Contraception & Safer Sex
Contraception is used to prevent pregnancy and stop the spread of STIs.
Contraception is an essential part to having a healthy sex life. If you are unsure on what method of contraception is best for you and your sexual partner, please contact your GP.
Condoms prevent the spread of STIs. A condom covers the penis and can be used for oral, vaginal and anal sex.
Before use, ensure that the condom that you are using is in date. The use by date should be outlined on the condom wrapper. It is advised that condoms are not stored in wallets or pockets because they can be damaged and may be ineffective.
If you intend on using lube while having protected sex, make sure that it is water based: Oil based lube can cause friction and damage or break the condom.
The HSE provides free condoms through their National Condom Distribution Service. Contact your Students’ Union to see where you can get free condoms on your campus.
How to correctly use a condom:
- Take the condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear it. Do not open the packet with your teeth.
- Hold the teat the end of the condom between your finger and thumb to make sure it goes on the right way round and that there is no air trapped inside.
- Still holding the teat, place the condom over the tip of the erect penis.
- Gently roll the condom down to the base of the penis.
- If the condom will not unroll, you may be holding it the wrong way round. If this happens, throw the condom away, as it may have sperm on it, and use a new condom.
- After sex, hold the condom at the base of the penis to make sure it does not come off.
- Remove the penis from the condom, being careful not to spill any semen, wrap it in tissue and put it in the bin. Do not flush it down the toilet.
- If you have sex again, use a new condom. A condom is for single use only.
For oral sex with a partner who has a vagina, dental dams can be used to prevent the spread of STIs.
A dental dam is a piece of latex that is placed over the vagina during oral sex.
While dental dams are hard to come across, you can make one by cutting a condom. This can be done by:
- Tearing open the condom package and unrolling it.
- Sniping off the tip and the rolled ends of the condom.
- Cutting along one side of the condom.
- Rolling out the latex sheet and use it in place of an official dental dam.
PrEP is the newest HIV prevention tool available and is best used in combination with other HIV prevention measures.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is taken by HIV negative people before having sex and after sex, to prevent HIV. When taken correctly, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by about 99%, according to Man2Man.ie.
You may be able to access PrEP for free through the HSE. You need to attend an approved PrEP service provider to access free PrEP. Where the HSE need you to:
- test negative for HIV
- be able to attend for a check-up at least once every 3 months
- meet at least 1 of the following criteria for free PrEP:
1: You are having sex without condoms with HIV-positive partners who:
- are not on HIV treatment, or
- are on treatment but not virally suppressed (do not have an ‘undetectable’ viral load)
2: You are a man who has sex with men. This includes transgender men who have sex with men or a transgender woman who has sex with men, who meets any 1 of the following:
- had anal sex without condoms with more than 1 partner in the last 6 months
- had an STI in the last year
- used HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) in the last year
- used recreational drugs for sex (also known as chemsex) in the last 6 months
3: You are a heterosexual man or woman who is considered by a specialist STI doctor, to be at a large risk of contracting HIV through sex.
If you are not eligible for PrEP for free through the HSE, you can pay for the medication through community pharmacies with a prescription.
PrEP should not be used if you are HIV positive.
You may not need PrEP if you are:
- using condoms consistently and happy to continue using them
- only having sex with HIV-positive partners who are on treatment and have an undetectable viral load
An undetectable viral load is when the virus exists in such small amounts that it can’t be detected by standard blood tests. It means the level of HIV in your body is so low, it can’t be passed on. This needs to be monitored regularly by a healthcare professional.
FREE CONTRACEPTION FOR 17-24 YEAR OLDS
From September 14th, the HSE announced free contraception from the ages of 17-24.
The cost of the following is covered:
- GP or doctor’s appointments to talk about contraception options
- prescriptions and repeat prescriptions – these will be given free of charge at participating pharmacies
- fittings and removals of implants and IUDs or IUSs (coils)
- any check-ups or other follow up care needed
- emergency contraception (morning after pill)
The following methods of contraception can be accessed for free:
The contraceptive pill is a tablet that contains artificial versions of oestrogen and progestogen. The pill must be taken at around the same time each day and is 99% effective when used correctly.
Once the artificial oestrogen and progestogen are absorbed into the bloodstream, ovulation is stopped. The mucus around the neck of the womb being the thicken, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter. The lining of the womb becomes thin, which prevents the fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
Advantages of the pill include the fact that it does not interrupt sex and can reduce the symptoms that are attached to having a period.
However, if you miss a pill or become ill, the pill is less effective. Similarly, s not suitable if you smoke and are over 35 years of age, overweight, or breastfeeding. It can also be less effective which if it is taken whilst using other forms of medication. The pill also does not protect against STIs, and a condom should still be used to prevent the spread of STIs.
The contraceptive patch is similar to a small plaster of 4cm by 5cm, with each patch lasting for 1 week.
