7 hormone-free contraceptive options explained by an expert (2023)

Hormone-free contraceptive options are on the rise, with fertility tracking apps like Natural Cycles and copper-based Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) being opted for more than ever. Many cite not wanting to have their weight, sex drive, period or mood altered when choosing a non-hormonal method of pregnancy prevention, but, says Babylon GP, Dr Elise Dallas, it's worth asking yourself a few more questions before ditching the pill entirely.

"I always remind patients that many hormonal contraception side effects, such as weight gain and mood changes can be caused by other things," says Dr Dallas. "Think about whether you're sure it's the contraception that’s causing you issues." She adds that hormonal methods of contraception are still a solid choice for some.

In fact, they can significantly improve the quality of life for women with acne and heavy, painful periods. "As a first step, I suggest discussing the issues that are most important to you when it comes to birth control (e.g. its impact on your period) with your doctor." It's totally normal for your contraception needs to change depending on where you’re at in life too, she adds.

But, if you're totally sure that hormonal contraception isn't the right choice for you – here's a rundown on the hormone-free options out there:

What are the most popular non-hormonal contraceptive options?

      1. Male condoms

      What are they?

      Probably the most familiar method of non-hormonal contraception, male condoms are thin latex sheaths that go over the penis during sex. They're a good option if you're dating or hooking up with new people, as they (and female condoms) are the only methods that also offer protection from STIs.

      7 hormone-free contraceptive options explained by an expert (1)

      Getty Images

      Pros and cons:

      "They're really easy to use and you only need to use them when you have sex," says Sue Burchill, head of nursing at sexual health charity Brook. "They protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy. Plus, they are available for free from Brook services (for under 25s), some youth clinics, contraception and sexual health clinics and some GPs. You can also buy them at any time of day from supermarkets, vending machines in public toilets, petrol stations etc, even if you're under 16. They also come in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours which can make sex more fun."


      Condoms are the only type of contraception that a man can use to control his own fertility, but they do also have some potential disadvantages. "Some people are allergic to the latex used in condoms. This is rare but if you or your partner is allergic, it's possible to use latex-free polyurethane condoms," Sue adds. "Sometimes they can split or slip off – if this happens or you are worried you may need emergency contraception."

      2. Female condoms

      What is it? Female condoms, sometimes known as ‘femi-doms’, are similar to male condoms, except they’re worn internally, inside the vagina, instead of going over the penis.

      Pros and cons:

      Like their male counterparts, female condoms also protect you against STIs and pregnancy, and are available for free within many of the same services. You can also put them in before you have sex (up to eight hours before).

      If they’re not used properly, however, female condoms can slip or get pushed up into the vagina - and again, if this happens, you might need to seek emergency contraception. "You need to make sure the penis goes into the condom and not between the condom and the vagina," advises Sue. It’s also worth noting that female condoms are not always available at every contraception and sexual health clinic and can be more expensive to buy than other condoms.

      3. IUDs

      What is it?

      Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are t-shaped plastic devices that contain copper, and stop an egg from implanting in your uterus. They need to be fitted by your doctor or nurse.

      7 hormone-free contraceptive options explained by an expert (2)

      Getty Images

      Pros and cons:

      (Video) How Birth Control Pills Work, Animation

      Copper-based IUDs provide a long-term solution that once fitted, can prevent pregnancy immediately, and for up to 10 years (depending on what type of IUD you go for). They don’t interrupt sex, or mess with your fertility, and, crucially, you don’t have to remember to pop a pill every day for it to be effective. "The IUD is not affected by vomiting, diarrhoea or other medicines like other methods of contraception," Sue notes - in fact, it can even be fitted as a method of emergency contraception.

      This is not to say that the IUD has no potential pitfalls. "It doesn't protect against STIs, and your periods may be heavier, more painful or last longer," she adds. There are also several risks, although slim and unlikely, that come with fitting and using the IUD; for example, you may get an infection when it’s inserted, it can be pushed out or displaced, and there is very minor chance of perforation of the uterus. If you do somehow get pregnant when you’re using one, there is also a small risk of ectopic pregnancy.

      4. Cervical caps or diaphragms

      What is it? These are dome-shaped devices which look similar, but diaphragms fit into the vagina and over the cervix, whilst caps need to be put onto the cervix directly. They need to be fitted by a professional on the first occasion, and used in conjunction with spermicide for maximum effectiveness.

