Going vegan may seem straightforward enough. Replace meat with tofu. Down some coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. Make sure your cosmetics are not tested on animals. You’re good to go, right?
But, life is not always so simple. What about contraception? What are the birth control options for vegans? And, do they work?
Hormonal Birth Control
We might as well tackle the pill first, as it is one of the most common, convenient, and effective birth control methods. Sorry to say it vegans, but I’ve got bad news. All birth control pills, both combination and progestin-only, contain lactose, a cow’s milk derivative. In addition, some oral contraceptives have magnesium stearate as one of the components. This ingredient is not vegan-friendly because stearic acid often comes from pork, chicken, beef, fish, butter, and milk.
Other hormonal options include the Nuva Ring or a patch, which are forms of combination birth control, meaning they include synthetic estrogen and progesterone. Meanwhile, the Depo-Provera shot has only progestin as its active ingredient. It’s difficult to determine how the artificial hormones are produced, but the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that progestin is derived from cholesterol, a vegan no-no if the source is an animal.
All that said, even if birth control were free of animal products, it is important for vegans to know that all prescription medications in the United States are tested on animals as required by the Food and Drug Administration. For many vegans, that is enough to rule out all forms of prescription birth control.
On the contrary, others view being vegan as adopting a mindset that does the least amount of harm. In the case of birth control, some women rely on it for health reasons, such as ensuring periods are regular and keeping menstrual flow manageable. Taking medication is a personal choice, and you have to make the best decision for you and your health. Those who want to learn more about prescription birth control should definitely check out the options from Nurx.
Several intra-uterine devices (IUDs) are available. They are highly successful at preventing pregnancy — more than 99 percent effective.
Hormonal IUDs contain synthetic progestin that could be derived from animal products, while copper IUDs are free from animal products, making them the most vegan-friendly. As with prescription oral medications, however, both hormonal and copper IUDs are tested on animals.
Several barrier methods are good options for vegans, but it takes some studying to know which types do not contain animal products.
- Condoms. The most common types of condoms are made from latex, which contains the dairy derivative casein. To find a vegan-friendly condom, look for those made of natural rubber latex. Popular brands include Glyde, Kimono, Sir Richard’s, and L.
- Diaphragm. Shaped like a dome, the diaphragm is placed in the vagina prior to intercourse and left there afterward for a minimum of six hours. As far as materials, it’s a similar deal to condoms — most are latex, but a quick Google search will reveal vegan-friendly choices formed from silicone. A vegan spermicide makes the diaphragm more effective.
- Cervical cap. Sold under the brand name FemCap, the cervical cap is a small, reusable, silicone-based object that covers the cervix and prevents sperm from entering the uterus. For maximum effectiveness, use a vegan spermicide.
When used correctly, condoms have a high rate of effectiveness of about 98 percent. Diaphragms with spermicide are slightly less effective than condoms, preventing 92 to 96 percent of pregnancies, and the cervical cap’s effectiveness ranges from 71 to 86 percent when used with spermicide.
This one goes by many names — natural family planning, calendar method, fertility awareness, rhythm method. What does it all mean? You chart your monthly cycles and find patterns. It can involve taking your temperature daily, feeling the position of your cervix, and examining cervical mucus. Once you figure out when you’re ovulating, you abstain from sex on the days you’re most fertile.
Given that this method is the most natural, it’s also the most vegan. There’s no confusion when it comes to determining if animal products were used and there are no environmental concerns with it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, natural family planning will result in about 25 out of 100 women becoming pregnant, meaning it is about 75 percent effective.
The major downside to the fertility awareness method is that it requires strict following. Thanks to Mother Nature’s burning desire for the human race to continue, the days you’re most fertile will also be the time when you most feel like a romp in the sack. If you can’t resist, you may use one of the aforementioned barrier methods during the fertile period.
For vegan women who are sure they don’t want children or who are done having babies, tubal ligation is an option. Usually performed laparoscopically, the surgery involves the cutting or blocking of the fallopian tubes. An alternative is for the male partner to undergo a vasectomy, a simple outpatient procedure where the tubes that transport sperm are severed, so the baby-making cells are no longer present in the semen.
Making the Choice That’s Right for You
The contraception decision can be a difficult one for vegans. Animal derivatives and animal testing certainly deserve serious consideration, but only you know what’s best for your body and your health. Choose wisely based on your values, but know that veganism is not about being legalistic.
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