The patch releases artificial oestrogen and progesterone into your body.
The patch is replaced every week for 3 weeks (21 days) in a row without a break. You may be told to wait for a few days, normally up to 7, before putting on a new patch. However, this advice will depend on your doctor’s instructions.
The patch works by stopping ovulation. The mucus around the neck of the womb being the thicken, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter. The lining of the womb becomes thin, which prevents the fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
Advantages of the patch include the fact that it does not interrupt sex and may be easier than having to remember to take the pill at the same time every day.
However, the effectiveness of the patch may be reduced by taking certain medications. It does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so should be used in conduction with condoms. It also may not be suitable if you are breastfeeding and it is not advised if you smoke and are over 35.
The Vaginal Ring
The vaginal ring is a small flexible ring that is places into the vagina and left there for 21 days without a break. There may be a short break before putting in the new ring, however, this advice will depend on your doctor’s instructions.
The vaginal ring releases an artificial form of oestrogen and progesterone, which are absorbed from your vagina and into your blood.
Through this virginial ring, ovulation is stopped. The mucus around the neck of the womb being the thicken, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter. The lining of the womb becomes thin, which prevents the fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
Advantages of the vaginal ring includes the fact that the ring stays inside the vagina, so contraception does not have to be considered every day. The ring is also inserted yourself, and it does not interrupt sex.
However, by inserting it yourself, you must feel comfortable enough to do so. The effectiveness of the ring maybe reduced by taking certain medications. It is also not suitable if you smoke, are over 35 years of age or if you are breastfeeding. It also does not protect against STIs, so it is advised to still use condoms.
The implant, or the bar, is a small flexible rod that is inserted under the skin the arm.
This works by stopping ovulation, and thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb to ensure that it is difficult for sperm to enter. The thinning the lining of the womb then occurs, which prevents a fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
The advantages of the implant include the fact that it does not interrupt sex and may be beneficial in reducing period pains. The implant can also last up to 3 years.
However, the effectiveness of the implant can be reduced if you are on certain medications, and it does not prevent from STIs.
The Injectable Contraception
The injectable contraception includes an artificial form of progesterone, which is slowly absorbed from the muscle into the blood over the span of 12 weeks.
By injecting progesterone, ovulation is stop. Thickening the mucus at the neck of the womb makes it is difficult for sperm to enter. The thinning the lining of the womb then occurs, which prevents a fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
The advantage of the injection is that It works for up to 12 weeks, so you do not have to think about contraception during this time. It is therefore useful if you are likely to forget to take the pill daily. It is suitable for women over 35 who smoke, and it does not interrupt sex.
However, the injection cannot be removed from the body, meaning that side effects may continue while it works and after the course of the 12 weeks. It can also take 6 to 12 months for periods and fertility to return to normal.
The injection does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Intrauterine system (IUS)
Aften referred to as the coil, the Intrauterine System is a small T shaped plastic device that is put into the womb.
The IUS contains progestogen, an artificial form of the hormone progesterone, and works by stopping the sperm from reaching the egg and thinning the lining of the womb to help prevent a fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
The advantages of the coil include the fact that it does not interrupt sex, and makes periods lighter, shorter and less painful. It also lasts for 3-6 years depending on the type of IUS but can be removed sooner. In Ireland, the 3 IUS’ available are Mirena, Kyleena and Jaydess. The coil can also remain in place until the menopause if it is insert after the age of 45.
However, you are not protected against STIs. You may also have irregular bleeding in the first 6 months of insertion.
Emergency Contraception Pills
Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, or if other methods of contraception fail. Emergency contraception pills are often known as the morning after pill. Some methods of the morning after pill can be received for free at pharmacies.
To access emergency contraception for free, you must provide your PPS number, name and address at the pharmacy. Free contraceptive methods are only available for those ages 17-26.
There are different emergency contraception choices for different situations. The morning after pill that you will be given will be based on circumstances, such on when you had your last period, how long it has been since you had unprotected sex, or if your contraceptive method has failed (such as the condom breaking).
This pill will be most effective if taken as soon as possible.
There are two types of pills available in Ireland:
Three Day Pill (Prevenelle or Norlevo)
Prevenelle and Norvelo have a 72 hour, or 3-day, time limit for use after unprotected sex. These are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 12 hours of unprotected sex and begins to become less effective on day two and day three. These work by delaying ovulation in the first two weeks of your cycle.
Both forms of the pill are available on prescription, but Norlevo can be bought from the pharmacy.
Five Day Pill (EllaOne)
The five day pill has a 120 hour, or 5 day, time limit for use after unprotected sex. This is 99.5% effective, but it is recommended to take it as soon as possible. This works by delaying ovulation before the peak of ovulation producing hormones.
EllaOne may be less effective if you are on another form of hormonal contraceptives (such as the pill), or if you have taken any other form of emergency contraception in the same menstrual cycle.
EllaOne is available directly from a pharmacy.