      Pros and cons:

      "They can be put in before sex so they don't disturb the moment (you will need to add extra spermicide if you have sex more than three hours after putting it in)," says Sue. "They are not affected by any medicines that you take orally, and don't disturb your menstrual cycle" - although it is recommended that you do not use the diaphragm/cap during your period, so you will need to use an alternative method of contraception at this time.

      And the downsides? As with pretty much all methods except condoms, they don’t provide protection against STIs, and they’re also not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods (around 92-96%, compared with 98% for male condoms, for instance). "They can take a little getting used to before you're confident using them," Sue admits, "Some women can develop the bladder infection cystitis when using diaphragms or caps – check with your doctor or nurse if you need further advice. Some people may be sensitive to latex or the chemical used in spermicide."

      5. Sponges

      What is it? This option is very much 'does what it says on the tin' – it's a sponge containing spermicide that you insert to help to prevent pregnancy. They’re a single-use option, with a 30-hour maximum usage.

      Pros and cons:

      (Video) My “Natural” Birth Control (Hormone Free)

      Sponges provide protection from pregnancy on a two-fold basis – the spermicide slows sperm down and stops them from heading towards the egg, and the sponge itself covers your cervix, to block them if they do get there. They are easy enough to use, but do require a little bit of prep: you have to wet the sponge to activate the spermicide, and then insert it, as far up as you find comfortable. They also need to be left in your vagina for at least six hours after having sex, so you have to remember to include this in your 30-hour calculation. It shouldn’t happen, but if the sponge breaks into pieces when you pull it out, you need to contact your doctor right away.

      Once again, there’s no STI protection, and you can’t use them when you’re on your period, or have any form of vaginal bleeding, as this could increase your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome. They’re also not recommended for women who’ve had physical trauma in the area, or given birth, been through miscarriage or abortion recently. If you’re unsure, talk to a professional before making your purchase (because unlike many other options, sponges aren’t given out for free).

      6. Natural family planning

      What is it? Natural family planning, also called Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) includes apps like Natural Cycles, which work by monitoring your fertility signs, such as cervical secretions and basal body temperature, to find out when during the month you can have sex with a reduced risk of pregnancy. FAM can be up to 98% effective with perfect use, but is thought to be more in the region of 76 to 88% with typical use, depending on which method you use, says Dr Dallas. The NHS advise this as a method for women who wouldn't find falling pregnant a significant problem.

      7 hormone-free contraceptive options explained by an expert (4)

      Olga KurbatovaGetty Images

      Pros and cons:

      It can be used to plan pregnancy as well as avoid pregnancy, if you’re thinking of starting and family – and if you’re not, it doesn't involve taking any hormones or other chemicals or using physical devices, like many other methods do. The NHS states that it’s up to 99% effective if the method is followed precisely - but you need proper teaching about the indicators, and because it can be tricky to master, mistakes happen, so it’s generally around 75% mark instead.

      You’ll still need to consider protection from STIs, and use a different form of contraception if you want to have sex during your fertile times. "You need to keep daily records, and some things such as illness or stress can make results difficult to interpret," says Sue. "It can take longer to recognise your fertility indicators if you have an irregular cycle, or have stopped using hormonal contraception. It demands a high level of commitment from both partners."

      7. Tubal occlusion

      What is it? Tubal occlusion, or female sterilisation, is a surgical method of contraception that involves using clips or rings to block your fallopian tubes. It is thought to be more than 99% effective, and doesn’t effect hormone levels. You’ll still get your period if you have it done too (sorry).

      Pros and cons:

      (Video) Debunking top myths about birth control pills | GMA Digital

      If you’re certain that sterilisation is the right option for you, it means that you no longer have to worry about pregnancy (although the same can’t be said for STIs, which you’ll still need protection from). There shouldn’t be any impact on your sex drive, and rarely has any other long-term effects on your health.

      However, as with any operation, there are potential complications, including internal bleeding, infection, or damage to your other organs. The chance of sterilisation failing is around in 1 in 200, but it can happen, and if it does occur, there’s a higher chance of the pregnancy being ectopic. Surgeons are generally more willing to carry out sterilisation on women who are over 30 and have already had children, but you can request it whatever your circumstances. It’s likely you’ll be referred to counselling before making your final decision, because of the permanent nature of the choice that you’re making.

