Birth Control Basics: Non-hormonal options you may not know about

Birth control can be a bit overwhelming when you first look for a method that suits your body. Unfortunately for many young women, hormonal options are often the first to be offered by your GP as they are convenient and effective, and it can take a long time to realise the negative effects they could be having on your body, mood and mind. If you’re curious about non-hormonal birth control, or looking to make the switch, here is some information you may find helpful:

Advantages of non-hormonal methods 

While hormonal birth control is just fine for many people, it is simply not an option for others due to negative side effects, health concerns, or if they are breastfeeding, so the main advantage of non-hormonal is often to avoid side effects. In addition, many non-hormonal methods can be used intermittently if the need for birth control is occasional, leaving your body to continue with a natural period cycle. Non-hormonal methods are thought to be less expensive overall, and are available without the worry of renewing a prescription.

Disadvantages of non-hormonal methods 

As in the case of hormonal birth control, non-hormonal has its disadvantages, too. With the exception of the copper IUD, non-hormonal methods often require prior thought, therefore affecting the spontaneity of sex. Some cannot be used during your period, and are thought to be less successful at preventing pregnancy than hormonal birth control methods. If you’re not a fan of inserting things into your vagina, you may find many non-hormonal options to be uncomfortable.

That said, let’s look closer at the options available… 

The Diaphragm

A Diaphragm is a small, flexible silicone cup inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix. It is essential to apply spermicide onto the diaphragm and along its edges before insertion. Some sources state the diaphragm is just 88% effective, meaning 12 out of 100 women can still become pregnant using this method, largely due to incorrect use. It must be prescribed and fitted by your GP, but once you have it, can be reused for up to 2 years before it needs replacing. Note that a diaphragm does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).


Spermicide is available as a cream, gel or suppository that is placed in the vagina before sex to stop sperm from entering the uterus. It’s not often you hear of people relying solely on spermicide as a method of birth control, and this might be due to its estimated 28% failure rate. When used alongside other methods (a diaphragm, for example) the effectiveness increases. It’s available over the counter, and is usually inexpensive. Again, spermicide does not prevent against STDs, and some women could experience side effects like irritation and potential allergic reactions, so a patch test is recommended before use. 

Condoms (Male and Female)

Condoms are one of the most popular forms of birth control, and are encouraged by health professionals due to being the only method that can prevent the spread of STDs. Male condoms act as a barrier to keep semen from entering the vagina, but their success rate is thought to be around 85%, which means 15 out of 100 people will still fall pregnant while using this method. Condoms are convenient, inexpensive and arguably the easiest method of birth control to find without needing a prescription. 

The Sponge

Much like the Diaphragm, the Sponge is inserted into the vagina and contains spermicide to stop sperm entering the cervix. It is made from plastic foam with a nylon loop for removal, and can only be used once before being discarded. Failure rates for the Sponge are thought to be 9% for women who have not been pregnant before, and 20% for women who have. One of the downsides of using the Sponge is its increased risk of yeast infection and TSS, so it’s important to remove it straight after sex to avoid this. 

Copper IUD

There are several versions of the IUD (Intrauterine Device), some containing hormones, but the Copper IUD contains none. This is a popular choice for those looking for non-hormonal, effective, long-term contraception. It is a small T-shaped device inserted into the uterus by a healthcare professional, and depending on the type of IUD, does not need replacing for up to 10 years. While this won’t suit people with certain conditions (like a copper allergy, for example), many women find it to be one of the most effective forms of birth control, with a less than 1% failure rate. The Copper IUD does not prevent against STDs, and can sometimes cause side effects like heavier bleeding for long periods of time. If your body responds well, however, it can be a great long-term option. 

Got a question about non-hormonal birth control? Talk to your GP about the other options available to you, and chat to us over on Instagram! @itsyoppie