Let’s talk about (safe) sex

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Sex is an integral part of a romantic relationship, but are you and your partner practising safe sex?

Contraceptives can prevent unplanned pregnancy. Some also protect against STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The type of contraception that is appropriate for you depends on your lifestyle, overall health, age, sexual activity, number of sexual partners and family planning. Here are the pros and cons of a few of the main types of contraceptives to help you decide which best suits your needs.

1. The contraceptive pill

The contraceptive pill is a prescribed medication that contains hormones (progestin and oestrogen) which prevent pregnancy. It is taken orally and works most effectively when taken at the same time each day.

Pros:

  • Can regulate periods and make them lighter in some cases
  • Some may help treat conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis
  • May help to reduce unwanted hair growth

Cons:

  • May cause headaches for some
  • Sometimes results in spotting between periods
  • Can cause moodiness and irritability

2. Injection

The progestogen injection (a form of medication) is administered by a healthcare professional. It’s effective for 8–13 weeks.

Pros:

  • Can be used while breastfeeding
  • Doesn’t need to be taken daily

Cons:

  • Can’t be removed from the body once injected
  • Side effects like irregular periods and weight gain may continue for as long as the medication is in your system
  • Periods and fertility may take time to normalise after using the injection
  • You have to keep track of when you’re due for your next injection

3. Implant

A small, flexible, matchstick-sized device placed under the skin of your upper arm by a healthcare professional. It releases progesterone (a hormone) to stop ovulation. It lasts 3 years, but can be removed sooner.

Pros:

  • Long-acting
  • Once implant is removed, fertility will return to normal

Cons:

  • Can’t be seen in your arm, but can be felt by fingers
  • May increase the chance of acne

4. Intrauterine device (IUD)

A small, long-acting, plastic and copper device, also known as a coil or loop, that is inserted into the uterus by a healthcare professional. The IUD changes the way sperm cells move, preventing fertilisation of an egg. It’s effective for 5–10 years.

Pros:

  • Can be removed at any time
  • Doesn’t contain hormones
  • Fertility will return to normal once removed

Cons:

  • Could increase menstrual flow
  • Can be uncomfortable when inserted
  • Chance of infection within the first 20 days after insertion

5. Hormone patch

A three-layered sticker applied to the lower or upper body, which releases oestrogen and progesterone to thicken cervical mucus and prevent sperm from fertilising eggs.

Pros:

  • Can make periods lighter and more regular
  • Can improve acne

Cons:

  • Not suitable for overweight women
  • (Low) risk of blood clots
  • May be less effective if exposed to excessive light

6. Barriers

This form of contraception covers part of the male or female genitals. They must be used each time you have sex. They include:

  • Male condom
  • Female condom
  • Dental dam (a latex square sheet used during oral sex)

Pros:

  • Protect both you and your partner from bodily fluids, which carry STIs, including HIV
  • No side effects (unless you’re allergic to latex)
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Some people feel that it minimises pleasure

Note: When using a condom, remember to hold the tip before unrolling and remove it while the penis is still erect.

The above are only some of the options available. Other forms of contraceptives for family planning include:

  • The intrauterine system (which releases progesterone to prevent fertilisation)
  • The vaginal ring (which releases hormones to stop ovulation)
  • The diaphragm (which covers the cervix and kills sperm with the help of spermicide
  • Male/female sterilisation (which is a permanent solution)
  • Natural family planning (which requires knowing your own fertility cycle)

Be prepared

Before engaging in consensual sex, know your sexual health status. Get tested for HIV and STIs at your local clinic or hospital, and discuss family planning with your partner and doctor.

For more sexual health advice, read these helpful articles:

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.

References:

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