      This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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      Jennifer SavinFeatures EditorJennifer Savin is Cosmopolitan UK's multiple award-winning Features Editor, who was crowned Digital Journalist of the Year for her work tackling the issues most important to young women.


      What are the seven hormonal birth control methods? ›

      Hormonal methods of birth control (contraception) contain either estrogen and progestin or progestin only; they are a safe and reliable way to prevent pregnancy for most people. Hormonal methods include an implant, an intrauterine device (IUD), injections, pills, vaginal rings, and skin patches.

      What are non hormonal birth control options? ›

      The most effective and long-lasting nonhormonal option is the copper intrauterine device (IUD). Barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, or the sponge) sometimes are paired with spermicide to boost pregnancy prevention rates, or spermicides may be used alone (a less effective choice).

      What is the best explanation of how hormonal contraceptives work? ›

      The hormones in the pill safely stop ovulation. No ovulation means there's no egg for sperm to fertilize, so pregnancy can't happen. The pill's hormones also thicken the mucus on the cervix. This thicker cervical mucus blocks sperm so it can't swim to an egg — kind of like a sticky security guard.

      What are the 4 types of hormonal contraceptives? ›

      There are many types of hormonal contraception: the pill, the mini pill, the contraceptive patch and the vaginal ring, as well as long-acting reversible contraception methods.

      What are 10 types of contraceptives? ›

      The different types of contraception
      • Cap.
      • Combined pill.
      • Condoms.
      • Contraceptive implant.
      • Contraceptive injection.
      • Contraceptive patch.
      • Diaphragm.
      • Female condoms.

      Is hormone free birth control better? ›

      Nonhormonal birth control can have fewer side effects than hormonal birth control. This may be an advantage to people with some health conditions or other sensitivities. It's safe for people who smoke, too. Individual types of nonhormonal birth control have certain advantages, as well.

      What is the safest contraceptive method? ›

      Abstinence is the only birth control that is 100% effective. It means you never have sexual intercourse. It's also the only way to protect yourself from STDs.

      What is the best birth control with low hormones? ›

      Lo Loestrin Fe is the only available low-dose birth control pill that provides effective pregnancy prevention with 10 micrograms of daily estrogen.

      Is there a birth control pill without hormones? ›

      The progestin-only minipill is one of several birth control methods that doesn't contain estrogen. The minipill works by suppressing ovulation and changing your uterus and cervix to make it unlikely that sperm will be able to fertilize an egg.

      What are the advantages and disadvantages of hormonal contraceptives? ›

      Hormonal contraceptives can also relieve period pain, and often lead to lighter periods. If a teenage girl or woman has acne, the hormones may improve her skin too. The potential disadvantages include side effects such as headaches, nausea, sore breasts and vaginal yeast infections (thrush).

      What are the side effects of hormonal contraceptives? ›

      What are the side effects?
      • Weight gain.
      • Headaches.
      • Sore breasts.
      • Irregular periods.
      • Mood changes.
      • Decreased sexual desire.
      • Acne.
      • Nausea.
      15 Dec 2010

      What are the top 5 contraceptive methods? ›

      Contraceptives that are more than 99% effective:
      • contraceptive implant (lasts up to 3 years)
      • intrauterine system, or IUS (up to 5 years)
      • intrauterine device, or IUD, also called the coil (up to 5 to 10 years)
      • female sterilisation (permanent)
      • male sterilisation or vasectomy (permanent)

      What are the 3 most effective types of contraceptives? ›

      Long-active reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods
      • Contraceptive implant: more than 99% effective with perfect use. They work for 3 years, but can be taken out earlier. ...
      • Intrauterine system (IUS): more than 99% effective. ...
      • Intrauterine device (IUD): more than 99% effective.

      What are the 5 most common contraceptive methods? ›

      9 types of contraception you can use to prevent pregnancy (with pictures!)
      • The Condom. ...
      • The Oral Contraceptive Pill. ...
      • Intrauterine Device (IUD) ...
      • The Contraceptive Implant. ...
      • The Contraceptive Injection. ...
      • Emergency Contraception Pill (The 'Morning After' Pill) ...
      • Contraceptive Ring. ...
      • Diaphragm.
      9 Oct 2019

      What are the 15 methods of contraception? ›

      These methods are:
      • caps or diaphragms.
      • combined pill.
      • condoms.
      • contraceptive implant.
      • contraceptive injection.
      • contraceptive patch.
      • female condoms.
      • IUD (intrauterine device or coil)

      What is the number 1 contraceptive? ›

      The kinds of birth control that work the best to prevent pregnancy are the implant and IUDs — they're also the most convenient to use, and the most foolproof. Other birth control methods, like the pill, ring, patch, and shot, are also really good at preventing pregnancy if you use them perfectly.

