But according to recent research, all forms of the pill and other hormonal contraception, including the patch and vaginal ring, carry a risk of breast cancer in women between the ages of 15 and 49 - not something you want to worry about considering all the possible side effects already associated with hormonal contraception.
However, Bekki Burbidge, Deputy Chief Executive of the sexual health charity FPA, points out that 'the actual risk of breast cancer to an individual woman is tiny' and 'importantly, this risk reduces with time after stopping the method.'
This is just the latest contraception story - it's in the news all the time, with new types of contraception being developed (soon there could even be a contraceptive pill for men).
We know that contraception is a big issue for you - a previous poll on goodtoknow showed that 1 in 5 of you aren't using any - and that doesn't include anyone trying to get pregnant!
There are so many methods of contraception to choose from nowadays but we've narrowed down some of the most popular below.
Also known as:'The pill'
How does it work?The hormones in it stop you from releasing an egg each month so it can't be fertilised. It also makes your cervix (the opening at the neck of the womb) thicker so it's harder for sperm to get through, and makes your womb lining thinner so it can't support any fertilised eggs.
How do you take it?The most common type of pill has the same amount of hormone in it and you take one tablet every day for 21 days. Then you have a seven-day break before you start a new pack. You can also take pills for 21 days that contain two or three sections of different coloured pills, which contain different amounts of hormones. Again, you have a seven-day break. If you like the routine of taking it every day and don't want a break, there's a 28-day version, but the pills you take in the last seven days are inactive.
How effective is it?If taken properly, it's 99.8% effective. Although sickness, diarrhoea and taking antibiotics can all make it less effective or stop it from working completely. If you're worried, use condoms as well. Using condoms will also protect you from sexually transmitted infections.
What are the good points about it?It can stop period pain, and make periods shorter and lighter. It can also be used to help with acne. This is why some teenagers are prescribed the Pill, even if they're not having sex yet.
What are the bad points about it?Some side effects include headaches, nausea, weight gain, tender breasts and occasionally some small spots of blood, between periods. These effects usually go away after the first few packs but if they don't, speak to your doctor because there are 22 different brands of the combined pill. It also doesn't protect you from sexually transmitted infections. You need to use condoms during sex for this. Taking the pill does give you a slight increased risk of blood clots, but you'll need to pass a health check before it is prescribed to make sure you're not at
high risk of this.
Will other medicines affect it?Some medicines interact with the combined pill and it doesn't work properly. If you want to check your medicines are safe to take with the combined pill, consult your GP, pharmacist or practice nurse.
Also known as:'POP' or the 'mini-pill'
How does it work?It thickens the cervix so it's harder for sperm to get through, it makes the womb lining thinner and some of them, such as Cerazette, stop you ovulating (or producing an egg).
How do you take it?You take one tablet every day for 28 days. You don't have a break with the mini-pill; once you finish a pack you start the next one the following day. You can either take a three-hour progestogen-only pill - which means it must be taken within three hours of the same time each day. Or a 12-hour pill, which must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day.
How effective is it?If taken correctly, it's more than 99% effective. But if you don't stick to your pill-time schedule then it's only about 92% effective.
What are the good points about it?It gives you fewer problems than the combined pill and is especially good for breastfeeding mums (the combined pill can stop milk being produced), women who can't take oestrogen, women at risk of heart disease or strokes and heavy smokers.
What are the bad points about it?Some side effects include irregular periods, or your periods could stop completely, spots, nausea and headaches. If you've had an ectopic pregnancy, breast cancer or abnormally high cholesterol your doctor might not give it to you. As with the combined pill, the progestogen-only pill does give you a slight increased risk of blood clots, but you'll need to pass a health check before it is prescribed to make sure you're not at high risk of this.
Will other medicines affect it?Some medicines interact with the progestogen-only pill which can stop it working properly. If you w ant to check your medicines are safe to take with the progestogen-only pill, consult your GP, pharmacist or practice nurse.
How does it work?Condoms are the only type of contraception that can both prevent pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections. They are made from very thin latex and act like a barrier, designed to stop a man's semen from coming into contact with his sexual partner.
