SEXtember: Contraceptives 101

WITH plenty of contraceptives out there, it’s easy to get confused. Here’s a crash course on the most common types to help you find one that suits. By Juliana Mare.

Photo: Snapper Media

Photo: Snapper Media

Contraceptives are an important part of any healthy sex life, but they’re something most people don’t wont to talk about.

We surveyed a sample of 18-34 year olds and found only 50 per cent said they felt “extremely comfortable” discussing the topic with their sexual partner. More alarmingly, only 27 per cent were comfortable discussing it with a medical professional.

Nevertheless, it’s important to discuss contraception with your sexual partner. You need to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and, if you’re not ready to have a family, unplanned pregnancies.

Telling your partner “bluntly, before having sex” was the most popular way our survey participants addressed the subject, while telling them “subtly, before having sex” came in second.

But it takes two to tango, so don’t leave your partner in the dark about what type of birth control you want to use. It’s a good idea to discuss the topic before you become sexually active rather than leave it until the last minute. If you’re feeling awkward, just remember that your partner has probably been thinking about contraceptives too.

If want to do a bit of private research before you chat to others, check out Get The Facts – a government developed website that provides accurate information about relationships and safe sex. The Better Health Channel and our post on DYI Sex Education also have a wealth of information about sexual health.

To help you make safe sex decisions, we’ve got the lowdown on the most popular types of contraceptives available.

Oral contraception

Monthly oral contraception package. Photo: 101beautysalon via Flickr

Oral contraception, more commonly referred to as the pill, is a form of birth control for women and contains oestrogen and progestogen. If taken daily, the pill is 99.7 per cent effective against pregnancy, but will not protect you from STIs, so you’ll need to use a condom too.

The pill stops monthly ovulation, changing the lining of the uterus and thickening mucus made by the cervix, to prevent the sperm from fertilising an egg.

Like all medication, there can be side effects. The most common are headaches, breast tenderness, spotting (bleeding in between periods) and increased appetite. In extreme cases, blood clotting may also occur. In other cases, some women experience no side effects and it’s all about finding the right brand for you.

You need to visit a doctor or health care professional to get a prescription for the pill.

Male condoms

Whether it’s regular, studded or banana flavoured, male condoms are an excellent contraceptive. They’re 95-99 per cent effective in reducing the risk of pregnancy and the best contraceptive to use against STIs as they form a barrier between you and your partner’s bodily fluids.

Condoms need to be applied manually over an erect penis, placed at the tip and rolled down to the base. Be careful not to tear or pierce the condom when opening the packaging. It’s also important to make sure the condom is the correct size to avoid it slipping off during intercourse.

For more information on how to correctly use a condom, check out this animation.

Using lubrication with condoms is recommended, but it should always be water-based to reduce friction and minimise any chance of the condom tearing during sex.

Condoms can be purchased over the counter at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Don’t forget to store condoms in a cool, dry place and check the best before date.

Female condoms

female condom

The two rings on a female condom. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Our survey found while 97.7 per cent said they were familiar with male condoms, only 84 per cent had ever heard of female condoms.

A female condom is a polyurethane pouch that fits inside the vagina, which if used correctly, is 95 per cent effective against pregnancy and the risk of STIs. It’s very similar to a vaginal ring, a soft plastic cup that’s inserted in the vagina and stops menstruation.

The condom has two rings. One removable ring is used to insert and keep the condom in place, while the larger ring covers the opening of the vagina for added protection. Female condoms are thought to be more comfortable than male condoms because the polyurethane conducts heat, which can increase pleasure.


Implanon (the implant) is a thin, plastic rod about the size of a matchstick, which is medically inserted beneath the skin of a woman’s upper arm. While male and female condoms are only for single use, Implanon is a long-term birth control option, providing protection for up to three years.

Implanon works the same way as the pill, stopping the body from releasing an egg. It’s 99.9 per cent effective against pregnancy, but doesn’t provide any protection against STIs, so you’ll still need a condom.

Implanon is a great option if you think you might forget to take the daily pill. The implant isn’t permanent and you can remove it whenever you want. You can get it at your local doctor.


As its name suggests, spermicides kill sperm. The product comes in foams, gels and creams and are relatively cheap, costing about $15 at your local chemist.

When inserted correctly into the vagina, spermicide is 80-91% effective against pregnancy. It doesn’t protect against STIs and is meant to be used together with a condom, but it’s a good choice if you want a double layer of protection.

Spermicide is specifically designed to be gentle, so while it will kill sperm, it won’t do your insides any harm.

Whatever you choose, remember the only type of smart sex is safe sex. No matter how uncomfortable you are, talk over your decision with your sexual partner and preferably your doctor. 

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