      What are the 6 most effective forms of birth control? ›

      Here's a ranking of birth control methods, from least to most effective at preventing pregnancy.
      • Condoms. Coming in last place is the good old condom—a tried and true birth control method that is, well, less tried-and-true than you might hope. ...
      • The pill, patch, and ring. ...
      • The Shot. ...
      • LARCs. ...
      • Sterilization. ...
      • Abstinence.
      7 Aug 2019

      What are the disadvantages of non-hormonal contraceptives? ›

      Disadvantages with non-hormonal birth control methods

      Some methods cannot be used during menstruation. Some women may not like placing or leaving devices in the vaginal canal, or may find it uncomfortable. Certain methods, such as a diaphragm or condom, may interfere with sexual spontaneity.

      Does hormone free birth control cause weight gain? ›

      There's been a lot of research on common birth control side effects. And studies show that the pill, the ring, the patch, and the IUD don't make you gain weight or lose weight.

      What are the advantages and disadvantages of non-hormonal contraceptives? ›

      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.

      Which contraceptive method has highest failure rate? ›

      Oral contraceptive pills and condoms had higher failure rates than implants, IUDs and injectables. The median 12-month failure rate for every 100 episodes of method use was 5.5 (median 95% CI, 3.5–7.3) for oral contraceptive pills and 5.4 (2.3–8.7) for male condoms.

      Which contraception has the lowest failure rate? ›

      Shorter-acting hormonal methods include the pill, patch, injectable and vaginal ring. The injectable has a typical-use failure rate of 4%, and a perfect-use failure rate of less than 1%. The pill, ring and patch have typical-use failure rates of 7%, and perfect-use failure rates of less than 1%.

      What is natural birth control? ›

      Natural family planning (or "fertility awareness") is a method of contraception where a woman monitors and records different fertility signals during her menstrual cycle to work out when she's likely to get pregnant.

      How can I stop ovulation without hormones? ›

      Barrier methods have fewer side effects compared to hormonal birth control options.
      1. Diaphragm. The diaphragm is a small, flexible cup made of silicone. ...
      2. Cervical cap. ...
      3. Spermicides. ...
      4. Male and female condoms. ...
      5. The sponge. ...
      6. Phexxi.

      Which birth control causes weight gain? ›

      Can birth control cause weight gain? “Patients often tell me that they think all birth control causes weight gain, but there is only one method, the progestin hormonal injection given every three months, that is linked to weight gain,” Dr. Stanwood says.

      How can I balance my hormones with birth control? ›

      How can I balance my hormones while on birth control? The best way to ensure that your birth control pill will help regulate your hormones is to take it around the same time every day. Not only will this make it more effective, but it will also help you get into a routine of taking it every day.

      When is the best time to take birth control pills morning or night? ›

      What is the best time of day to take your pill? Although you can take birth control at any time of day, it is best not to take it on an empty stomach. Dr. Yen recommends taking it before you go to bed or around dinner time (assuming that is when you have your largest meal) in order to avoid nausea.

      What birth control causes infertility? ›

      When it comes to birth control and fertility, there can be a lot of confusion. But hormonal contraceptives don't cause infertility , no matter which method you use or how long you've been using it. What they're designed to do, however, is temporarily delay your fertility and prevent pregnancy.

      How long after stopping birth control do your hormones return to normal? ›

      When you stop taking the pill, it can take some time for your body to start producing these hormones again. Menstrual periods typically resume within three months after you stop taking the pill. But if you took the pill to regulate your menstrual cycles, it may take several months before your period comes back.

      Do I need birth control after 45? ›

      Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the North American Menopause Society recommend that women continue contraceptive use until menopause or age 50–55 years (333,334).

      What are the 3 least effective forms of birth control? ›

      These are the most and least effective forms of birth control.
      • Spermicide. > Failure rate: 28% ...
      • Fertility-awareness based methods. > Failure rate: 24% ...
      • Sponge. > Failure rate: 12%-24% ...
      • Withdrawal. > Failure rate: 22% ...
      • Female condom. > Failure rate: 21% ...
      • Male condom. > Failure rate: 18% ...
      • Diaphragm. > Failure rate: 12% ...
      • Ring.
      11 May 2017

      What is the best contraceptive pill for over 40s? ›

      The progestogen-only pill (POP or mini-pill)

      The progestogen-only pill is a suitable method and can safely be used up until the age of 55, when contraception can be stopped.