How do I use it? It's placed over the tip of an erect penis and gently rolled down to the base of the penis. After ejaculation the semen stays inside the condom. Make sure your partner holds onto the condom as he withdraws from the vagina to avoid spillages. It can then just be thrown away. Don't flush it down the loo and don't re-use it.
How effective is it?If used correctly, condoms are 98% effective. Some oil-based body lotions and creams can damage the latex or cause the condom to slip off during sex. If this happens, you may need emergency contraception and to get checked for STIs.
What are the good points about it?There are no major side effects of using one. If you're sensitive to latex, you can use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead. They can also protect from sexually transmitted infections.
What are the bad points about it?Some people can have mild allergic reactions to the lubricant used
on condoms and putting them on properly can sometimes be a bit tricky. Using the wrong size condom can mean that they're more likely to slip off or split.
Also known as:Femidom
How does it work?The female condom is worn inside the vagina to stop sperm getting to the womb. It can be inserted up to eight hours before sex.
How do I use it?How to put it in is described inside the packet, with diagrams. It has a smaller ring at the closed end of the condom which is inserted into the vagina. The large ring covers the area around the vaginal opening. Always take care when taking it out the packet because rings and long fingernails could rip it. Also take care when you take it out after sex to avoid spillages. It can then just be thrown away. Don't flush it down the loo and don't re-use it.
How effective is it?If used correctly and consistently, female condoms are 95% effective. If it slips or splits, speak to your doctor or family planning clinic straight away.
What are the good points about itThere are no major side effects of using one and it can also protect from sexually-transmitted infections. Femidoms aren't made of latex so this reduces the chance of an allergic reaction, and being damaged by oil-based lubricants.
What are the bad points about it?Putting them in can be difficult the first time and, because of this, they aren't as popular as male condoms. They're also more expensive to buy and not as widely available as male condoms.
The Contraceptive Injection
Also known as:Depo-Provera or Noristerat
How does it work?It steadily releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream, which prevents the release of an egg each month. It also thickens the cervix so it's harder for sperm to get through and it makes the womb lining thinner.
How do I use it?Depo-Provera is most commonly given in the UK and lasts for 13 weeks. Occasionally, Noristerat may be given, which lasts for 8 weeks. You usually have the injection in your bum, but you can have them in your upper arm. If you have the injection during the first 5 days of your period, you'll be immediately protected against becoming pregnant. If you have the injection on any other day of your cycle, you'll need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, for 7 days.
How effective is it?If used correctly, the contraceptive injection is more than 99% effective.
What are the good points about it?If you don't like taking pills, then injections are a good idea and each one lasts for the full 8 or 13 weeks. Both of the jabs have also been found to help protect against ovarian cysts and ectopic pregnancies.
What are the bad points about it?You have to go back to the clinic to have it every 8 or 13 weeks. It can cause heavy, irregular or longer periods and some women stop having periods altogether. You can get headaches and experience weight gain and it can take you, on average, up to 18 months to be fully fertile again after you stop having it. They also don't protect you from sexually transmitted infections. You will need to use condoms during sex for this.
Will other medicines affect it?Always consult your GP if you're on medication or experience any side effects.
Also known as:Nexplanon
How does it work?It releases a steady stream of the hormone progestogen into your blood every day, which thickens the cervix so it's harder for sperm to get through, makes the womb lining thinner and stops an egg being produced. It lasts for up to three years, although it can be taken out at any time, and your natural fertility will return very quickly.
How do I use it?The implant is a small, bendy rod that is put under the skin in your upper arm by a doctor or nurse. You're given a local anaesthetic and putting it in is quick and painless, although you could get a slight bruise from the injection. You can feel the implant, but not
How effective is it?It's over 99% effective. Being obese can stop it from being as effective, so speak to your doctor if you're worried.
What are the good points about it?Once it's in, that's it for three years. No worrying about booking repeat appointments or taking pills. You can breastfeed with the implant in and it's an option if you can't use oestrogen-based contraception, such as the combined pill.
