Contraception: it has undoubtedly earned a reputation for being an awkward subject, kept, it seems, on the down-low. Nonetheless, protecting yourself should be treated with paramount importance, and talking about protection should be exactly the same. Nowadays, with so many contraceptive options available, from Rigevidon to Cerelle, it has never been easier to take matters into your own hands.
In 2019, The Pill took the top spot as the most widely-used contraceptive in Britain. Since its introduction in 1961, it has been tailored to suit different habits and lifestyles. These days, there are plenty of choices when it comes to finding the pill that works for you. Whether you are considering it for the first time, just looking at your options, or interested in trying something new, this guide should help to clear up some of the myths – and the mystery – around protecting yourself using oral contraception.
There are three main categories of hormonal contraceptive pill available in the UK: The first – and most well-known – is the combined pill, often referred to simply as “The Pill,” containing both oestrogen and progesterone. The second is the POP or Progesterone-Only Pill, different to the combined variety, but just as effective. Meanwhile, the third alternative is the Low-dose Pill with a decreased quantity of oestrogen compared to its counterparts.
From convenience to effectiveness to side-effects and beyond, there is a wealth of birth-control information out there. So much that sometimes, research might feel a little daunting. This guide will compare numerous different types of birth control pill – along with their advantages and disadvantages – taking some of the stress out of protecting yourself. And maybe some of the awkwardness too.
1. The Combined Contraceptive Pill
The combined contraceptive pill – “The Pill” to most people – is exactly what it sounds like. It contains a synthetic combination of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone – both of which are involved in pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. Taken daily with a one-week break, it works to prevent pregnancy by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg. On top of that, it thickens the mucus around the cervix, making it more difficult for an egg to be fertilised, and thins the lining of the womb – minimising the chances of an embryo implanting and growing there.
Rigevidon, Ovranette & Microgynon
Widely-known and used in the UK, Rigevidon – along with similar brands like Ovranette and Microgynon – presents a strong case for the use of the combined contraceptive pill. It is more than 99% effective against pregnancy if used as directed – although its effectiveness can be reduced by vomiting and other illnesses, along with, in some cases, forgetfulness. Moreover, this type of pill can help to regulate heavy and painful periods, all while alleviating symptoms of PMS.
That said, the combined pill is not without its disadvantages. These can include common side-effects, such as nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness. Despite the obvious benefits of oral contraception, in recent years, it has also become a breeding ground for modern myths. One of the most common is that its use causes blood clots and even breast cancer.
While this risk exists and is slightly increased through the use of Rigevidon, the chance of developing these issues is minimal. In fact, you are more likely to suffer a blood clot on a long-haul flight than you are through consumption of The Pill.
A third well-known variety of the combined pill, Yasmin is not only prescribed as contraception but can also be used to treat acne. By the same token, it can treat heavy or irregular cycles, and is perfect for women with no underlying health conditions. Boasting the same advantages as brands like Rigevidon, it’s easy to see why this type of pill is popular in the UK.
However, anyone considering it should be made aware that the Yasmin combined pill may provoke issues such as bleeding between periods and possible weight gain. While a great option for healthy women, it is not suitable for those with a history of smoking or indeed of suffering from blood clots. Use of this contraceptive slightly increases the risk of embolisms developing in the legs and lungs – and although this risk is extremely low, it is worth considering.
Much like Rigevidon and the others, Cilique is yet another combined contraceptive. It contains the same hormones in a slightly higher quantity than the medications in brands such as Rigevidon. When it comes to benefits, Cilique – like Yasmin – is clinically proven to reduce acne, also easing heavy or painful periods and the symptoms which occur along with them.
Unfortunately, though, the Cilique contraceptive pill poses the same negative aspects as others of its kind, particularly the possibility of side-effects. While highly efficient in preventing pregnancy, it is not suitable for women prone to blood clots, nor for those who are overweight or over 35 years of age.
2. The ‘POP’/’Mini Pill’
The ‘POP’ (Progesterone-only Pill) – also known as the ‘Mini-pill’ – is a little different to the combined variety. As its name suggests, it contains only one hormone instead of two. Nonetheless, if used as directed, it provides the same levels of protection against pregnancy, thickening cervical mucus so that it is more difficult for an egg to be fertilised. In contrast to the combined pill, the POP must be taken at around the same time each day of the month, without a break.
Noriday & Norgeston – The ‘Traditional’ POP
Akin to the combined pill, the POP’s proper use makes pregnancy prevention almost 100% effective. However, when used by the typical patient, their protection rate drops by almost 10%. Nonetheless, the mini pill remains a popular form of oral contraception. While remembering to take it each day may seem inconvenient at times, the medication itself has many advantages.
