Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus Your Safe Sex Guide; Today: Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus; EXPLORE THE OPTIONS

Article excerpt

EVERY woman about to embark on a sexual relationship should be aware of the contraceptive options open to her.

It's important to protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy and the chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Our table above shows the most effective contraception methods on the market today, but anyone in doubt should visit their GP or local family planning clinic.

You need to think about all forms of contraception and match them to your personality and lifestyle.

Your choice of birth control will probably change during your fertile years. No one method is ideal for this length of time, as it may be punctuated by planned pregnancies and changes in sexual partners.

If you need your contraceptive method to be close to 100 per cent effective without resorting to sterilisation, there are really only two choices - the combined contraceptive pill and progesterone IUD.

As all the medical complications of pregnancy outweigh those of the combined pill, getting pregnant is always more risky than taking the pill.

Therefore, contraceptives with the greatest medical risk are those with the highest failure rate. Here is our guide to the choices you face.

TAKEN from Dr Miriam Stoppard's Well Woman book, published by Dorling Kindersley, price pounds 4.99.

NATURAL METHODS

THESE methods include the oldest forms of contraception.

Periodic abstinence

ABSTINENCE from intercourse during the time of ovulation is based on calculations using the calendar, plus the rise and fall of the woman's body temperature and an ovulation-predictor kit. Using these indicators, you can decide to abstain from penetrative sex during ovulation. Failure rate is high because ovulation is difficult to be certain of.

Withdrawal

ANOTHER ancient method with a very high failure rate. The penis is withdrawn just before ejaculation. It doesn't require discussion about methods at clinics and there's no financial cost, but it also leaves much of the responsibility with the man. The failure rate is very high because often men wait too long to withdraw.

BARRIER METHODS

THESE methods physically block the sperm from reaching the ovum.

Male condom

A LATEX rubber or plastic sheath placed over the erect penis before penetration. It should be lubricated with a water-based lubricant - never use anything oily or greasy - and freed from air so it doesn't burst inside the vagina. It prevents transmission of sexually-transmitted diseases, especially AIDS.

Female condom

AS effective as the male condom, it's designed to line the inside of the vagina. …