Contraceptives
& hormones

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What are hormones?

Humans have many different hormones in their bodies. Some hormones help us to process food that we eat, some hormones give us energy to exercise, and some hormones affect our fertility. Hormones will change naturally every day throughout a person’s life.

How do hormonal contraceptives work?

Two of the hormones naturally found in the female body are called oestrogen and progestogen. Hormonal contraceptive options release a small amount of these hormones every day.

Hormonal contraceptives prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation. Eggs (ova) are not released from the ovaries at all, and the mucus inside the uterus does not allow eggs to stick to the uterus wall. This prevents pregnancy.

Can you get male hormonal contraceptives?

Hormonal contraceptives have been designed for people with male reproductive organs. The hormones stop sperm being mixed with semen, so no sperm is released during ejaculation. This prevents pregnancy.

In Australia hormonal contraceptives are only available for females. Male hormonal contraceptives are being trialled and used in other parts of the world. Perhaps in the future they will also be available in Australia.

Can I use a hormonal contraceptive?

Before being prescribed any hormonal contraceptive, you will need to undertake a health assessment with a clinician at a reproductive and sexual health clinic or at your local GP. Depending on your personal health, some contraceptive options may suit you more than others.

For example contraceptives containing oestrogen may not be suitable if you are breastfeeding, if you have high blood pressure, if you smoke, or if you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 30. Contraceptives containing oestrogen may be suitable if you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

During the contraceptive consultation the clinician will ask you a series of questions about your health, check your blood pressure and will discuss contraceptive options with you.

What will happen to my body?

Preventing pregnancy is the main effect of hormonal contraceptives.

Ovulation will pause, so you will no longer have a menstrual cycle. Hormonal contraceptives change the way that the uterus builds, retains and releases blood tissue, blood, and mucus. Instead of experiencing menstrual bleeding, you may experience either uterine bleeding, spotting or you may not experience any bleeding at all.

Uterine bleeding is how the uterus sheds its lining. Your experience of uterine bleeding may feel a bit like a menstrual period or bleeding patterns may be far lighter and less frequent or there may be no uterine bleeding at all. It is hard to predict how your body will react.

If you would like to try a hormonal contraceptive method, keep in mind that it will take your body some time to get used to the hormones. For some people it can take 6 months for uterine bleeding to find a regular routine.

What are the side effects?

Hormonal changes can affect acne, breast sensitivity and menstruation. As each contraceptive method has different hormone profiles each has different possible side-effects. You can read about these in more detail for each contraceptive type.

If you are experiencing side effects it is helpful to seek advice from a doctor. They will be able to discuss what you are experiencing and advise you about your best options.

There are things in your lifestyle that can affect your hormones also. Hormones are affected by sleep patterns, physical exercise, disordered eating and levels of stress and anxiety. If you are struggling with hormonal changes, look after yourself! Make time for self-care activities, stay healthy, surround yourself with supportive people and know who to ask for support.

If you feel uncomfortable or unwell, get advice from a medical professional. If it is an emergency, call an ambulance on 000.

If there are side effects, why do we have hormonal contraceptives?

Hormonal contraceptives are the most effective and reversible contraceptive methods available today. Some people also like using hormonal contraceptives to manage heavy menstrual bleeding, reduce acne, to regulate irregular bleeding patterns or to address regular migraines.

If you want to avoid hormonal contraceptives, read more about your other contraceptive choices.

Why do so many people use the contraceptive pill?

When the daily contraceptive pill was released, it was promoted as one of the most effective methods available at the time. Over the past fifty years scientific understandings of reproductive organs and sexual health have expanded.

Now there are new contraceptive methods such as the contraceptive implant, intrauterine devices and the contraceptive injection. They release similar hormones to the contraceptive pill but can be easier to use.

Versions of the daily contraceptive pill are still available if you would rather use the pill. Read more about your contraceptive choices.

Where can I get a hormonal contraceptive?

Visit a reproductive and sexual health clinic for a consultation.

If you can’t access a reproductive and sexual health clinic, visit an experienced clinician for advice.

What if I don’t want to use a hormonal contraceptive?

That’s OK. It’s your body, and it’s your choice. There are lots of non-hormonal contraceptive choices available.