Hormonal birth control is great not just for preventing unwanted pregnancies, but also for managing conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or even canker sores. This form of birth control, however, will not work for everyone. Nausea, mood changes, drops in libido… these are just a few of the all-too-common side effects of contraceptive options like “the pill.” People who still want protection from unwanted pregnancy without these unpleasant side effects may benefit from non-hormonal birth control methods.
What’s the Difference Between Hormonal and Non-hormonal Birth Control?
Before discussing these non-hormonal options, it firstly pays to know a little bit about how each contraceptive method works.
Hormonal birth control options work by introducing hormones to the body. Specifically, hormonal contraceptives commonly use both synthetic estrogen and progesterone (progestin). Both of these hormones are key players in managing the menstrual cycle.
Introducing these synthetic hormones to the body helps put the menstrual cycle “to sleep,” so to speak. Most options work by inhibiting the release of eggs (ovulation). No eggs means no fertilization can occur. In other words, no pregnancy.
Common hormonal contraceptive options include:
- Vaginal rings
Non-hormonal birth control conversely prevents pregnancy through means that do not involve hormones.
What are Some Forms of Non-hormonal Birth Control?
There are plenty of ways to prevent pregnancy that do not involve the use of hormones. These options include:
- Natural family planning
Condoms are perhaps the single-most popular non-hormonal birth control method. They’re great not only because they help prevent pregnancy, but also because they help protect against sexually transmitted infections, or STIs (formally called sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs).
There are two primary types of contraceptive barriers: “male” and “female” condoms. “Male,” or external condoms, go over a penis while “female,” or internal condoms, are inserted into the vagina. Internal condoms may also be used for anal sex in addition to vaginal sex. A third type of barrier exists, known as a dental dam or oral dam. These dams are placed over the vagina or anus to protect against STIs during oral sex.
Barrier forms of birth control will not always prevent pregnancy and STIs. Instead, they merely reduce this risk.
Spermicides are sperm-killing chemicals. Many external condoms contain spermicides to decrease risk of pregnancy. However, it’s also possible to use spermicides without a condom. Over-the-counter (OTC) spermicides commonly come in the form of creams, gels, and suppositories.
Spermicides do not protect against STIs.
IUD stands for intrauterine device. IUDs are little T-shaped devices that healthcare professionals insert into the uterus. Now, there are two main kinds of IUDs: progestin and copper. Progestin IUDs are a form of hormonal contraception; copper IUDs are not. Both are up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, although copper IUDs can last 2-4 times as long as progestin ones.
Neither form of IUD protects against STIs.
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning (NFP) is a method that involves tracking someone’s menstrual cycles closely. Specifically, it involves knowing when someone is ovulating. By tracking ovulation, couples can either avoid intercourse or take other protective measures during ovulation.
NFP is less effective than other forms of birth control the way most people use it. By some estimates, the average effective rate of this method is 75%. In other words, 25% of people who use this method become pregnant, on average. This method does not offer STI protection.
Hormonal contraceptives won’t be the best choice for everyone. Fortunately, people who want to prevent pregnancy have plenty of non-hormonal birth control methods available to them, including condoms, natural family planning, copper IUDs, and spermicides.