As technology advances, there is an increased number of birth control options available. In general, these options fall into two basic categories: hormonal and non-hormonal birth control. Some birth control methods use hormones as a very effective contraceptive method. However, some believe that birth control without hormones may be safer. In this guide, we will explain the differences between the two, so you can make an informed decision for yourself.
What is Non-Hormonal Birth Control?
Non-hormonal birth control relies on what is known as the barrier method, meaning that you erect a barrier between the sperm and the egg. This can come in many forms, including condoms, diaphragms, and some IUDs. Non-hormonal birth control also includes behavioral methods such as the rhythm method and abstinence. It is any birth control method that doesn't affect a woman's hormones.
Is Non-Hormonal Birth Control Better?
No birth control is "better." There are more effective methods and methods that better suit your lifestyle. There may be healthier methods for you due to certain factors, but no one can say one method is "better" than another in a general fashion.
Why Choose Non-Hormonal Birth Control?
Hormonal contraceptives change the hormones in a woman's body. They are highly effective methods of birth control, but they may not be ideal for some women. Some reasons include:
- Schedule: For certain hormonal birth control methods to be effective, they have to be taken at the same time every day; some women do not have a schedule that allows this.
- Appointments: All hormonal methods require a prescription from your doctor or a medical procedure. This may be difficult for some women.
- STIs: If you are more concerned about sexually transmitted infections, hormonal birth control does nothing to protect you.
- Side effects: For some women, hormonal birth control methods have side effects, including weight gain or mood swings. It may also increase the chance of breast cancer or blood clots in some women.
- Frequency: You may have sex infrequently and feel you need a less invasive method.
- Pregnancy: If you are currently breastfeeding, the hormones in birth control may be unsafe for your baby.
Advantages of Non-Hormonal Birth Control Methods
The advantages of non-hormonal birth control methods are that they in no way affect the hormone levels in your body, meaning there is less risk of side effects. In addition, they require no doctor's appointments, may protect from sexually transmitted infections, and are safe to use while pregnant.
Disadvantages of Non-Hormonal Birth Control Methods
In general, non-hormonal birth control methods are far more difficult to use than hormonal methods and are much more prone to user error, which makes them generally less effective. For example, condoms are only about 80% effective at preventing pregnancy. Non-hormonal birth control also does not confer any of the advantages of hormonal birth control for some women, such as relief for menstrual symptoms.
Why Choose Hormonal Birth Control?
In general, hormonal birth control methods are the most effective. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, implantable hormonal birth control is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancies.
Generally, hormonal birth control is also easier to use than non-hormonal methods and has less chance of user error; for example, it is easier to have an implant that automatically protects you from pregnancy as opposed to a condom, which you need to remember to have and use.
Hormonal birth control can also have positive side effects for certain women, such as alleviating certain menstrual symptoms such as heavy periods or severe pre-menstrual syndrome. Hormonal birth control can also lead to less painful, shorter periods.
Advantages of Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control is overall easier to use, is more effective, and has certain beneficial side effects.
Disadvantages of Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control has some disadvantages as well, such as:
- Medical care: Almost all forms of hormonal birth control require some form of medical care, whether it's a procedure or a prescription. For some, this can be a financial and privacy disadvantage.
- Side effects: Hormonal birth control causes side effects in some women, including mood swings, nausea, irregular periods, spotty or bloody events between periods, weight gain, headaches, sore breasts, and high blood pressure.
- STIs: Hormonal birth control methods do not protect you from STIs such as HPV, herpes, HIV, and syphilis. If you have multiple partners, hormonal birth control may not be the safest option.
Types of Non-Hormonal Birth Control
Generally, there are two categories of non-hormonal birth control barrier methods and behavioral control methods. Barrier methods include:
- Diaphragm: It is a saucer-shaped cup that fits inside the woman, blocking the sperm.
- Cervical Cap: It is a hat-shaped piece of silicone that fits over the cervix, blocking the sperm.
- Sponge: The sponge works similarly to a diaphragm. However, it comes with spermicide already on it, whereas a diaphragm does not.
- Spermicide: This chemical kills sperm. It is usually, but not always, used with another form of birth control.
- Vaginal Gel: This chemical prevents the pH balance from rising, preventing the sperm from moving into the reproductive canal.
- Male Condom: A sheath worn by the male over the penis that blocks sperm.
- Female Condom: A tube inserted in the vagina with one side closed to block sperm.
- Copper IUD: A t-shaped device that fits into the uterus. Its copper coating is toxic to sperm, preventing pregnancy.
Behavior control methods include the rhythm method, "outercourse," and abstinence.
Is a Copper IUD Bad for Your Body?
"The copper IUD has an excellent safety profile for most uterus owners," says Alyssa Dweck, MD, OB-GYN, author of "The Complete A to Z for Your V" and an INTIMINA sexual health expert. However, she does caution that certain people are allergic to copper, and in this case, it should not be used.
So Which Birth Control Should I Choose?
Various decisions go into making the decision on which birth control option is right to use, and every woman must choose for herself. What is perfect for one person may not work for another. There simply is not a single answer that applies to all women.
How Can Vitamins and Supplements Aid My Birth Control Choice?
Some studies show that progestin and estrogen, both found in hormonal birth control pills, may deplete certain nutrients and increase the risk of vitamin deficiency. Examples of this include:
- According to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, birth control pills with estrogen are seen to lower vitamin D levels. However, getting plenty of sunlight or taking vitamin D supplements may prevent this.
- Research has proven a link between hormonal birth control pills and low blood folate levels; therefore, folic acid supplements may be necessary to counteract this.
- Studies have found that vitamin B12 is lower in women on oral contraceptives than in the general population, and B12 supplements are sometimes recommended.
- According to the World Health Organization, zinc deficiency is seen in almost 31% of the population. In addition, there is some evidence that hormonal birth control pills may contribute to this deficiency.
How Can We Help?
Binto is on a mission to help women everywhere get access to safe and effective over-the-counter products, alongside access to licensed healthcare professionals, all at an attainable price point. Our team focuses on redefining women's journeys from period to menopause, with the mission of disrupting the women's health market by using preventative medicine rather than turning to prescription drugs. For more information, click here.