Contraceptives & hormones

What are hormones? 

Hormones are messenger chemicals your body makes to direct the way your body functions. Some hormones direct your metabolism, others direct growth, others direct energy use and storage. Some hormones direct our fertility and sexual functions. Hormone levels and profiles naturally fluctuate 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 work with your natural hormone receptor functions to prevent conception.

Hormonal contraception causes changes in the mucus at the cervix (entrance to the uterus) that prevent sperm from entering to meet the egg / ova. Some hormonal contraception also prevents ovulation. There can also be changes to the lining of the uterus that make it less receptive to a conception implanting to form a pregnancy. All of these actions prevent pregnancy.

Can you get male hormonal contraceptives? 

Hormonal contraceptives have been designed for people with male reproductive organs. The hormones block sperm production, so during ejaculation semen that contains minimal sperm is released. 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 better 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. 

Hormonal contraceptives change the way the uterus builds, retrains and releases the uterine lining, comprised of 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. Some also cause ovulation to pause so you will no longer have a menstrual cycle.

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 the bleeding pattern for you as an individual.  

If you would like to try a hormonal contraceptive method, keep in mind that it may 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 menstruation and uterine bleeding patterns, cervical and vaginal mucus, often causing a reduction in bleeding, but sometimes resulting in unpleasant bleeding or discharge patterns.

Hormonal contraception is often used to improve the skin and acne, but in some people, it can cause new acne or worsen acne. Hormonal skin discolouration especially on the face may occur for some.

Hormonal contraception can help resolve some headache and mood issues, but for others can cause headaches or worsen mood or libido.

Some people experience breast swelling or sensitivity.

Bloating and ovarian cysts can be due to hormonal contraception.

Hormonal contraception containing oestrogen increases your risk of thrombosis (clotting) and should not be used by people who have experienced deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolus, or with a personal or family history of genetic thrombotic disorders.

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. These longer acting methods are more effective and may be more convenient as they are ‘set and forget’ compared to remembering to take a pill every day.

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. 


Reproduction & Contraception Further Support & Advice