Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on August 10, 2020
When we talk about birth control, we often think of it in terms of pills, patches, shots, and rings — all are popular and effective ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but they’re not necessarily going to work for every woman.
Most forms of birth control work by changing the hormone levels in a woman’s body, making it virtually impossible for pregnancy to occur. Some women, however, prefer not to have their hormonal levels altered. Whether it’s because of a medical condition or simply preference, these women have their own set of options to choose from too.
Non-hormonal birth control options include some of the oldest and most reliable out there, but there are new methods available as well. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know:
What is non-hormonal birth control?
Hormonal birth control, such as the combination pill, works by changing the levels of estrogen and progestin — two naturally occurring hormones — in a woman’s body. This dosage of hormones prevents ovulation, keeping an egg from ever getting released in the first place.
Non-hormonal birth control doesn’t do any of this, so it relies upon different ways to prevent pregnancy. Most non-hormonal birth control options work by physically blocking sperm from the uterus and avoiding conception that way. Because women who use non-hormonal birth control still ovulate, these methods tend to have a higher failure rate than hormonal options.
Condoms are far and away the most popular non-hormonal birth control options out there, and it’s easy to see why. When used correctly, external condoms are up to 98% effective and internal condoms are 95% effective at preventing pregnancy, and they’re the only birth control options that guards against most STDs as well.
Other methods include diaphragms and cervical caps, both of which are physically inserted into the vagina before sex in order to block the path of sperm. Condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps can all be used in conjunction with spermicide, a cream or gel that kills sperm on contact. Spermicide is only about 72% effective on its own, but using it in conjunction with these non-hormonal “barrier” methods can greatly increase its protective qualities.
Should I use non-hormonal birth control?
Hormonal birth control is completely safe and effective for the vast majority of women, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to consider non-hormonal options as well.
Some women may simply experience more severe side effects on their birth control than others, and non-hormonal birth control options tend to have few-to-no side effects associated with them. Additionally, some hormonal birth control methods such as the implant are intended for long-term use, and women who are looking for more short term options might find that non-hormonal methods suit their needs better.
What are long-term non-hormonal options?
In terms of long-term options that don’t contain hormones, the copper intrauterine device is the most popular option available to women. Most intrauterine devices, or IUDs, contain progestin, as all hormonal methods do, but copper ones are hormone-free and prevent pregnancy by using the metal to create conditions in the uterus that prevent pregnancy.
Even though copper IUDs don’t contain any hormones, they can still produce some unwanted side effects such as heavier periods or cramps. One of the few other long-term non-hormonal options is sterilization surgery, which is a costly procedure that can be difficult to reverse, and it should only be taken by those not planning to have kids any time in the future.
Are there non-hormonal birth control pills?
Unfortunately, no brand of birth control pill exists that does not contain hormones. While the pills manufactured today contain only a tiny fraction of the hormones they used to, women who want to avoid hormonal birth control entirely do not have a pill-based option available to them.
How can I get non-hormonal birth control?
Some non-hormonal options, such as condoms, are cheap and widely available for purchase. Both diaphragms and cervical caps must be fitted and prescribed by a doctor in advance, but spermicide can be purchased over-the-counter at many pharmacies.
Copper IUDs need to be ordered and inserted by a doctor in order to be effective, but they can remain effective for years after insertion — meaning they require little maintenance afterwards.
Though Nurx specializes in hormonal birth control options, one of our on-staff medical professionals would be happy to talk to you today about which options may be right for you.
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