What are the bad points about it?They can cause headaches; acne and weight gain and your periods may be irregular or stop altogether. You might even notice a change in sex drive too. They don't protect you from sexually transmitted infections. You will need to use condoms during sex for this.
Will other medicines affect it?Some medicines can make the implant less effective, such as: medicines for HIV, epilepsy and tuberculosis, complementary remedies, such as St John's Wort, some antibiotics, such as rifabutin or rifampicin. Always tell your doctor that you're using an implant if you're prescribed any medicine.
IUD (intrauterine device)
Also known as:The coil
How does it work?It releases copper to change the make-up of the fluids in the womb and fallopian tubes, stopping sperm surviving there. It may also stop fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb.
How do I use it?There are different types and sizes to suit different women. IUDs need to be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse at your GP surgery, local contraception clinic or sexual health clinic. It can stay in the womb for five to 10 years, depending on the type and can be fitted at any time during your period, as long as you are not pregnant.
How effective is it?There are different types of IUD, some with more copper than others. IUDs with more copper are more than 99% effective.
What are the good points about it?Once an IUD is fitted, it works straight away and lasts for up to 10 years or until it's removed. It can be used if you're breastfeeding. Your normal fertility returns as soon as the IUD is taken out and it's not affected by other medicines.
What are the bad points about it?Your periods may become heavier, longer or more painful, though this may improve after a few months. It may cause vaginal bleeding and pain and doesn't protect from sexually transmitted infections.
Will other medicines affect it?It is not affected by other medicines but contact your GP straight away if you feel a lot of pain after having an IUD fitted.
IUS (intrauterine system)
Also known as:The hormonal coil
How does it work?Similar to the IUD, but the IUS releases a progestogen hormone instead of copper. It thickens the cervix making it harder for sperm to reach the egg and also causes the womb lining to become thinner and less likely to accept a fertilised egg.
How do I use it?An IUS is a small, T-shaped plastic device that is inserted into your womb (uterus) by a specially trained doctor or nurse at any stage of your period.
How effective is it?It's more than 99% effective.
What are the good points about it?It works for three years or five years depending on the one you choose. It may help heavy or painful periods and can be used if you're breastfeeding. It is not affected by other medicines.
What are the bad points about it?Irregular bleeding and spotting are common in the first six months. Some women experience headaches, acne and breast tenderness. An uncommon side effect of the IUS is the appearance of small fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries - these usually disappear without treatment.
Will other medicines affect it?It is not affected by other medicines but contact your GP straight away if you feel a lot of pain after having an IUS fitted.
Contraceptive Diaphragm or Cap
How does it work?Both the diaphragm and cup work as a barrier inside your vagina to prevent sperm passing through the cervix.
How do I use it?You need to use either with a gel that kills sperm and only when you have sex. Your doctor or nurse will show you how to put in a diaphragm or cap. You must leave it in for at least 6 hours after the last time you had sex. You can leave it in for longer than this, but don't take it out before.
How effective is it?When used correctly with spermicide, a diaphragm or cap is 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy.
What are the good points about it?You only need to use it when you want to have sex. There are usually no serious side effects.
What are the bad points about it?Neither is as effective as other forms of contraception and it can take a while to learn how to use them. Cystitis can be a problem for some women and the spermicide gel can cause irritation in some women and their sexual partners.
Will other medicines affect it?There is no health risks associated with a diaphragm or cap and they are not affected by other medicines.
How does it work?It releases a daily dose of hormones, the same as the combined pill, through the skin into the bloodstream to prevent the release of an egg ea
ch month. It also thickens the cervix and thins the lining of the womb so a fertilised egg is less likely to implant itself.
How do I use it?You can wear the patch on most areas of your body as long as the skin is clean, dry and not very hairy. You will wear your first patch for seven days and then change it for a new one on day eight. Do this every week for three weeks and then have a patch-free week. Then continue the cycle, even if you're still on your period.
How effective is it?When used correctly, the patch is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
What are the good points about it?It's very easy to use and only needs to be changed once a week. It can help with PMS and may reduce the risk of ovarian, womb and bowel cancer.
