Unpacking contraceptives: Looking at the different types and possible side effects

There are several types of contraceptives, including condoms. File image.

There are several types of contraceptives, including condoms. File image.

Published Nov 30, 2023


Contraception is a fundamental aspect of reproductive health and family planning. Also known as birth control, it encompasses a range of methods and practices.

“It allows individuals and couples to make informed choices about their reproductive futures, supporting their goals for family planning and personal health,” CEO of Affinity Health Murray Hewlett said.

Types of contraception methods available and the possible side effects

Oral contraceptives

Murray explained that these usually take the form of birth control pills, a prescription medication which contain hormones to prevent pregnancy.

“There are combination pills which contain both oestrogen and progestin, while there are also progestin-only pills,” he said.

Possible side effects of oral contraceptives

  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Weight changes
  • Decreased libido (sexual desire)
  • Changes in menstrual flow

Injectable contraceptives

Injectable contraceptives often contain the hormone progesterone that stops your body from releasing eggs and thickens the mucus at the cervix, Murray said.

“They are administered once every two or three months, depending on which injectable is chosen”.

Possible side effects of contraceptive injection

  • Irregular menstrual bleeding or spotting
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Decreased bone density with long-term use (reversible after discontinuation)

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

These are small, T-shaped devices inserted into the uterus, the Affinity Health CEO said, adding that there are both hormonal and non-hormonal (copper) IUDs available.

Possible side effects of IUDs

  • Cramping or pain during insertion
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding or spotting (may decrease over time)
  • Expulsion (rare)
  • Infection (rare)
  • Perforation of the uterus (extremely rare)


A hormonal implant is inserted under the skin on the arm and can provide contraceptive protection for up to three years, Murray said.

Possible side effects of implants

  • Pain or bruising at the insertion site
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding or spotting
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in libido

Emergency contraception (Morning-After Pill)

Murray explained that emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, is available without a prescription. It can be used to prevent pregnancy following unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.

Possible side effects of emergency contraception

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Breast tenderness
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in menstrual cycle


Surgical sterilisation methods for permanent contraception are available for both men. Murray said that men have vasectomies while women undergo tubal ligation.

Possible side effects of surgical sterilisation

  • Risk of surgical complications such as infection, bleeding.
  • Potential regret if future fertility is desired. Murray warned that reversal is not always possible or successful.

Barrier methods

Condoms are a popular and widely used barrier method.

“It acts as a physical barrier between sexual partners, preventing the exchange of bodily fluids, including semen and vaginal secretions, which can carry sperm and infectious micro-organisms,” Murray said.

He added that a diaphragm is also a barrier contraceptive, which is inserted into the vagina before intercourse.

“Similar to a diaphragm, the cervical cap is a small silicone device that covers the cervix.”

In addition, the contraceptive vaginal ring is a hormonal method inserted into the vagina and replaced monthly.

Possible side effects of barrier methods

  • Allergic reactions to latex or spermicides (in some cases)
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Reduced spontaneity

Natural family planning

This method, also known as fertility awareness-based methods, involves tracking a woman's menstrual cycle to identify fertile and infertile days.

Possible deterrents of natural family planning

The Affinity Health CEO explained that this requires strict adherence to tracking and monitoring methods. “There is a risk of unintended pregnancy if methods are not followed accurately,” he said.

Contraceptive patches

Murray explained that these patches are worn on the skin and release hormones to prevent pregnancy and are typically changed weekly.

Possible side effects of contraceptive patches:

  • Skin irritation at the patch site
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in menstrual flow


These are chemical substances that are used to kill or immobilise sperm.

But Murray warned that their effectiveness can vary, and they are generally considered to be less reliable than other contraceptive methods.

“The typical-use effectiveness rate for spermicides is around 72% to 82%. This means that with typical use, 18 to 28 out of 100 women using spermicides for a year may become pregnant.”

Possible side effects of spermicides

  • Irritation and allergic reactions
  • Increased Risk of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).

Murray believes that choosing the right contraceptive method is a personal decision that depends on various factors. This includes health, lifestyle, preferences, and relationship status.

"Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all contraceptive method, and what works best for one person may not be suitable for another,” he said.

“Be proactive in discussing your options with a healthcare provider, and don't hesitate to ask questions until you feel confident in your choice."