There is more to contraception than the pill

Helen O’Neill

For women, deciding to use contraception can be a big choice to make at any age. But for younger girls, lack of education can mean that sometimes they are not aware of all the different types available to them.

While Minister for Health Simon Harris announced plans to provide free contraception in Ireland if the eighth amendment is repealed, many women are uneducated about the types of contraception they can avail of.

In Ireland, 79 per cent of women are not aware of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARCs) even though they are one of the most effective types of contraception. You do not have to take them every day and they are highly regarded by doctors and nurses, according to a study by

The pill is the most discussed form of contraception for women in Ireland, yet there are many more types available which may be more suitable for individual users. Other contraceptives include the coil, injectable progesterone, the implant, the patch, vaginal ring, the female condom, natural methods, diaphragms/cups and the intrauterine system (IUS).

Midwife at the Rotunda Maternity hospital, Mary Dwyer, said that the possible introduction of free contraception in Ireland would be a great way forward for parental planning.

“Being a midwife, the first time someone talks to us about contraception is after they’ve had a baby and they don’t want to have another one quite so quick so that’s when we talk about it. I was a practice nurse for a while and to be honest with you, most of the GPs dealt with the contraception issues and like you said it would be to issue a pill and they would offer the combined pill if there were any problems, but there were loads of different varieties that they could have offered them and they didn’t.”

Young girls are often told that for females, the pill is the main form of contraception. It’s true. In fact, it’s currently the most widely used contraceptive method in Europe, with a 24 per cent share, followed by the male condom with 23 per cent.

According to Dwyer, most young girls just aren’t educated enough about contraception and fear plays a big part in being misinformed.

“Most people are probably too scared to go to their GPs unless they get around to the conversation with their parents. Unless they have an open relationship with their parents, they’re too scared to go to their GP until they’re 18 and even then some won’t,” Dwyer said.

“I think the health clinics that offer contraception, like in England where there are ones that you can go to from the age of 16 and they’re open and everything is free, something like that would be ideal here.”

The NHS provides free and confidential contraception clinics which provide consultations. Most forms of contraception are free through the NHS. These clinics serve both men and women and people who are under 16. The lack of these clinics in Ireland mean young women often don’t seek out information from their GPs, as that would mean telling their parents.

A study carried out by The College View on over 100 young adults found that when asked if they were told about other forms of contraception other than the pill when they were young, 80 per cent of those questioned said they weren’t. This compares to just 20 per cent who said that they were informed about all of them.

When questioned further about how they were informed about alternative contraception to the pill, one female DCU student said that she had to seek out the information herself rather than being taught about it.

The only side effects of the pill many girls are educated about are mainly the physical ones. It isn’t until after some women suffer from the excess hormones affecting their mental health that they are told about alternatives.

And even though the pill is the main form of contraception for most women in Ireland, approximately 60 per cent of users do not take it properly according to MyContraception.

“I don’t think young girls are advised enough about it because even people who are on the pill, they don’t realise if they’re really really sick, that the pill has no effect and then they get pregnant and they blame the fact that the pill didn’t work. Whereas the fact is they weren’t actually covered by the pill because they had been sick so there’s a lack of education there too,” said Dwyer.

According to Dwyer, contraception in Ireland goes in phases of popularity and for some women, they don’t even realise that hormone based contraceptives just don’t work for them until after the fact.

“When you think about it, you’re pumping so much hormones into your body and it can’t be really good for you. I have to say there was a phase there where the marina coil was huge, an awful lot of people were doing that. But if you can’t do hormone therapy then any kind of contraception isn’t really good for you.”

Whether it’s through your GP or sex ed lessons in schools, most girls in Ireland are not being adequately informed about the many types of contraception available to them and which types may suit their body and mind.

Helen O’Neill

Image credit- Sarah O’Neill