What is contraception?

Contraception aims to prevent pregnancy.

A woman can get pregnant if a man's sperm reaches one of her eggs (ova).

Contraception tries to stop this happening by keeping the egg and sperm apart, or by stopping egg production, or by stopping the combined sperm and egg (fertilised egg) attaching to the lining of the womb.

Contraception is free for most people in the UK. With 15 methods to choose from, you can find one that suits you best.

Barrier methods such as condoms are a form of contraception that help to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. You should use condoms to protect both your sexual health and that of your partner, no matter what the other contraception you're using to prevent pregnancy.

Where to get contraception

Contraceptive services are free and confidential. This includes services for people under 16, as long as they're mature enough to understand the information and decisions involved – there are strict guidelines for healthcare professionals who work with people under 16.

You can get contraception for free from:

  • most GP surgeries (talk to your GP or practice nurse) 
  • community contraception clinics
  • some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
  • sexual health clinics (these offer contraceptive and STI testing services) 
  • some young people's services

Many of these services also offer information, testing and treatment for STIs. If you've had unprotected sex and think there's a chance you might get pregnant, you're also at risk of catching an STI.

Before you make an appointment, try to find out as much as possible about the contraceptive options available. Your choice of contraception may vary over time, depending on your lifestyle and circumstances.

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