Contraception, is a medication, a medical device or a barrier like a condom to keep a sperm and an egg from uniting. Some contraceptive methods, like hormonal methods, work to keep the ovary from releasing an egg or ovum, while others help create a barrier at the opening of the cervix to keep sperm from getting inside the uterus (womb) to find an egg. Using a condom and another form of contraception at the same time is called ‘dual protection’ and is the most effective protection. Only condoms reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.
Short-Acting Contraception: The Pill, Patch and Injection
Contraceptive pills must be taken every day at about the same time. A packet of pills will last a month. The Patch works similarly but is worn for a week at a time (3 weeks of 1 patch per week then 1 week patch free). The injection is given by a nurse and lasts for either two or three months (depending on which one is used). All of these methods are very effective at preventing unintended pregnancy if they are taken as directed. A person needs to go to their health care provider or a clinic to get a prescription for these methods. In South Africa a young person can legally access contraceptive without parental consent from the age of 12. Before deciding to have sex a couple should discuss how they plan to protect themselves from both pregnancy and STIs and HIV.
Long-Acting Reversible Contraception: Implants and IUDs
There are two long-acting reversible contraceptive methods the implant or the IUD or “loop”. These are the most effective protection possible against unintended pregnancy because they do not leave room for human error (like forgetting to take a pill or not going to the clinic on the correct day for an injection).
The contraceptive implant is a matchstick-sized bendable silicon rod that is fitted under the skin of the upper arm by a nurse or doctor. It releases hormones into the body to prevent pregnancy by keeping the ovaries from releasing an egg and also thickening the cervical mucus to stop sperm from getting into the uterus to find an egg. It can provide up to three years of protection against pregnancy (but be removed at any time if another method is preferred).
The intra-uterine device (IUD), also called “the loop”, is a small piece of flexible plastic and copper shaped like a T. A nurse or doctor fits the IUD into the uterus. The device makes it difficult for sperm to get to an egg. It can provide between 5 and 10 years of protection against pregnancy depending on the method (but be removed at any time if another method is preferred).
Like short-acting methods, long-acting methods do not prevent against STIs and HIV, so it’s important to also use a new latex condom each and every time when having sex.
Parents or guardians can start talking with their children about pregnancy and how to prevent it before their children become sexually active. When parents and guardians talk with their children about these topics, children learn that they can come to their parents if and when they have questions. Below are some ways to start these conversations: