What Is Birth Control?

Everything You Need To Know About Contraception


Birth control is another name for contraception. The contraceptive pill, patch & ring are among the most used methods of birth control in Ireland – but what are they? How do they work? We are here to help! Let’s open up the conversation about birth control and contraception.

What Is Birth Control & How Does It Work?

Contraception, or birth control, is most often used to prevent pregnancy, but it can be used for some other medical reasons too (such as managing heavy or painful periods). There are numerous types. Some are reversible or stop working once usage is stopped, e.g., the contraceptive pill, patch or ring, while others are permanent like tubal ligation, or ‘getting your tubes tied’. Certain types of contraception can also aid in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STDs), e.g., condoms. These methods work in different ways to prevent pregnancy, they are divided into four main categories:

  1. Barrier methods – e.g., condoms, diaphragms
  2. Hormonal methods – e.g., contraceptive pill, patch and ring
  3. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) – e.g., IUD (intrauterine device)
  4. Permanent – e.g. male and female sterilisation

What Are The Most Common Types Of Birth Control?

The most commonly used types of birth control in Ireland are the combined contraceptive pill, patch and ring. These methods of contraception alter the natural levels of the hormones in your body: oestrogen and progesterone. They work by:

  1. Preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulating)
  2. Thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb, making it more difficult for sperm to enter
  3. Thinning the lining of the womb, making it less favourable for successful implantation of a fertilised egg

However, there are many other forms of contraception available – let’s have a look…

1. Barrier methods

This type of contraception physically blocks or otherwise prevents sperm from entering the uterus and fertilising an egg. Examples include:

  • Female or male condoms – thin, flexible plastic pouch that collects or catches the sperm before it reaches the uterus
  • Spermicides – a substance that is inserted into the vagina that kills sperm
  • Cervical caps/ diaphragm – caps that are inserted into the vagina that cover the cervix

2. Hormonal methods

This form of birth control prevents the release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation), thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus and thins the uterus lining to prevent implantation. Examples of this method include:

  • Contraceptive pill – an oral pill taken daily that can contain only progesterone (progesterone only pill or mini pill) or both progesterone and oestrogen (combined pill)

    Note: the progesterone only pill does not reliably prevent ovulation

  • Contraceptive patch – a plaster-like patch that is placed on the skin which allows hormones to enter through the bloodstream
  • Vaginal ring – placed inside the vagina for 3 weeks at a time, the ring continually releases hormones until taken out for a hormone-free break and is then replaced.

3. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)

These forms of contraception are more effective and reliable as they remove the element of ‘user error’.

  • Injectable birth control – an injection of hormones that offers contraceptive protection for 3 months (12 weeks)
  • Implant – a thin rod that is placed under the skin on a women’s upper arm that slowly releases the hormone progesterone and is effective for up to 3 years
  • Intrauterine system (IUS) – this is a type of contraceptive coil. It is a small plastic device that is inserted into the uterus and releases a small steady amount of the hormone progesterone
    • Depending on the type of IUS it can remain in situ for between 3 and 8 years to provide contraceptive cover
  • Intrauterine device (IUD) – this is commonly referred to as the copper coil. It does not contain any hormones. It is a small T-shaped device made of copper inserted into the uterus. It can remain in place for up to 10 years. As well as a long-acting reversible method of contraception, it can also be used as emergency contraception in some cases and remains in place to provide ongoing contraception if required

What Form of Contraception Is Right For Me?

There are many contraceptive options available in Ireland. The one that works best for you will depend on your general health, past medical history, current circumstances and of course, your personal preference.

Aside from this, there are a number of personal points you should consider when deciding what form of contraception is right for you such as:

  • How effective is the method of contraception
  • Does it protect against STIs (condoms are the only form of contraception that protect against STIs)
  • Are you going to be able to incorporate using this contraceptive into my routine? E.g., are you likely to forget to take a pill or reapply a patch?
  • Do you want to use a hormonal, or non-hormonal form of contraception?
  • Will this form of contraception affect your period?
  • Are you planning on getting pregnant in the near future?

If you would prefer to discuss your options with an Irish-registered GP, you can book an online GP appointment.


What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Taking Birth Control?

Barrier Methods

Example – condoms


  • Reduce risk of STIs
  • Widely available
  • More affordable than other birth control methods
  • Do not affect future fertility of sexual participants
  • Only required during sexual activity


  • May decrease sensation during sexual activity
  • Can disrupt sex
  • Can split or break (failure)
  • Can be a cause of allergy (latex condoms)
  • Must be used each time you have sex

Hormonal Methods

Example – combined contraceptive pill


  • Effective method of birth control (if taken correctly)
  • Good cycle control – periods can be lighter and less painful
  • Does not interrupt sex
  • May reduce acne
  • Can reduce the risk of certain cancers – ovarian, uterine, colon
  • Does not affect long-term fertility


  • Does not protect against STIs
  • Small increased risk of some serious health conditions such as blood clots, breast cancer and high blood pressure
  • Common side effects (within the first few months) include:
    • Spotting and breakthrough bleeds
    • Headaches
    • Nausea
    • Breast tenderness
    • Mood swings

If these symptoms persist it may be beneficial to try a different pill

If you are thinking of going with a hormonal form of contraception, such as the contraceptive pill, patch or ring, you should have a look at more information on choosing the right contraception for you. You can always discuss your options with a doctor too, by booking an online GP consultation.

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)

Example – IUD


  • Protects against pregnancy for up to 10 years
  • There are no hormonal side effects – acne, mood swings, breast tenderness
  • It works straight away after insertion
  • It does not disrupt sex
  • It is not affected by other medications


  • It does not protect against STIs
  • Periods can become more painful and heavier initially, though this may subside after a number of months
  • Infections can form as a result of IUD insertion (these can worsen if not treated)
  • Insertion can be uncomfortable
  • On rare occasions, vaginal bleeding/ abdominal discomfort can occur

How Effective Is Each Form Of Contraception?

There are no contraceptives that are 100% effective. However, some are more effective than others.

Each method’s effectiveness is determined by calculating how many women become pregnant if 100 women use the method for a year.

For example, if a contraceptive method is 99% effective, one woman in every 100 who use it will become pregnant within a year.

The above efficacy rates are based on the assumption that the contraceptive is used correctly. This is because people who use these methods must remember to take or administer them every day, week, or month, or use them every time they have intercourse. The method will be less effective if it is not used correctly.

Barrier Methods

  • Female condoms – 95% perfect use; 79% typical use
  • Male condoms – 98% perfect use; 82% typical use
  • Spermicides + Cervical caps/ diaphragm – 92-96% perfect use; 71-88% typical use.

*Typical use refers to how the method is most often used (very few of us have perfect use! It is easy to forget to take a pill or change a patch).

Hormonal Contraceptives

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)

  • Injectable birth control – 99% with perfect use; 94% with typical use
  • Implant (arm) – 99%
  • IUS – 99%
  • IUD – 99% (up to 5-10 years)

Repeat Prescription

Contraceptive Pill, Patch & Ring

Order a prescription for Contraceptive Pill, Patch & Ring Treatment online with Webdoctor.ie! Once your request has been approved, we can send your prescription directly to your chosen pharmacy via secure Healthmail.

How Can I Get A Prescription For The Contraceptive Pill, Patch Or Ring?

Webdoctor.ie’s online prescription service makes it simple to get a prescription for contraception. Through our service, you can request a prescription for over 20 forms of contraceptive pills, patches and rings.

To request a prescription, simply complete a brief and secure questionnaire. After that, one of our Irish-registered doctors will assess your request to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for you. Then your prescription directly to the Irish pharmacy of your choice.

No need to book an appointment with a doctor unless this is your first time receiving a contraceptive prescription. If this is the case, you can schedule an online video consultation with one of our 40+ Irish registered GPs.

How It Works

Through an online medical questionnaire, face-to-face video consultation or home health test, our online doctors will review your case and prescribe the best treatment for you.

Step 1

Online Questionnaire

Fill in a secure and simple online questionnaire for your desired service.

Step 2

Medical Review

Our Irish-registered doctors will review to ensure you are medically suitable.

Step 3

Decision Made
Your treatment will be approved if you are deemed medically suitable.