch is a thin plaster that, much like the pill, contains the hormones oestrogen and progestogen. A woman wears the patch for three weeks out of every four, again, very like the pill.
How does it work?
The hormones within the patch work the same way as they do for the combined oral pill. Read above.
How effective is it?
When used correctly, this method of contraception is 99% successful. The patch must be replaced once a week.
Other things to consider?
  • Not available without prescription.
  • The patch is considerable more expensive than the pill, costing around 25 euro for a month’s supply.
  • Timing may be easier to remember than the pill.
  • Does not protect against risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Emergency contraceptive
If you’re ever worried or in doubt about the effectiveness of your chosen contraception from the night before, fear not, you can get an emergency contraceptive pill from over the counter at your local pharmacy with a prescription, or at Boots pharmacy without one, but you must undergo a short consultation with one of the Boots pharmacists.
How does it work?
Emergency contraception pills use hormones or medications that block pregnancy. Most use the same hormones that are in regular birth control pills. The emergency-use pills mainly work by stopping the release of an egg. The pills also may stop sperm from fertilizing the egg. They also may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. If you're already pregnant, most of these pills will have no effect.
How effective is it?
The sooner after sex you take the emergency contraceptive, the more effective it is. The latest you can take emergency contraception and it still be effective, is 72 hours after intercourse has occurred.
Other things to consider?
  • Emergency contraception is just that – for emergencies only.
  • It should not be used as a regular method of contraception and doing so can have adverse effects on your body.
  • The cost of the morning after pill in Ireland is about 25 euro.
  • Yes, you guessed it. Emergency contraception does not protect you from the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
We are lucky in today’s Ireland that we have access to such a large varying type of contraception, but being over-loaded with options can often be daunting. Hopefully, this guide will help you make the right choice for you and your sexual health. As always, stay safe and party on Campus readers.
Everyone is different and may react to contraceptives differently. Factors such as long-term conditions or other medications can affect the way your contraception works. Always consult with a medical professional before choosing the method of contraception for you.