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What Are the Advantages of Non-Hormonal Birth Control?

How to weigh the pros and cons of different non-hormonal options and find a contraceptive that’s right for you.

What Are the Advantages of Non-Hormonal Birth Control?

Hormonal contraceptives refer to things like birth control pills, patches, injections, implants, and vaginal rings.

These methods work by releasing synthetic versions of the hormones progesterone and/or estrogen. By increasing the level of these hormones, these contraceptives cause temporary changes in the body that prevent pregnancy. Hormonal contraceptives are also prescribed for non-contraceptive reasons. For example, they can help regulate irregular menstrual periods, and can help treat conditions like painful menstruation and endometriosis.

“Non-hormonal birth control” refers to contraceptive methods that do not contain hormones, and instead prevent pregnancy by other means.

Some non-hormonal contraceptives are “barrier methods,” which—as the name implies—function as a barrier between the sperm and the egg. Condoms, cervical caps, sponges, and diaphragms are a few examples.

Other non-hormonal methods work by preventing sperm from surviving and functioning. Spermicides are one example—these are creams, foams and gels that are often used with barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms. Copper IUDs are another example—the presence of copper creates an environment that’s unfavorable for sperm and fertilization. A newer product, called Phexxi, is a gel that lowers the pH inside the vagina to a level where sperm do not function well.

Advantages of non-hormonal birth control
It is important to remember that there is no best method of birth control, only a method that works best for a particular person at a particular time. Different contraceptives have advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages of non-hormonal birth control methods include:

  • Many non-hormonal contraceptives can be used as a backup method. For example, condoms can be used with spermicides or hormonal birth control, which provides additional protection against pregnancy—and also protects against STIs.
  • Many non-hormonal contraceptives can be a good choice for people who do not want to get pregnant right now but may want to get pregnant in the foreseeable future. (It’s also worth noting that hormonal methods do not affect a person’s long-term fertility).
  • Most non-hormonal contraceptives are only used at the time of a sexual encounter. This can be an advantage if you only need birth control occasionally.
  • Non-hormonal contraceptives do not affect other health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or being at a higher risk of blood clots. People with these conditions are advised against using methods of hormonal birth control.
  • Non-hormonal contraceptives are a good option if you smoke—smoking while taking hormonal birth control greatly increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects, including blood clots.
  • Non-hormonal contraceptives are safe to use while breastfeeding, which is helpful for people who want to enjoy sex after a pregnancy but are not quite ready to get pregnant again.

Disadvantages of non-hormonal birth control
In order to be effective, a contraceptive must be used correctly and used correctly every time. Many of the disadvantages of non-hormonal birth control include factors that can prevent perfect use. These include:

  • Pausing foreplay or an intimate moment to put on a condom, insert a barrier, or use a foam or gel might feel a little awkward or interfere with the mood.
  • Certain non-hormonal methods can be physically uncomfortable for some people, such as cervical caps or diaphragms, which are worn inside the vagina.
  • Some methods can be uncomfortable in other ways. For example, a person may not be comfortable asking a partner to put on a condom.
  • Some methods cannot be used with other methods. (Phexxi, for example, can be used with the pill or condoms, but cannot be used with a vaginal ring.)
  • Some methods cannot be used during a menstrual period.

As with any device or medication, there is a risk of side effects when using non-hormonal birth control. Most non-hormonal methods do not carry a risk of serious side effects. Before using any contraceptive, check what the possible side effects are—and better yet, talk to your healthcare provider, and ask about the possible advantages, disadvantages, and other information you need.

Medically reviewed in April 2021.

Sources:
Planned Parenthood. "Birth Control."
Danielle B. Cooper and Heba Mahdy. "Oral Contraceptive Pills." NCBI StatPearls.
Cleveland Clinic. "Birth Control: The Pill."
NCI Dictionaries. "Hormonal Contraception."
ReproductiveFacts.org. "Noncontraceptive Benefits of Birth Control Pills."
Drugs.com. "Non-hormonal Birth Control Methods."
Cornell Health. "Non-hormonal Methods of Contraception."
Katherine Rivlin and Carolyn Westhoff. "Family Planning." Comprehensive Gynecology Seventh Edition, 2017.
Mayo Clinic. "Spermicide."
Planned Parenthood. "Phexxi."
Kaiser Permanente. "Barrier Methods of Birth Control."
Michigan Medicine. "Birth Control: Pros and Cons of Hormonal Methods."
Tadele Girum and Abebaw Wasie. "Return of fertility after discontinuation of contraception: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Contraceptive and Reproduction Medicine, 2019. Vol. 3, No. 9.
Mayo Clinic. "Estrogen And Progestin Oral Contraceptives (Oral Route)."

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