,h2>What are the bad points about it? It may be visible and can cause irritation, itching and soreness. You may bleed between periods and some women experience temporary headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood changes.
Will other medicines affect it?Some medicines can make the patch less effective - see a GP, nurse or pharmacist for advice.
Also known as:NuvaRing
How does it work?It steadily releases the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into your bloodstream, which prevents the release of an egg each month. It also thickens the cervix and thins the lining of the womb so a fertilised egg is less likely to implant itself.
How do I use it?With clean hands, squeeze the ring between your thumb and finger, and gently insert the tip into your vagina. Gently push the ring up until it feels comfortable. You can start using it at any time during your period and wear it for 21 days. You then remove it and have a seven day break, in which time you're still protected against pregnancy.You then put a new ring in for another 21 days and repeat the process.
How effective is it?If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective.
What are the good points about it?It may help with PMS and isn't affected if you're sick. You don't have to think about it every day and it has no long-term effect on your fertility.
What are the bad points about it?You can have spotting or bleeding in the first few months and it may cause temporary side-effects, such as vaginal discharge, headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood changes.
Will other medicines affect it?Some medicines can make the ring less effective - see a GP, nurse or pharmacist for advice.
Natural Family Planning
Also known as:Fertility awareness
How does it work?It teaches you when during the month you can have sex without contraception and with a reduced risk of pregnancy. It involves using your body's signs and symptoms to assess if you're currently fertile and likely to get pregnant if you have sex.
How do I use it?It is important that you are taught natural family planning by a suitably qualified teacher. You can check the availability of instructors in your local area by visiting the Fertility UK website.
How effective is it?If the instructions are properly followed, natural family planning methods can be up to 99% effective, depending on what methods are used.
What are the good points about it?It does not involve chemicals or physical products and causes no side effects. It can help you recognise normal and abnormal vaginal secretions, so you can be aware of possible infection.
What are the bad points about it?You will need to avoid sex, or use contraception such as condoms, during the time you might get pregnant, which some couples can find difficult. It can be much less effective than other methods of contraception. It is not suitable if you have persistent irregular periods. Factors such as stress, illness, travel, lifestyle and use of hormonal treatments can disrupt your fertility signs.
Will other medicines affect it?If you use the emergency contraceptive pill, you will need to wait for two complete cycles before relying on natural family planning again.
How does it work?It's an app which helps you understand how your cycle works. You can only get pregnant during six days in your cycle. This app finds those days for you.
How do I use it?All you need to do is measure your temperature in the morning, enter it into the app and it will give you a red or a green day depending on whether you need to use protection.
How effective is it?Under perfect use, Natural Cycles is 99% effective.
What are the good points about it?If used properly, you can have sex without protection on certain days in your cycle. It means you could avoid all the forms of contraception which can have side effects.
What are the bad points about it?It costs £60 a year, which may be off-putting for some women. It doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections and it can take up to a few months for the algorithm to get to know your unique cycle.
Will other medicines affect it?Some factors can disrupt normal fertility signs, for example if you have irregular periods or have recently stopped taking hormonal contraception. Other factors that affect your body's natural signs include altering how and when you take your temperature, drinking alcohol, taking certain medication and illness.
While no contraception is 100% effective, if you've had a mishap - or you had unprotected sex - you don't necessarily need to panic. You can now buy the morning after pill, Levonelle, over the counter - and it's effective up to 3 days after you had sex. You can also get EllaOne - which is effective up to 5 days after having sex - on prescription.
Both are more effective the sooner you take them but neither should be used regularly as contraception. They also don't protect against sexually transmitted infections.
There are many individual factors that can affect which contraception is best for you. Family planning clinics offer free, confidential advice and information on the best method to use, how to go about getting it, as well as advice on sexual health and pregnancy.
Anyone can use a family planning clinic, even under 16s, and you can either schedule an appointment, get a referral from your doctor or some clinics have 'walk in' hours. You can get details of your nearest family planning clinic from your doctor, hospital or from the Family Planning Association (FPA).