When my husband and I decided we were ready to have a child, I gleefully threw my pack of birth control pills into the trash. The tiny pills—distributed in 28-day packets—have become synonymous with reproductive health and women taking charge of our bodies since they were introduced in the ‘60s. I knew how important the pill was for our society, but I was suddenly smitten with being rid of them. Over the next few months while we tried to conceive, I noticed that I felt more connected to my body without the extra dose of hormones. I was able to better understand my cycles and I liked not putting anything extra into my body. By the time my daughter was born I had sworn off hormonal birth control. In the four years since I ditched my last pack of pills, I haven’t looked back. Luckily there are now more options than ever for non-hormonal birth control. Here’s what you need to know about each of them, keeping in mind, of course, that as with any medical decision, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your unique needs.
How is non-hormonal birth control different?
Non-hormonal birth control methods prevent pregnancy without giving your body a dose of hormones. Most birth control, including the pill, the implant, and many IUDs, include a dose of the female hormones estrogen and progestin that prevents ovulation (the release of an egg). If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant. Since non-hormonal birth control methods do not stop ovulation, they prevent pregnancy by keeping sperm from meeting the released egg or by keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus and developing.
Why do people choose non-hormonal birth control?
Some people choose non-hormonal birth control because they dislike the idea of taking a medication daily or having synthetic hormones released in their bodies. Some people experience negative side effects like lack of sexual desire while on hormonal birth control, and some cannot take traditional hormonal birth control because of health conditions like blood clotting disorders, heart disease, cancer, or even migraines.
What non-hormonal birth control options are out there?
There are many options for non-hormonal birth control. Exploring them can be both empowering and informative, regardless of what contraceptive measures you choose.
Barrier methods including male condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps work by preventing sperm from meeting a released egg. Male condoms are the most popular barrier method and are 85 percent effective at preventing pregnancy with average use. Diaphragms and cervical caps sit over a woman’s cervix (the opening to the uterus), preventing sperm from reaching an egg. They are often used with spermicide, which kills sperm on contact. Cervical caps are 86 percent effective for people who have never given birth and 71 percent effective for those who have. Diaphragms are larger than cervical caps and are made of soft silicone. They are 88 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
The Copper IUD
The Copper IUD is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy without hormones. It prevents pregnancy more than 99 percent of the time. The intrauterine device (IUD) is placed in your uterus, where is can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years. The copper ions make the environment toxic to sperm, reducing the likelihood that they’ll reach the egg. The copper IUD also prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. Because of this, a copper IUD can also be used up to five days after unprotected sex as a hormone-free emergency contraceptive.
This method—also known as natural family planning or the rhythm method—helps women prevent pregnancy by avoiding sex during fertile times. Most women are only able to get pregnant for a few days each month and women who use fertility awareness monitor their temperature and cervical mucus to determine when they are fertile. They either abstain from sex or use a barrier method during that time. Traditionally, this method was said to be about 76 percent effective. However, technology is giving this method a boost. A recent scientific study of Natural Cycles, an app that facilitates fertility awareness, found that use of the app resulted in pregnancy prevention 93 percent of the time.
If you’re looking for long-term non-hormonal birth control, there are options for both men and women. Tubal ligation (female sterilization) works by blocking a woman’s fallopian tubes so that her eggs cannot reach the uterus. It is permanent and more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Likewise, a vasectomy or male sterilization involves blocking the tubes that carry sperm from the scrotum, meaning that no sperm will be released when a man ejaculates. Like tubal litigation or “having your tubes tied,” vasectomies are also permanent and nearly 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Whatever your reason for considering non-hormonal birth control, you should be able to find an option that is a good fit for you. Of course you can talk to your doctor to more fully understand the risks and benefits of each method.