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What is contraception?

Contraception (birth control) prevents pregnancy by interfering with the normal process of ovulation (release of an egg by the ovary), fertilisation and implantation of the egg. 1

According to the Sexual Offences Act, 2 the legal age of consent for sex in South Africa is 16 years. In addition, any minor over the age of 12 years is entitled to buy or receive free condoms. 3 Minors over 12 years are also able to receive other forms of contraception (after being assessed by the doctor or nurse), without needing their parents’ consent and the doctor or nurse is not allowed to tell their parents. 3

Types of contraception

There are many different methods of contraception, with both temporary and permanent options. By learning more about the options, you can decide, together with your doctor, which method is right for you and your partner. 4

Temporary Contraception Options

two condoms in wrappers on blue background

Male condoms

Male condoms are made from very thin latex (rubber) or polyurethane and are designed to stop a man’s semen from coming into contact with his sexual partner. They protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 4,5

woman unwrapping female condom

Female condoms

Female condoms are made from soft thin plastic called polyurethane. They are worn inside the vagina to prevent sperm from getting to the womb. Like male condoms, they protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 4,5

pills in blister pack

Combined oral contraceptive pill

The combined oral contraceptive pill is usually just called “the pill”. It contains artificial versions of the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone and it stops the release of an egg (ovulation). A pill is taken at the same time every day. There are several different types of pills. Some are designed to allow the woman to have a period every month and others allow the women to have period every 3 months or not at all. 4,5

pills in blister pack

Progestogen-only pill

The traditional progestogen-only pill or “mini pill prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm reaching an egg. You need to take the progestogen-only pill very reliably at the same time every day. 4,5

3 viles and a syringe on blue background

Contraceptive injection

The contraceptive injection releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. It is given every 3 months into the woman’s buttocks or arm. 4,5

contraceptive implant on lavender background

Contraceptive implant

The contraceptive implant is a small flexible plastic rod that’s placed under the skin in your upper arm. It releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy and lasts for 3 years. 5

woman applying patch to arm

Contraceptive patches

The contraceptive patch is a small sticky patch that releases hormones into your body through your skin to prevent pregnancy. Each patch lasts for 1 week. You change the patch every week for 3 weeks, then have a week off without a patch. 5

intrauterine device or iud on green background

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD is small, plastic, flexible, T-shaped device that is placed into the uterus (womb). There two types of IUDs. 4,5

  • An IUD which releases copper to stop you getting pregnant. It can be kept in place for between 5 to 10 years. It’s sometimes called a “coil” or “copper coil”.
  • An IUD which releases the hormone progestogen to stop you getting pregnant and lasts for 3 to 5 years.
diaphragm contraceptive on blue background


A diaphragm or cap is a circular dome made of thin, soft silicone that’s inserted into the vagina before sex. It covers the cervix (the lower part of the womb that protrudes into the vagina) so sperm can’t get into the womb (uterus) to fertilise an egg. Spermicides must be used with a diaphragm. 4,5

vaginal ring on pink background

Vaginal ring

The vaginal ring is a small soft, plastic ring that you place inside your vagina. It releases a continuous dose of the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. 4

Permanent Contraception Options

Female sterilisation

This is a surgical procedure in which the fallopian tubes are blocked or sealed. It permanently prevents pregnancy by preventing the eggs from reaching the sperm and becoming fertilised.

visual: female sterilisation process

Male sterilisation – Vasectomy

A vasectomy is a surgical procedure to cut or seal the tubes that carry sperm from a man’s testicles to the penis. It permanently prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm getting into a man’s semen (the fluid that he ejaculates).

visual: male sterilisation


Abstinence is the best way to protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy and STDs. You may not be ready to have sex. Don’t let someone pressure you into having sex if you don’t feel ready. It is an important decision with serious emotional and physical consequences. 4

The morning-after pill

This is a type of emergency contraception that is used to prevent pregnancy for women who’ve had unprotected sex or whose birth control method has failed for example, if a condom has torn or you have missed a pill. 5 It usually consists of two doses of hormone pills taken in one day 12 hours apart. 4   The morning-after pill is intended for backup contraception only, not as a primary method of birth control. It can fail even with correct use, and it offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases. 6 If you are 16 years or older, you can get the morning-after pill at a pharmacy without a script. 4

If you would like to get advice on the right contraception options for you, speak to your Medicare Pharmacy healthcare professional about our doctor video consultations.

References: 1. Medical dictionary. Contraception. [Online] [cited 2016 Nov 9]. Available from: URL: 2. Sexual Offences Act. [Online] 2007 Dec 16 [cited 2018 Jun 28]. Available from URL: 3. Children’s Act 38 of 2005. [Online] 2005 [cited 2018 Jun 28]. Available from: URL: 4. Cleveland Clinic. Birth control options. [Online] 2011 April 18 [cited 2018 Jun 28]. Available from URL: 5. UK National Health Service. Your contraception guide. [Online] 2016 Feb 25 [cited 2018 Jun 28]. Available from URL: 6. Mayo Clinic. Morning-after pill [Online] 2018 June 08 [cited 2018 Jun 28]. Available from URL:

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