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Condoms, Diaphragms, and More: Non-Hormonal Birth Control Methods

Winking blue condom protection cartoon

When it comes to preventing pregnancy, there are lots of options! Figuring out what birth control is best for you can be intimidating. What some people feel comfortable with is not what works for others. You may have special health considerations or a personal preference.

Often people refer to birth control as “hormonal” or “non-hormonal”. Here’s a breakdown of common non-hormonal methods.

What is non-hormonal birth control?

Non-hormonal birth control is any method of preventing pregnancy that doesn’t use hormones. This includes condoms, diaphragms, and more! There are lots of reasons why people use non-hormonal birth control. Some people don’t like the side effects of hormonal birth control. Some people find it more convenient. Often this is a matter of personal preference and lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with picking one type of birth control method over another! The important thing is to know your options and choose what’s best for you.

Barrier methods

A “barrier method” refers to birth control that uses a barrier to prevent pregnancy. Barrier methods are usually made of latex, or a latex substitute (like polyeurethane).

Examples of barrier methods are:

  • Condoms: these are the most common barrier method. A condom is a sleeve of thin latex that rolls on over the penis. Condoms trap the sperm contained in the ejaculate fluid (or cum) to prevent pregnancy.
  • Internal condoms: a sleeve of thin material that goes into the vagina or anus, also known as a female condom. These can be more expensive and harder to find than condoms. They can be useful if you or your partner have difficulty with condoms.
  • Dental Dams: these are thin sheets of latex that you can place over a vulva or anus before having oral sex. These barriers don’t prevent pregnancy, but they can help reduce your risk of giving or getting an STI!

Barrier methods are usually the most readily available birth control. They are often cheap or free. Condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy with perfect use. But most people aren’t perfect, and it’s common to make mistakes! So doctors allow for some margin of error on the part of the people using the condoms. With this taken into account, condoms are 85% effective with typical or “normal” use.

Copper IUD

Copper IUDs (like Paraguard) are the only type of IUD that is non-hormonal. IUD stands for intrauterine device. Instead of hormones, they contain copper. Copper can damage sperm, which prevents them from fertilizing eggs. A doctor inserts an IUD into the uterus. Copper IUDs are over 99% effective, and they can also be used as emergency contraception if you get one inserted no more than 5 days after having unprotected sex.

Pull-Out Method

The pull-out method, or withdrawal, is a kind of birth control used during vaginal sex. It involves someone pulling their penis out of a vagina before ejaculation (orgasm). With perfect use, pulling out can be 96% effective in preventing pregnancy. But many people can make mistakes, like pulling out too late, not realizing they’ve started ejaculating, or ejaculating too early. So pulling out is 73% effective with typical use.

Diaphragms and cervical caps

Diaphragms and cervical caps are also kinds of barrier methods. They both cover the cervix to prevent sperm from getting to the egg. Most doctors recommend using spermicide or barrier with diaphragms or cervical caps.

You use a diaphragm or cervical cap by inserting it, with spermicide, into your vagina before you have sex. Both can stay inside your vagina for a while! You can insert the cervical cap for up to two days, while the diaphragm can be inserted for several hours at a time. This makes them convenient for people who worry about condoms ruining the mood. They can also be used in combination with condoms for extra protection. They do not protect against STIs.

Diaphragms and cervical caps are less effective than condoms. A diaphragm used perfectly is 94 percent effective. Used typically, it’s 88 percent effective. Cervical caps are 86 percent effective for people who haven’t given birth. They are only 71 percent effective for people who have given birth.

Spermicide

Spermicide is a chemical that slows sperm down and prevents them from reaching the egg. There are several ways to apply spermicide. It can come in a lube, foam, or gel, or in the form of a suppository (a pill you insert into your vagina). Another option, the contraceptive sponge, is a round, soft sponge that covers the cervix and contains spermicide. Often people combine spermicide with another form of birth control, like condoms or the pill.

Spermicide is 82% effective on its own with perfect use. It is less effective with “normal” use. It also doesn’t prevent against STIs. In fact, spermicide contains a chemical that can irritate the vagina and increase your risk of getting an STI without some other form of protection (like a condom)!

Vasectomy and tubal ligation

These methods are both medical procedures that prevent pregnancy permanently:

  • A tubal ligation is a procedure for some with a uterus and is sometimes referred to as “getting your tubes tied”. The tubes referred to are the fallopian tubes. When an egg is released, it travels through the fallopian tubes to the uterus where it can be fertilized. A tubal ligation blocks or cuts the tubes and prevents the egg from reaching the uterus. Major surgery is needed to reverse the procedure, and it’s not always effective. Because of this, tubal litigation only happens when someone is sure that they won’t want to be pregnant in the future.
  • A vasectomy is a surgical procedure for people with penises. A doctor cuts the tubes in the penis that carry sperm. It’s a quick and minimally-invasive procedure. It’s also intended to be permanent and usually it’s not possible to reverse a vasectomy. Doctors may tell someone who wants a vasectomy to think about it beforehand.

Procedures like these are among the most effective methods of birth control. They’re almost 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. It takes about three months after a vasectomy for someone’s semen to become sperm-free, though!

For more info on types of non-hormonal birth control, check out the resources below.

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