The publications of 1995 and 1996 on the risk of venous thrombosis associated with the use of the combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) suggested that the risks were lower than previous estimates. The debate, which ensued, ensured that the safety of the COC with regard to arterial and venous disease was reassessed. This review details the importance of contraception for public health. It reassesses critically current prescribing practice in the light of the new publications on Factor V Leiden, arterial and venous disease. Methods of communicating information about the COC are assessed, and the difficulties of transmitting complex scientific data to health care professionals and the general public are debated. The importance of attempting to quantify the benefits and risks of the COC and explaining them in the context of other life events is emphasized.