For one, it is suitable for women of all ages, with a variety of lifestyle habits and health conditions. An appropriate contraceptive for smokers, with no upper age limit on its use, the POP is a largely universal contraceptive. It is especially convenient for those with medical conditions which prevent them from taking oestrogen – for example, those who are receiving Hormone Replacement Treatment, and can also be prescribed safely to breastfeeding women.
That said, this form of contraception is far from perfect. In its traditional form, it must be taken within a three-hour window each day, otherwise it runs the risk of becoming ineffective.
This can also happen after vomiting and other illness, much like it does with the combined pill. And while the mini pill may contain only one hormone, its use can at times lead to a host of unpleasant side-effects. Although these do not always occur, they may include mood swings, changes in sex drive, increased anxiety, and irregular periods, as well as headaches and breast tenderness. These do not commonly persist beyond the first three months of using the pill. However, it is important that they are acknowledged.
Cerazette and Cerelle – The Dogesterel Varieties
There is a striking similarity between the ‘traditional’ mini pill and the Cerazette and Cerelle brands. Their side-effects are closely related, as are their rates of protection. All things considered, though, the slight distinctions between them could be important to deciding on the appropriate contraceptive.
The main difference between Cerazette and Cerelle brands, compared to the ‘traditional’ POP, is that these two contain Desogesterel, which is used as a form of birth control, but can also treat symptoms of menopause.
It goes without saying by now that every contraceptive brand has some negative points to account for. In the case of Cerazette and Cerelle, these disadvantages are remarkably similar to those of the traditional POP. That said, there is one clear advantage to taking Cerazette or Cerelle over the others mentioned.
As accessible as Noraday or Nigestron, and just as suitable for those with underlying health conditions, Cerazette and Cerelle are also suitable for any age-group and do not contain oestrogen. Even better, while they must still be taken every day, the Desogesterel pills have a twelve rather than three-hour window for consumption. So, if taking your pill ever slips your mind, then at least time is on your side.
3. The Low-Dose Pill
Low-Dose forms of contraception include brands such as Gedarel 20, Eloine, Millinette and Mercilon. Relatively new when compared to the more established Combined Pill, the Low-dose variety contains less oestrogen. Still incredibly effective – with more than 99% protection rates when used correctly – it works by interrupting the body’s hormonal cycles so that the ovaries do not release an egg to be fertilised.
Taken for three weeks, with a one-week break, the Low-dose Pill is remarkably true to its Combined counterpart. For some women, it even produces similar side effects, such as the now-familiar nausea, headaches and breast tenderness. These can also be coupled with mood swings and, on occasion, feelings of depression.
Despite this, many women report no side effects at all. In fact, the smaller quantities of hormones in low-dose contraceptives are often recommended to those suffering from the impacts of other varieties. So much so that the medication is typically suited to older women who no longer require high levels of oestrogen or progesterone.
Not only is the low-dose pill likely to reduce typical side-effects, but it also poses fewer health risks than other forms of oral birth control. Moreover, this type of pill has been known to improve acne and iron deficiency (anaemia), while minimising the risk of women developing cystic breasts and ovaries.
The reduced risk is partly down to the tablets themselves containing a lower quantity of oestrogen – the hormone involved in the development of the female reproductive system. Nevertheless, like its predecessors, it has its drawbacks too.
Among them: some cases of persistent side-effects despite the lower hormone levels. These can range from nausea and headaches to bloating and decreased libido – many of which echo the disadvantages of the original combined pill.
In addition, some medicines (including analgesics, anti-seizure medications, and antibiotics such as Rifampin) can interfere with the overall efficacy of the Low-dose contraceptive.
On the surface, perhaps, the Low-dose pill may seem the most likely to reduce health issues. Conversely, however, there is research to suggest that the use of this specific birth control can even cause resistance to insulin, making underlying conditions like Diabetes impossible to treat – and creating the potential for further health problems.
Contraception: Back to the Beginning
Put simply: contraceptive protection is an incredibly important aspect of sexual health, and staying safe is a matter of personal responsibility. Although the contraceptive pill is far from the only option available, it is nonetheless an interesting one to consider. While this guide is not completely comprehensive – there is far too much to say on the subject of The Pill – it will hopefully act as a starting point concerning some of its advantages and disadvantages. So, read it. Talk about it. And please, don’t let contraception conversations get awkward. After all, they are too important to keep quiet about.
A Few Important Things to Remember:
- Make sure to speak to a medical professional about which contraceptive pill or method is best for you
- Although a very reliable method of contraception, The Pill will not protect you from STIs.
- The efficacy of contraceptive pills can be impacted by severe vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Typical use of the pill – by the average patient – can lower its effectiveness at preventing unwanted pregnancy.
- The Pill is a great way for some women to protect themselves, but it won’t suit everyone – and that is okay.
- Do your research. And please, TALK about staying safe!