Different Birth Control Methods: 4 Alternatives To The Pill
For me, fostering a pro-choice spirit in all matters related to a woman’s body, sexuality, and lifestyle choices is deeply necessary to a healthy world.
Back in the 60s, “The Pill” was a hard-fought and hard-won battle for women's sexual freedom that absolutely revolutionized the world as we know it. You know, women’s autonomy; gender roles; sexual freedom for women (and men too, in a different way); and lots of other incredible shifts in consciousness. For a fascinating and concise rundown of methods of birth control throughout the ages, check this out.
We should all take a moment of silence to pay heed to the work of previous generations, and all the struggles that went along with that work—both personal and political.
Let’s pause for a sec and breathe as we acknowledge that the personal is political, and always has been. Which makes the opposite just as true. Food for thought.
But back to that pro-choice spirit.
The right to the pill and the right to an abortion are choices that should be available to every woman. Note: many women still lack access to these choices.
And yet, on top of that, there are so many additional choices out there today- many of them far less harmful to the body’s systems than hormonal contraceptives are. If the pill really, truly works for you, you should use it, by all means. Every woman is different, as is every smokin’ bod. But I’m a firm believer every option should be out on the table when it comes to a woman’s wellbeing and peace of mind.
Isn’t the pill the most effective option, though? And safe for most women?
Birth control pills are synthetic hormones that override the normal hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian hormonal axis to stop ovulation. First approved for use in the US in 1960, they’re now used by over 100 million women globally—12 million women in the US alone. If you’ve ever so much as glanced at the list of side effects that comes with these pills, you might be surprised at how casually doctors hand them off. Kinda like little candies. But in case you didn’t know it, artificial hormonal changes can easily screw you up—systemically.
The pill’s side effects can be a minor hassle...or they can be straight up debilitating.
Symptoms like weight gain; breast swelling and and tenderness; bloating; mood swings; severe PMS; headaches; and loss of sex drive can be experienced within days or months of starting the pill. Even if you don’t react right away, long-term use can leave you at high risk for infertility; liver cancer; several reproductive cancers; strokes; blood clots; high blood pressure; and depression. To name a few, bbs. To name a few.
Want more? If you have a legit health problem, the pill can mask the symptoms, ultimately leading to a severe illness. Oh, and hormonal contraception depletes the body of important nutrients like Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Magnesium, and Zinc.
The belief that birth control pills are safe comes from the pharmaceutical industry, as is the case with a ton of other drugs too.
I believe that any discussion of “natural birth control” is really a talk about better understanding our own bodies and what they do. No judgement if the pill gives you what you need, because that’s empowerment. But...should you want to make the switch, know that you don’t need the pill. There are effective alternatives when it comes to taking charge of your fertility.
4 (hormone-free) different birth control methods
1. Fertility Awareness
The Fertility Awareness Method, AKA FAM, in a nutshell, involves diligent monitoring of your cycle to avoid unprotected intercourse during ovulation. By recording different changes in your body, likes basal body temperature, and/or changes in cervical mucus, you can learn when ovulation is happening in your body.
This method is not to be confused with the infamous Rhythm Method, which is unreliable, as it assumes that all women have a regular 28-day cycle.
With FAM, you record and observe for many months before using it as a contraceptive. Once your cyclical signs are clear, you can safely abstain from unprotected sex for 7 days before and 2 days after ovulation. Naysayers aside, studies report that when used correctly, FAM’s effectiveness is greater than 95%. I love this method because it’s so much more than a contraceptive: it’s self-knowledge. Start by learning more about this method. Must-read book to help you really take action: Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler.
Condoms are a great hormone-free barrier method, and they’re one of the few birth control methods that don’t need to be spearheaded by women.
They have a 95 to 98% effectiveness rate when used properly, and are more effective than female condoms. No side effects, unless you have a latex allergy, in which case there are non-latex options out there. They’re affordable. As a barrier method they also protect you from STIs. They’re highly accessible. They may not always be a favoured option, but a lot of times, they really are the answer you’ve been looking for.
3. Non-hormonal IUD
Intrauterine devices are small, T-shaped sticks with a string attached to the end. The IUD is placed inside your uterus and prevents pregnancy by making it incredibly difficult for sperm to fertilize an egg, and by altering your uterine lining so it’s less supportive of an embryo.
It’s one of the most effective forms of reversible birth control out there (99.8%), works immediately, fertility returns quickly upon removal, it doesn’t contain hormones, doesn’t interact with medications, and can last upward of 5 years. Possible downsides include: heavier or longer periods; more severe menstrual cramps; irregular periods; spotting; and other less common side effects like infections or nausea.
4. Men stepping up
While the “Male Pill” is probably not an option due to the fact that men don’t want to go through the hormone shit-storm that women have shouldered all these decades (hello gendered biases in medical momentum!), there are other ways a man can do his part: for starters, he can put that condom on before you even have to dream of asking him.
If he’s older and neither of you ever wants kids, there’s always a vasectomy. This is far less intrusive (and more likely reversible) than tube-tying for women. Vasectomies have a failure rate of less than 1%. But, like any meager human attempt to stop our biologically programmed procreative flow, there are risks, i.e. increased chances of prostate cancer.
Personally, I’m all for condoms combined with the Fertility Awareness Method. Low risk, no side effects, work involved, but ultimately rewarding. What will your personalized (and politicized) birth control plan be?