Are you considering making the switch to non-hormonal contraception? We asked a gynaecologist to break down everything you need to know.
Contraception is something most of us will have to think about at some point in our lives, and it can often be a bit overwhelming when it comes to making a decision about the form of birth control that is right for you. For most people who are having regular sex, your first choice will probably be the birth control pill or maybe the implant or the injection. But all of these forms of contraception contain hormones that change the way our body works. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware that there are some alternatives.
“Hormonal contraception works by releasing synthetic versions of the hormones progesterone and/or oestrogen into the body,” explains Sarah Welsh, gynaecologist and co-founder of the sexual wellness brand Hanx. “These increase the levels of hormones already present, which in turn stop the release of eggs from the ovaries, thin the lining of the uterus, or thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.”
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Hormonal contraception is a great option for many people, but some people don’t like the way it affects their body due to possible side effects that can influence your mood, skin and sex drive in some cases. Plus, hormonal contraception isn’t suitable for some people; those who suffer from migraines or have high blood pressure might not be able to take it, for example.
So what are the options when it comes to non-hormonal contraception? Here’s everything you need to know…
What are the options when it comes to non-hormonal contraception?
Intrauterine device (aka IUD or the copper coil)
The intrauterine device, also known as the ‘coil’, is a small T-shaped wire and plastic device. It’s inserted into the womb and releases copper to prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years.
Female and male sterilisation
Sterilisation is suitable for people who are looking for a permanent birth control method but it is very difficult to reverse. For women, the surgical procedure is tubal ligation, and for men, vasectomy surgery provides permanent sterilisation.
Male latex condoms work as a barrier method and protect against pregnancy and STIs. You can also opt for female condoms – which also protect against pregnancy and STIs – a strong, thin protective covering with a ring on each side to hold it in place.
A diaphragm or a cap is also a barrier method of contraception – usually a silicone cone that is inserted into the vagina to stop sperm from entering the womb.
What is non-hormonal contraception and what are the benefits?
Non-hormonal contraception is, quite simply, a method of stopping you from getting pregnant that does not involve hormones. “Non-hormonal methods are often so-called ‘barrier methods’ as they physically stop sperm from reaching the egg,” Welsh explains.
“Some people experience fewer side effects when using non-hormonal contraception,” Welsh says, adding: “Non-hormonal contraceptives don’t affect existing health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”
It’s also a good option for people who have recently given birth and are breastfeeding, according to Welsh. “Non-hormonal contraception is safe to use and can also help ease you back into enjoying sex, while ensuring you don’t get pregnant.”
Using contraceptives without hormones might also encourage some people to learn more about their menstrual cycle and how it affects their body, while some believe that you can help you manage mental health symptoms, improve your exercise routine and better manage physical symptoms that can be caused by your body’s natural hormones, like headaches and cramps.
However, Welsh warns against using birth control apps, which track your menstrual cycle and highlight fertility windows. “These do not offer any protection against STIs, and can result in pregnancy if your cycle is unpredictable,” she says.
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Are there any risks when it comes to using contraception without hormones?
If you’re thinking of switching to non-hormonal contraception for the first time, you might have some concerns about how effective it’s going to be and the changes you might see in your body. But Welsh says this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case: “Condoms are very safe and effective in both preventing unwanted pregnancy and STIs when used correctly; however, they are user dependent so they need to be put on at the correct time and in the correct position,” she says.
“Caps and diaphragms are other barrier forms of contraception that do not have serious health risks but some people are more prone to vaginal irritation or urinary tract infections if they’re not used correctly,” she adds.
The coil is something many women feel nervous about but it’s a great non-hormonal contraceptive option for many women. “The IUD has a small but serious risk of perforating the uterus when being inserted, a risk of uterine infection, and they can also cause periods to be heavier and more painful when in situ,” Welsh says.
The final option for non-hormonal contraception – sterilisation – is one that fewer women might opt for due to its largely irreversible effects. “Female sterilisation is a significant operation, and this also carries risk of infection, pain and bleeding,” Welsh explains. “Women who have had the sterilisation procedure are also at a slightly higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, which is when a pregnancy implants outside of the womb (most commonly in the fallopian tube).”
Choosing which form of contraception is right for you isn’t a decision you should make overnight. There are plenty of options out there and it’ll totally depend on your body and needs which one will work best for you (hormonal or non-hormonal). Your best bet, if you’re thinking of changing methods or starting birth control, is to chat to your GP or your practice’s nurse, who can help advise on which might suit you best.
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