A look at personal experiences of using various contraceptive methods.
You’re finally starting university (or coming back for returning students). At last, you’re away from your parents who you’ve probably been quarantined with, for frankly… too long. It’s quite likely for many of you that this newfound freedom is going to make you want to try new things, and perhaps do a little “socialising”.
University is a time that a lot of people end up exploring their sexuality; be this casually or in a relationship. But not everyone gets the same amount of sexual education when they are growing up, and therefore can lack essential knowledge on how to have safe sex. What we are taught at school can be anything from “the best contraception is no sex” to a practically untrained PE teacher hopelessly trying to put a condom onto a banana.
In reality, areas like contraceptives are broad and varied. There is so much more out there than just the condom and the pill (though only condoms and internal condoms protect you from sexually transmitted infections); and even amongst those other forms, there is often limited discussion about the pros and cons of these contraceptives. We want to give you some people’s lived experiences with some common forms of contraception. However, bear in mind that each person’s experience varies as we are all different, and if you want to learn more, I recommend looking at the NHS website or contraceptionchoices.org.
A thin rubbery sheath that acts as a physical barrier.
Valentine – 21 (they/them)
Probably the contraceptive method we have heard the most about. Before I went on the combined pill for a myriad of health reasons, the condom was my main source of contraception – they were easy to get a hold of and meant I didn’t have to have an awkward conversation about sex with my parents. Even though I am on the combined pill, I still often use condoms when having sex, as they are not only useful for pregnancy prevention but also to prevent STIs.
As a queer person, adverts for condoms which were focused on cisgender men shagging cisgender women were quite alienating to me, but through my own experience I have found condoms to have quite diverse uses; they can be used on sex toys, worn on fingers, and in a pinch even be used as a dental dam (though getting dams are definitely recommended).
A positive of condoms is that they’re easily accessible – they’re free on campus and in most doctors’ surgeries, and available to purchase at most shops. As well as this, they don’t have any long-term side effects or hormonal changes, making them ideal if you aren’t a stranger to casual sex, but don’t want the health drawbacks of other types of contraception.
Obviously, there are some downsides. There is a risk that they can rip or come off during sex. While most condoms come lubricated, I’ve found it always necessary to keep a bottle of (water-based) lube on hand when using condoms. As well as this, there have been complaints that barrier contraceptives lessen the experience, although this obviously isn’t an issue for everyone. They can be tricky to apply at first, but with some practice, they’re easy to get the hang of. I honestly believe these disadvantages have a simple workaround or can just be put up with; after all, a slightly enhanced sensation of sex is not worth the risk of pregnancy or STIs for many people.
A daily pill containing two hormones (progestogen & oestrogen).
Anonymous – 19 (she/her)
Having been on the combined pill for two years as one of my main contraceptive methods, I have certainly had a positive experience with them in more ways than one and would recommend them as a very cheap, easy option for students looking into their contraceptive options. Combined pills are provided by the NHS in the UK, and thankfully you are not limited to one brand of pill - so if one’s side effects are too much, some others may work instead. At my first appointment, I said acne was an issue for me, so I wasn’t put on the default option of Rigevidon but instead given Gedarel 30/150, which made the side effects far more manageable for me.
As somebody who struggled with severe anxiety surrounding pregnancy in the early stages of my relationship, I have nothing but positive things to say about it. While it would be dishonest to say there were no negative side effects of taking the pill (tender breasts and slight nausea being the most notable for me); my periods being easier to control and handle, a vastly reduced feeling of worry surrounding sex and pregnancy, and even clearer skin at points makes the combined pill a contraceptive method that I can’t recommend enough.
Karolina – 19 (she/her)
I was prescribed the pill after years of various treatments for acne and I remember my joy as the aggressive pustules became less frequent. On the pill my confidence grew, but my general mood plummeted. My parents were separating and I began to feel very low despite wanting them to split for a long time. Changing my prescription changed little, and I felt I had little control over my emotions. It wasn’t until I decided to stop taking the pill that I began to feel normal. My friends who have used hormonal contraception also had similar experiences, which only added to the inner conflict I felt when considering trying it again for both my acne and contraception. Luckily, this round has been far better, as I have put more effort into being mindful about my moods to prevent another downwards spiral into feeling emotionally overwhelmed. I now know that I am more sensitive on the pill, however, having this awareness has allowed me to address things that upset me in a productive way rather than catastrophising uncomfortable experiences. I am grateful for having access to the combined pill, but I only want its benefits when I feel at ease with myself.
A daily pill containing one hormone (progestogen).
Anonymous – 21 (she/her)
I was on the mini pill for just under three months.
