Aside from preventing pregnancy for women not ready to start a family, hormonal birth control pills have their upsides: acne prevention, ovarian and breast cyst prevention, protection against iron deficiency, and reduction in PMS symptoms (bye, crippling cramps), to name a few. But with these advantages also come unwanted side effects such as irregular bleeding, minor nausea or breast pain, bloating, headaches, and decreased libido. Sigh, it's tough to be a woman.
Ingesting hormones isn't your only option, though: There are plenty of non-hormonal birth control methods that circumvent painful and potentially threatening side effects while still helping to prevent pregnancy (and in some cases, STDs).
Non-hormonal birth control isn't just for those who fear side effects: It also serves as a "backup" for regular methods to even better protect against disease and/or pregnancy (like using a condom in conjunction with your regular birth control pill). Women who take birth control as a means to decrease PMS symptoms or treat acne (aka not as a contraceptive) may also choose to take non-hormonal birth control. And for women who are using birth control to prevent pregnancy, they may choose non-hormonal birth control because of medical contraindications.
So which form is right for you? We encourage you to always speak with a doctor to inform your decision, but below are the different non-hormonal birth control methods to study up on before your next visit.
One of the most reliable forms of birth control (nonhormonal and hormonal) is a copper IUD. It's placed in the uterus during an office visit and can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years. It works by creating a toxic intrauterine environment for sperm and ova to inhibit fertilization. At first, you may experience heavier or longer periods—speak with your gynecologist if these symptoms persist.
Condoms are the only method that can protect against STDs (aside from abstinence), and they also don't affect your physiology and give way to less medical risk (unless it gets stuck inside or you have a reaction to the lubricant or latex, of course).
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped latex barrier that is inserted vaginally to cover the cervix and prevent sperm from entering the uterus. It's not one-size-fits-all, so you'll need to visit a doctor to be fitted. Once inserted, you'll need to leave it in for a minimum of six hours after sex and a maximum of 24 hours total. When you're ready to take it out, you can rinse it and reuse it later on.
The contraceptive sponge is a small spermicide-infused barrier that needs to be dampened before inserting it into the cervix. It protects against pregnancy for 24 hours and needs to be left in for a minimum of six hours. After six hours, it must be discarded.
Spermicide disrupts the sperm's membrane and eventually kills them; however, it's the least effective form of contraception when used on its own. It's also more likely to cause UTIs, so tread lightly, and speak with your gynecologist to see if you're a candidate.
Čiaplinskienė L, Žilaitienė B, Verkauskienė R, et al. The effect of a drospirenone-containing combined oral contraceptive on female sexual function: a prospective randomised study. Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2016;21(5):395‐400. doi:10.1080/13625187.2016.1217324
Kaunitz AM. Patient education: hormonal methods of birth control (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated January 16, 2020.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Population Affairs. Intrauterine Device (IUD). Updated May 2, 2019.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Barrier methods of birth control: spermicide, condom, sponge, diaphragm, and cervical cap. March 2018.
Nemours TeensHealth. Urinary Tract Infections. Updated December 2016.