About contraception – frequently asked questions

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Is contraception free and where can I go to get it?

You can get free contraception, including emergency contraception, from:

  • a general practice, unless they say they don’t provide contraception services
  • a contraception clinic or a sexual health clinic
  • a young people’s service (these will have an upper age limit)
  • some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics.

You can also get the emergency contraceptive pill Levonelle free from:

  • most NHS walk-in centres (England only) and minor injuries units
  • some hospital accident and emergency departments (phone first to check)
  • some pharmacies (there may be an age limit).

If you are 16 or over you can buy the emergency contraceptive pill Levonelle from most pharmacies.

You can buy the emergency contraceptive pill ellaOne from some pharmacies.

How can I find a contraception service?

  • Use FPA's Find a Clinic tool.
  • Find details of general practices and pharmacies in England at www.nhs.uk and in Wales at www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk. In Scotland you can find details of general practices at www.nhs24.com. You can also call NHS 111 in England, NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 in Wales, and NHS 24 on 111 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland call the FPA Northern Ireland helpline or for details of general practices see www.hscni.net.
  • Get details of your nearest contraception, GUM or sexual health clinic from Find a Clinic, a health centre, local pharmacy, hospital, midwife, health visitor, advice centre or telephone directory.
  • Get details of young people’s services from Brook.

What other services are available?

Contraception clinics sometimes provide far more than contraception. This may include:

  • pre-pregnancy advice/pregnancy testing
  • help and advice on an unplanned pregnancy (including abortion, adoption and continuing the pregnancy)
  • safer sex advice
  • advice on sexual problems
  • cervical screening tests and breast awareness
  • checks for sexually transmitted infections
  • menopause advice
  • infertility advice.

What is unprotected sex?

Sex without using contraception can put you at risk of pregnancy at any time during the menstrual cycle. You can use emergency contraception up to five days after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is more effective at preventing pregnancy the earlier it is used.

Sex without using a condom can put you at greater risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection. Read about sexually transmitted infections including symptoms, tests and treatment.

Young people

Do I have to be 16 to use contraception?

No. If you are under 16 you can get confidential advice and contraception. Health workers (nurses, doctors and pharmacists) work under very specific guidance with this age group. You must be mature enough to understand the advice and any decisions made about giving you contraception.

Will my parents/carers be told if I am given contraception?

Health workers have to keep anything you tell them private but they will usually encourage you to talk to your parent or carer.

If a health worker thinks there is a risk to your health, safety or welfare they might need to share your information with someone else. The risk would need to be serious and the health worker would usually discuss this with you first.

Age of consent

It is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. However, the law is not intended to criminalise mutually agreed sexual activity between two young people of similar age and understanding, unless it involves abuse, exploitation or harm.

Young people have the right to access confidential advice on contraception, including condoms and pregnancy, even if they are under 16.

Information and advice for young people

Brook has advice on sexual health, contraception and your rights as a young person.

This website can only give you general information about contraception. The information is based on evidence-guided research from the World Health Organization and The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. All methods of contraception come with a Patient Information Leaflet which provides detailed information about the method.

Remember – contact your doctor, practice nurse or a contraception clinic if you are worried or unsure about anything.

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