I started the pill for contraception, though a few of my friends were on it to help with acne or regulating their periods. I wanted to be on the combined pill because it generally has a higher success rate, but my health issues ruled me out. I suffered from chronic hemiplegic migraines and had since I was about 11, which meant the combined pill was a bigger risk to me than pregnancy. So, my doctor recommended the mini pill, which has the progesterone of the combined pill but no oestrogen (it’s otherwise known as the “progesterone-only pill”). Before then I’d just been using condoms and spermicide, but I got tired of checking every condom for rips and having mini heart attacks every time my period was a day late. I knew I needed something more reliable that would ease my stress.
As a contraceptive, it was very effective in the end… because it totally deterred me from having sex. I had a period that lasted for the entire time I took it, nonstop, with all the bells and whistles that my period usually had. My partner and I at the time tried having some very period friendly sex, but after ruining more bed sheets and towels than I’d like to admit, we were defeated. Not to mention the daily cramps were definitely a turn-off.
My doctor told me that the symptoms were totally normal and I should just wait until my body “adjusted”. After months of pain, I was still having to use condoms anyway to minimise mess and I couldn’t see an end in sight. It’s totally possible that if I’d held out the period would have ended and everything would have been fine. But in the end, it just wasn’t worth it for me. I’d advise anyone thinking of hormonal birth control to trust your body and stop taking it if you’re in more pain than it’s worth.
A small plastic rod injected in the arm which releases one hormone (progestogen).
Tara – 21 (she/her)
I am on my second implant, meaning I have been through both insertion and removal, and I have had a great experience with it. The implant lasts for three years before it needs to be replaced; although you can have it removed at any point within those years if you want to conceive or decide it’s not the contraception for you.
I chose the implant because I was concerned about the mental health effects and weight gain that comes with many forms of the pill, and knew I couldn’t rely on myself to remember a daily tablet. It hasn’t let me down, giving no mental or physical side effects - aside from essentially stopping my period (this isn’t the same for all people who get the implant), and with it my incredibly painful cramps.
The insertion process is unpleasant but no worse than, say, getting your earlobes pierced, and while the removal process is not always smooth (the device can move and get more deeply ingrained in the years you have it in). Both processes are done under local anaesthetic so all you feel is pressure, and then a sore arm for one day afterwards. I know there are plenty of horror stories out there about the implant, but they exist for all forms of contraception, and I can’t fault it. At least with the implant, you only have to think about it once every three years.
Bethany – 21 (she/her)
The contraceptive implant is a thin piece of soft plastic, no bigger than a matchstick, which is inserted into the underside of your arm. I found it to be a fairly painless and fast procedure. I was injected with a small dose of local anaesthetic to numb the area (which was the most painful part and was only a sharp scratch at that). My doctor then made a tiny cut and inserted it under the skin. You cannot see my implant; it does not protrude and the tiny scar isn’t visible unless you look very closely.
The implant only contains one hormone – progestogen – which is partly what attracted me to this method, as it’s similar to a naturally-produced hormone (progesterone) and it isn’t messing with my oestrogen levels (which is the other main female sex hormone and can cause an abundance of mental and physical issues for many people, if messed around with too much). It works by thinning the lining in the womb so a fertilised egg can’t settle and grow, stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg each month, and also thickening fluid around the entry to your womb to prevent sperm getting inside. It is therefore one of the most effective methods of contraception at over 99%, and I would argue it is the least hassle, with only one trip to the doctors every three years. It is also hugely beneficial for those who suffer from heavy or lengthy periods, with over 60% of people having lighter and less frequent bleeding, and one in five of us not having periods at all. These changes to your menstrual cycle have no correlation to fertility, and both will return to normal within a week of having it taken out. It can also help with period pain, premenstrual syndrome, and anaemia (as you’re not losing iron every month, which is priceless!). This form of contraception does not protect you against STIs; however, if you’re in a situation such as a monogamous relationship where both partners are tested negative, then it is an ideal choice. There is no scrambling for condoms in the heat of the moment, or the panic in the pit of your stomach when you realise you have forgotten to take your daily pill. You can simply forget all about it.
The experience is different for each person and I make no assertions that it works perfectly for everybody. Even for myself, I have had different experiences with the same form of contraception; with the first three years of my implant presenting very occasional, light periods, whereas now, a year into my second implant, I am period free! Overall though, it is a safe, effective, hassle-free form of contraception and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Hormonal coil (IUS)
A T-shaped plastic device inserted into the uterus that releases one hormone (progestogen).
Bronagh – 20 (she/her)
For about a month, I’ve had the Mirena intrauterine system, or more commonly, the hormonal coil. It’s not a coil exactly (I almost wept when a male friend thought I had a slinky spring inside me), but a T-shaped plastic device about the size of a two-pound coin, directly in the uterus. I chose it for a few reasons: it’s long-term, low maintenance, and effective.
