The combined oral contraceptive pill (more commonly known simply as “the pill”) has been around since the 1960s and is used by women all over the world as an effective, convenient form of birth control. It contains two hormones-oestrogen and progesterone, and works by preventing ovulation. It is usually taken daily for 21 days in a row, then an inactive or “sugar pill” is taken daily for 7 days, during which a woman will have a withdrawal bleed like a period. However, it is possible to skip the sugar pills and take the active pills back-to-back for several months at a time, to avoid having a period.
No form of contraception is 100% effective. However, if taken perfectly, the contraceptive pill is a very effective method. Around 0.3% of women who use the pill perfectly will become pregnant each year. Around 9% of women will become pregnant if they take the pill correctly most of the time. As most women fall into this second category, this means the pill is generally around 91% effective. It is important to remember that more than 80% of sexually active women will become pregnant within a year if they do not use any method of birth control.
In this section, we explore many aspects of the contraceptive pill- including how it works, side effects, clotting risk, circumstances when it’s not safe to use it, as well as common myths and misunderstandings about it.