Things you should know about contraception

Thursday 26 September is World Contraception Day. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the goal if this day is to help young people make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health and to shed light on all the contraceptive options available.

This year’s theme is centred around the idea that every pregnancy should be wanted, and that contraception should be available to those who don’t wish to fall pregnant.

Contraception is vital to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

No method of contraception is equal or suitable for everyone, and therefore it’s important to consult with a health professional before choosing a method. We compiled this guide to give you the information you need.

1. There are different options available

All modern contraceptive methods are effective, but it’s important that they are given to you by a healthcare professional. You need a medical assessment before being prescribed oral contraception, and intra-uterine devices for example need to be implanted correctly by a trained professional. It is also important to know that human error, such as forgetting to take the pill, or not putting on a condom correctly, can hamper the effectiveness of your contraception efforts.

This guide explains your different options and how they work.

2. There are a number of things you should know before considering oral contraception

You might have been on birth control pills for years without questioning exactly how they work, or you might be considering them, but you're not sure if they're the best option for you. 

Birth control pills are not all manufactured the same way: combination pills combine oestrogen and progesterone to stop your body from producing an egg each month, while progesterone-only pills thicken your cervical mucus to help prevent sperm from entering the uterus.

Birth control pills can have side-effects and may be less effective when taken with other medication. It is also possible to forget to take your pill, which may make it less effective. This article gives you more information on oral contraception.

3. While generally effective, contraception can fail

Modern contraception methods are fairly effective, but we are all human and sometimes make mistakes, like forgetting to take the Pill, becoming less careful when you settle down with one partner or taking antibiotics which may affect your oral contraception. Here are some pitfalls that can make you forget about contraception, and why you should regularly reassess your contraception method to make sure it stays effective.

4. You're concerned about your teenager’s sexual behaviour. What should you do?

Whether you want to know it or not, your teenager might be sexually active. What should you do? The first step is to be well-informed and make sure they are protected. A Cape Town gynaecologist suggested dual protection for sexually active teenagers in a previous Health24 article. While oral contraception is effective, it doesn’t protect against STIs, and condoms should be used as well. This article gives more advice.

5. What you should do in an emergency

When you've had unprotected sex, there are emergency contraceptive tablets, also known as the “morning after pill”, which are available at pharmacies, state health care clinics or private health care institutions. The most common types of emergency contraception tablets available in South Africa are Norlevo, where a dose consists of one tablet containing 0.75mg of levonorgestrel. The other is Ovral, an old-style high-oestrogen contraceptive tablet, where two tablets are taken twice, twelve hours apart. (EgenC, contains the same active ingredients as Ovral, just in different packaging.) Ovral and E-Gen-C contain 50mcg of ethinyl estriadol and 0,25 – 0,5mg of levonorgestrel.

While there is no limit how many times in your lifetime you can take emergency contraception, it is not recommended for long-term use, as the dose of hormones to help counteract pregnancy can have significant side-effects such as nausea, abdominal cramping, dizziness, and tender breasts.

It’s also important to note that emergency contraception does NOT protect you against HIV and sexually transmitted infections and diseases. If you are concerned about exposure to HIV, you need to consult a medical professional as you might need post-exposure prophylaxis, a short course of medication taken up to 72 hours after possible exposure.

Important contacts:

The information in this article is simply a guideline and should not be treated as a diagnosis. If you need further assistance, these contacts may help:

Image credit: iStock

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