After a few messy situations, including punching my friend in the eye when celebrating a negative pregnancy test, and trying to get the morning-after pill in a pharmacy in Vietnam, I realised that I needed something reliable. The hormonal coil is 99% effective for five years and doesn’t require the daily duty of a pill - ideal for the less responsible among us. It does release hormones, but they’re local to your uterus, not in your bloodstream, so hormonal side effects are more manageable. After hearing the non-hormonal coil could make cramps and periods much worse, I opted for the hormones, and it’s been fine; my mental health, skin, and libido remain intact.
The insertion, to be fair, is a drawback. Lying, legs in the air on a table in Finnieston, and a 60-year-old woman poking inside me and wrenching my womb open isn’t my ideal morning. It was painful, but bearable with local anaesthetic. I had cramps for around two weeks. I’ve had some spotting, bloating, and occasional cramps, but it’s been worth it for no babies until 2025.
Copper coil (IUD)
A non-hormonal copper and plastic T-shaped device inserted into the uterus.
Emily – 22 (she/her)
When I first looked into getting the copper coil fitted, I was more than a little hesitant after reading forum after forum of horror stories about the pain during and after insertion (and the risks of it piercing your uterine wall, etc). But given my history with hormonal contraception, I decided to go for it anyway – and I’m so glad I did.
Yes, insertion is painful, but it’s over so quickly that you don’t even have time to scream. I only experienced what for me were moderate period cramps in the day following my appointment – I even went out to Viper that night. The risk of the device piercing your uterine wall is less than one in 1000, which is significantly less than your risk of getting pregnant whilst using a condom, one in 50, or dying in a car accident, one in 200; and contrary to popular belief, it can only happen during insertion and not later on in its lifetime. I’ve now been happily protected from pregnancy non-hormonally for three years and I have, at minimum, two more to go before I need it replaced. Moral of the story: don’t believe everything you read online.
Daisy – 21 (she/her)
First, a three month waiting period; it varies, but this traditionally isn’t the sort of contraception you can get in a pinch. Once I finally made it to the appointment, the insertion was fine. It wasn’t until about two hours later that the worst stabbing cramps of my life arrived. They were expected; the nurse said I might experience them for the rest of the day, but they overstayed their welcome and lasted two long weeks for which I was practically bedridden. They finally subsided, but then after a week’s reprieve I got my period - and with it, the cramps were back full throttle. I’d always had light, painless periods so this was a shock. However, after the first three periods, the cramps calmed down to a manageable level and I now have contraception that is set for up to 10 years without any hormones to worry about.
An injection to the bottom or thigh which contains one hormone (progestogen)
Chloe – 20 (she/her)
My experience with the injection has been a tumultuous one. I was 16 when I had my first proper boyfriend and was given no credible sexual education from my comprehensive school, resulting in a torrent of paranoia regarding any type of sexual interaction. To me, pregnancy was an inevitability even if I used a condom (that Friends episode scarred me for life), so I looked immediately towards contraceptive methods for double protection.
The injection was recommended to me by my doctor since I told them I was majorly scatter-brained (ruling out the pill) and heard horror stories from my IT teacher about the coil getting trapped in her uterus. So I was given Depo-Provera, the most common form of contraceptive injection, which was injected into my thigh once every 13 weeks.
Depo-Provera contains the hormone progestogen, which is similar to women's own hormones. My doctor assured me that it wouldn’t cause acne but stated there was a potential for hormonal mood swings, weight gain, and even the stopping of periods altogether (about seven in 10 women experience this). What was not shared with me was the possibility of irregular bleeding in between periods. I was hunky-dory for the first couple of weeks, empowered by the prospect of safe sex… until the daily bleeding came. I can recall bleeding every day from then on, each day varying in heaviness. It wasn’t exactly Carrie but it was frustrating nonetheless; with the light-headedness, and the cost of panty liners and sanitary pads chipping away at my bank account.
13 weeks passed and I was administered another dose of this contraceptive, I inquired about the bleeding: “Don’t worry, it will clear up by the next injection.” But it didn’t. The bleeding was so persistent that after the third injection - six months into this contraceptive - I stopped taking it altogether. After the hormones were out of my system, my periods stopped completely, not coming back for approximately two years - and even then being highly irregular.
The only bright side for me taking the injection was that it takes an average of six months for fertility to return to normal, meaning less pregnancy scares as I came off the injection.
The contraceptives discussed here are by no means the only ones that are available, other contraceptives include the patch, the diaphragm, internal (or female) condoms, and the ring. Many contraceptive options can be accessed from either your local GP or from a sexual health clinic (Sandyford is the one closest to the University and supports online booking).
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