      What are the 8 forms of birth control? ›

      Short-acting hormonal methods, such as the pill, mini-pill, patch, shot, and vaginal ring, prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs or prevent sperm from getting to the egg. Barrier methods, such as condoms, diaphragms, sponge, cervical cap, prevent sperm from getting to the egg.

      What is the most common female contraceptive? ›

      The oral contraceptive pill and female sterilization are the most widely used birth control methods in the United States, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

      How many hormonal birth control are there? ›

      Hormonal birth control options include the implant, the intrauterine device (IUD), the shot, the pill, the ring and the patch. These methods of birth control have high rates of efficacy, but if you choose a method that is difficult for you to use correctly, it could lead to unintended pregnancy (1).

      How many types of hormonal controls are there? ›

      The three mechanisms of hormonal release are humoral stimuli, hormonal stimuli, and neural stimuli. Humoral stimuli refers to the control of hormonal release in response to changes in extracellular fluid levels or ion levels.

      What are 5 methods of birth control 10? ›

      Birth Control Methods
      • Natural Birth Control. Natural birth control methods include total and continuous abstinence and the rhythm method. ...
      • Barrier Method. This method involves putting up a barrier between the male and the female sex cells (sperms and ova). ...
      • Hormonal Method. ...
      • Intrauterine Devices. ...
      • Surgical Methods.

      What are the 15 types of contraception? ›

      These methods are:
      • caps or diaphragms.
      • combined pill.
      • condoms.
      • contraceptive implant.
      • contraceptive injection.
      • contraceptive patch.
      • female condoms.
      • IUD (intrauterine device or coil)

      What is the safest form of birth control? ›

      The kinds of birth control that work the best to prevent pregnancy are the implant and IUDs — they're also the most convenient to use, and the most foolproof. Other birth control methods, like the pill, ring, patch, and shot, are also really good at preventing pregnancy if you use them perfectly.

      What is the strongest form of birth control? ›

      Birth control implants are almost 100% effective. It's the most effective form of reversible contraception available.

      Is there a 100% birth control? ›

      No contraceptive is 100% reliable, and some can have side effects. Find out about all the methods available so you can decide which contraceptive is right for you.

      Is hormonal contraception safe? ›

      Even though birth control pills are very safe, using the combination pill can slightly increase your risk of health problems. Complications are rare, but they can be serious. These include heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and liver tumors. In very rare cases, they can lead to death.

      How do I know my hormone type? ›

      Blood test. Your doctor will send a sample of your blood to a lab for testing. Most hormones can be detected in the blood. A doctor can request a blood test to check your thyroid and your levels of estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol.

      What happens if you have no hormones? ›

      Your emotions are erratic. You get cranky and irritable often, and you have energy crashes. Stress seems overwhelming sometimes, and you're prone to depression or anxiety. Hormones are also important to your sexual function.

      What are the 6 hormone types? ›

      6 Important Hormones and Their Roles in Your Body
      • T3 and T4. T3 and T4 are the two main thyroid hormones. ...
      • Melatonin. Several hormones help to control your sleep/wake cycles or your circadian rhythm. ...
      • Progesterone and testosterone. ...
      • Cortisol. ...
      • Insulin. ...
      • Estrogen.

      What are the 6 types of birth control? ›

      What birth control options are available?
      • Barrier methods. Examples include male and female condoms, as well as the diaphragm, cervical cap and contraceptive sponge.
      • Short-acting hormonal methods. ...
      • Long-acting hormonal methods. ...
      • Sterilization. ...
      • Spermicide or vaginal gel. ...
      • Fertility awareness methods.

      What are the 5 most effective birth controls? ›

      Best Birth Control
      • Birth Control Options.
      • Best Birth Control Methods.
      • IUDs.
      • Condoms.
      • Female Condoms.
      • Birth Control Pills.
      • Implants.
      • Vasectomy.
      19 Oct 2020

      What are the last 4 birth control pills? ›

      The last week's set of pills typically consists of placebos. Placebo pills are placeholders meant to help you stay on track by taking one pill every day until the next month starts.


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