There are many different options for contraception (birth control) if you do not wish to become pregnant. One group of contraceptives are pills, patches and rings which contain hormones.
What are hormone pills, patches and rings used for?
If you are having sex, but don't want to have a baby, these are some of the contraceptive options available to you. They do not protect you from sexually transmitted infections, so you may wish to consider using a condom as well. However, hormone contraceptive methods are more effective than condoms for stopping you becoming pregnant.
See the separate leaflet called Contraception Methods to see all the options available for contraception - there is a lot of choice.
How do they work?
Contraceptive pills, patches and rings contain hormones. Hormones are chemical substances which our bodies produce to control the way our internal organs and systems work. The hormones in pills, patches and rings are synthetic versions of the natural hormones produced in a woman's ovaries: oestrogen and/or progesterone. These hormones control your monthly cycle, and what is happening in your ovaries and your womb. The way they are formulated in the contraceptives prevents your ovaries releasing eggs and/or the sperm from reaching the egg. They also affect the thickness of the inner lining of the womb. More detail is available in the individual leaflets, as linked below.
What are the options?
- The combined oral contraceptive pill. The original "pill", which contains both oestrogen and a progestogen. Read about the combined oral contraceptive (COC) pill.
- The contraceptive patch. The hormones are the same as the COC pill, but you stick it on your skin as a patch, changed every week. Read about the contraceptive patch.
- The contraceptive vaginal ring. Again, the hormones are the same as the COC pill, but they are released slowly from a ring which sits in your vagina, and is changed once a month.Read about the contraceptive vaginal ring.
- The progestogen-only pill. Another tablet, but this one contains just the progestogen and no oestrogen. Read about the progestogen only pill (POP).
How do I choose between them?
The choice of which contraceptive to use can be bewildering as there are so many options. There is no one option which will be right for everyone. You will need to carefully weigh up all the pros and cons for you personally. If you are looking for long-term contraception that you can forget about for several years at a time, it may be better for you to consider the long-acting reversible contraceptive options. Pills, patches and rings are effective options, but you have to remember to take/change them regularly. If you don't, then they don't work. You may prefer to try patches and rings, which only have to be changed every week or three weeks respectively, rather than take a tablet every day. Others may find it easier to get into the routine of taking a tablet every day. A number of women may not be able to take the COC pill or the patch or ring due to existing medical conditions or other risk factors. Or because they are breast-feeding. For these women, the POP is often a good alternative. It is slightly less effective however, and periods aren't always as regular as they are on the other three options.
To help you decide:
- Read the separate leaflet called Contraception Methods, which gives an overview of the pros and cons of each method.
- Read each individual leaflet - for example, the combined contraceptive (COC) pill, the contraceptive patch, the contraceptive vaginal ring and the progestogen only pill (POP).
- Visit your GP or local family planning clinic to discuss your preferred choices further.
Further reading and references
Combined Hormonal Contraception; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (2011 updated August 2012)
UK Medical Eligibility Criteria Summary Table for intrauterine and hormonal contraception; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, 2016 - amended September 2019.
Trussell J; Contraceptive failure in the United States, Contraception, 2011
Gallo MF, Lopez LM, Grimes DA, et al; Combination contraceptives: effects on weight. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Jan 291:CD003987. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003987.pub5.
Contraception - assessment; NICE CKS, August 2016 (UK access only)
Beral V, Doll R, et al; Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer. Ovarian cancer and oral contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of data from 45 epidemiological studies including 23,257 women with ovarian cancer and 87,303 controls. Lancet. 2008 Jan 26371(9609):303-14.
Arowojolu AO, Gallo MF, Lopez LM, et al; Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 117:CD004425. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004425.pub6.
de Bastos M, Stegeman BH, Rosendaal FR, et al; Combined oral contraceptives: venous thrombosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Mar 33:CD010813. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010813.pub2.
Contraception - progestogen-only methods; NICE CKS, July 2016 (UK access only)