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CONTRACEPTION isn't exactly the most romantic thing to think about when you're in a relationship. But many women are influenced by widely-held myths - and as a result shun methods that could protect against pregnancy and STDs.

According to the UK's NICE (National Institute for Clinical health and Excellence), 70,000 unplanned pregnancies a year could be prevented if just 7.7 per cent of women switched to more appropriate methods.

Here we expose some well-believed myths to help ensure that you don't get caught out. And give you an update on what's out there...

1 BREASTFEEDING ALWAYS PROTECTS AGAINST PREGNANCY: NOT always. But it can be effective in the right circumstance. Toni Belfield, director of information at the UK's FPA (Family Planning Association) explains: "Breastfeeding is 98 per cent effective as a contraceptive ONLY if your baby is under six months, you're fully breast-feeding (not using supplement milk) and you're not having periods."

Otherwise, you'll need to use contraception from three weeks after giving birth. If you're partially breastfeeding, good options include the mini pill or the implant Implanon.

Unlike the combined pill or patch, these methods don't contain the hormone oestrogen, which may reduce milk flow.

2 THE PILL MAKES YOU FAT: MANY women complain they put on weight after starting the combined pill, but there's no medical evidence to support this.

And while there may be a slight weight gain with the progestogen-only pill (POP), this should stop within a few months.

3 AT 45-PLUS I'M TOO OLD TO GET PREGNANT: YOU may think so but your body may disagree.

To avoid pregnancy, you need to use contraception until the menopause - that is, when you've not had a period or any bleeding for two years if you're under 50 or for one year if you're over 50.

4 ALL CONDOMS ARE THE SAME: CONDOMS now come in different sizes and shapes (yes, really!), not to mention textures, flavours, sensations and colours.

Also, the newer polyurethane condoms give more heat transfer and are reported by some to feel more like the real thing. Condoms are free on the UK's NHS, but for a wider selection, visit Boots, www. or call 0044 845 600 8256.

5 THE FEMALE CONDOM IS FIDDLY: JUST one per cent of British women aged 16 to 49 used the female condom in 2004.

However, it's more popular in other parts of Europe, and Toni Belfield believes that its lack of use in this country is down to the fact that it's not well promoted.

"there's a widely held view that it's fiddly but most people haven't tried it," she says, However it's only 95 per cent effective.

6 INJECTIONS CAN MAKE YOU INFERTILE: THIS is untrue, though they may affect your menstrual cycle and fertility for up to a year after stopping. There are two types: Depo-Provera, given every 12 weeks, and Noristerat every eight weeks.

7 YOU NEED REGULAR BREAKS FROM THE PILL OR PATCH: "BREAKS are bad news as women may risk an unwanted pregnancy," warns Toni Belfield.

"The Pill and patch are both safe up until the menopause, as long as they've been properly prescribed.

"Anyone who is excessively overweight or has a personal or family history of medical conditions, including heart disease, circulatory problems or breast cancer, shouldn't be on this contraception in the first place. Smokers who are over 35 need to either give up or find alternatives."

8 AN IUD CAN GET LOST: THE intrauterine device (IUD) is a small copper and plastic object that's inserted into the womb and has one or two soft threads on the end, which hang through the cervix into the top of the vagina.

The womb is a closed-off organ the size of your fist so nothing can go beyond that.

The IUD kills off sperm and stops a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb.

9 STERILISATION IS THE ONLY GUARANTEED METHOD: THE only guaranteed method is saying no! …