Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options: A Detailed Comparison Guide

Published August 29th, 2021 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley
Medically Reviewed:
Camille Freking

Non-hormonal Birth Control | Who Can Use? | Options

The birth control pill and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) are commonly advertised for the prevention of pregnancy, but some people are unwilling or unable to use hormonal birth control options to prevent pregnancy.

Fortunately, there are many non-hormonal birth control options that can be highly effective in the prevention of pregnancy.

What Is Non-hormonal Birth Control?

As the name suggests, non-hormonal birth control is any form of birth control that does not alter the body’s hormones in order to prevent pregnancy. The type of non-hormonal birth control that most people are familiar with is the male condom, which helps to prevent pregnancy by using a barrier to prevent semen from entering the vagina during intercourse. Hormonal birth control options include pregnancy prevention methods like birth control pills, hormonal IUDs and the vaginal birth control ring.

Who Can Use Non-hormonal Birth Control?

One of the advantages of non-hormonal birth control is that they can be used by anyone. There are non-hormonal forms of birth control designed for use by both men and women, such as condoms for men and diaphragms for women.

Non-hormonal forms of birth control are less likely to cause side effects than hormonal options, so many people prefer to use non-hormonal birth control options.

Other reasons to use non-hormonal birth control include:

  • A need for non-hormonal birth control as a backup in addition to hormonal forms of birth control as an extra layer of protection against pregnancy
  • High health insurance copays or a lack of coverage for preferred forms of hormonal birth control
  • Religious or personal beliefs against changing the body’s natural menstrual cycle
  • Infrequent intercourse that doesn’t require ongoing protection
  • Dissatisfaction with the side effects of hormonal birth control

What Are the Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options?

There are many different non-hormonal birth control options, each of which helps to prevent pregnancy without the use of hormones.

Copper IUD

The copper IUD (Paragard) is the only type of IUD that does not contain hormones. Instead, the IUD, which is wrapped in a tiny bit of copper, works because sperm are naturally repelled by copper, preventing them from reaching the egg. IUDs are about 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. The small T-shaped device is implanted in the uterus at a doctor’s office and can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years. IUDs can be removed at any time if you decide you want to get pregnant, and you’ll be able to get pregnant right away. 

Condoms

Condoms are perhaps the most well-known form of non-hormonal birth control. These thin pouches can be made of latex, plastic, or lambskin, all of which prevent against pregnancy. However, lambskin condoms do not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms provide a barrier that stops sperm from entering the vagina, which prevents the sperm from joining with an egg. They are effective at preventing pregnancy about 85 percent of the time.

Internal Condoms

Internal condoms are placed inside the vagina and work similarly to regular condoms. The soft plastic pouch is placed inside the vagina, creating a barrier that stops sperm from entering the cervix and reaching an egg. Internal condoms are also effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases and are about 79 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

Sponge

The birth control sponge is a small, soft plastic sponge that is placed deep in the vagina before sex in order to block entry to the cervix. The birth control sponge contains spermicide, which helps to slow the mobility of the sperm in order to prevent it from reaching the egg. This form of birth control is about 76 to 88 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and a new sponge must be used every time you have sex.

Spermicide

Spermicide is a chemical cream or gel that slows down the mobility of sperm, preventing it from reaching and joining an egg. Spermicide is often paired with barrier methods like condoms, the birth control sponge, diaphragms, and surgical caps. Spermicide is placed in the vagina just before sex and prevents pregnancy by blocking the entrance to the cervix and slowing down the sperm so that they are unable to reach the egg. This method of birth control is about 72 to 86 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a shallow, bendable cup that is placed inside the vagina in order to block semen from entering the cervix during sex. While diaphragms can be used on their own for the prevention of pregnancy, they are more effective when paired with spermicide. In general, diaphragms are about 88 percent effective in the prevention of pregnancy. This method of birth control requires a prescription.

Cervical Cap

A cervical cap is a small cup made of soft silicone that is inserted deep into the vagina to cover the cervix. The cap acts as a barrier to prevent semen from entering the cervix, which prevents sperm from joining with an egg. Cervical caps are typically between 71 percent and 88 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and are most effective when used with spermicide. A cervical cap can be left in for up to two days but it may be less effective at preventing pregnancy than a diaphragm. This method of birth control requires a prescription.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal, also known as the pull out method, is about 78 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. When using the withdrawal method, the male attempts to time ejaculation and pull the penis out of the vagina prior to ejaculation. This method is less effective than other methods because semen may be released in small quantities prior to ejaculation, and any time semen enters the vagina, there is a potential for pregnancy. Withdrawal is more effective when paired with a condom or another non-hormonal birth control option.

Fertility Awareness

Fertility awareness methods, sometimes called natural family planning, is a non-hormonal birth control option in which women track their menstrual cycle in order to predict when they will ovulate. Women may track their cycle through three different fertility awareness methods: charting their menstrual cycle on a calendar to look for patterns, taking their temperature each morning before getting out of bed, or checking their vaginal discharge each day to look for changes.

In order to most effectively prevent pregnancy, women should use all three methods to identify their fertile days. Once the fertile days are identified, couples may choose to avoid sex altogether or use a barrier method like a condom or diaphragm to prevent pregnancy. This method is estimated to be 76 to 88 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.

Abstinence

When using abstinence as a form of birth control, you will not have any form of vaginal sex. There is no penetration of the vagina whatsoever by the penis. This is the only method of birth control that is 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Some people choose to engage in outercourse, which includes other sexual activities besides vaginal sex. The term outercourse can include a wide variety of sexual activities but never includes vaginal sex for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.

Breastfeeding

Women who have recently had a baby may also use breastfeeding as a natural form of birth control. When women nurse their babies at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night, the body naturally stops ovulating, which prevents pregnancy. This method works for only six months after a baby is born and does not work if you use a breast pump or feed your baby anything other than breast milk, including formula. This method is about 98 percent effective in the six months after a baby is born.

Tubal Ligation

Tubal ligation, also known as female sterilization, is a surgical procedure that permanently prevents pregnancy in women. During tubal ligation, the surgeon may choose to close, cut, or remove pieces of a woman’s fallopian tube in order to prevent an egg from traveling from the ovary to the uterus. 

While tubal ligation is the most common form of female sterilization, there are also other options. A bilateral salpingectomy is a surgical procedure that completely removes the fallopian tubes. Both tubal ligation and bilateral salpingectomy are about 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and are permanent, so women should only choose this option if they are 100 percent certain that they do not want to be pregnant ever again. 

Vasectomy

A vasectomy, sometimes referred to as male sterilization, is a simple surgical procedure in which the small tubes in the scrotum (the vas deferens) that carry sperm are tied, cut, or blocked off, preventing sperm from leaving the body. A vasectomy can be performed in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital, and it is intended to be permanent. The procedure is estimated to be approximately 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and it is not intended to be reversed, so men should only undergo the procedure if they are 100 percent certain that they will not want any more children in the future.

Summary

There are 13 different non-hormonal birth control options, each of which works slightly differently to prevent pregnancy without the use of hormones. Non-hormonal birth control options are less likely to cause side effects than hormonal forms of birth control and can be used by everyone to prevent pregnancy. There are non-hormonal birth control options geared towards both men and women.

Sources:

Birth Control Methods & Options | Types of Birth Control | Planned Parenthood 

Breastfeeding as Birth Control | Information About LAM | Planned Parenthood 

Fertility Awareness Methods | Natural Birth Control | Planned Parenthood 

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