7 Non-Hormonal Birth Control Methods and How They Work

We’re all different and deserve a diverse choice of methods to suit our unique reproductive needs. For those looking for hormone-free contraception, we’ve curated a list of seven non-hormonal birth control options, so you can learn about their history, how they’re used, their effectiveness and more. If you’re looking for natural birth control, you’ve come to the right place…

Illustrations of non-hormonal birth control on a pink and white background

This article is also available in Spanish.

Types of non-hormonal birth control

How many types of non-hormonal birth control can you think of? If on average a woman in the US wants to have 2 children, that means she needs enough birth control for about 30 years. That’s a lot of contraception. Of course, our needs change as we go through different stages of life, but being able to make an informed choice about our options is an important step in finding the optimal method. Here’s a breakdown of the non-hormonal birth control methods on offer today: 

1. The condom

An oldy but a goody, the condom has been around for centuries. Since the invention of vulcanized rubber in 1839, it’s thankfully become a more sleek and user-friendly option than it was back in the day. Our forefathers used primitive sheaths made from animal intestines which were, wait for it… reusable. We think that probably is taking natural birth control a little too far. 

The condom comes in two versions, the more popular external condom (worn on the penis) and the internal condom (inserted into the vagina). With typical use, the condom has a birth control effectiveness rate of 87%, while the internal condom is 79% effective. Condoms are also a popular natural birth control option because they protect from sexually transmitted infections

2. The copper IUD

A form of long-acting, reversible contraception, the copper IUD, or copper coil, works by creating a hostile environment for sperm in the uterus and fallopian tubes. As well as creating a ‘toxic’ space for sperm, the IUD works by causing inflammation of the uterus so implantation can’t happen even if an egg is fertilized. This means the copper IUD can also be used as a form of emergency contraception if it is fitted up to five days after unprotected sex. 

The copper IUD requires fitting by a healthcare professional. Once inserted in the vagina, the copper IUD can be used for five to ten years. This form of non-hormonal birth control has a high effectiveness rate of more than 99%. This is because once it is inserted it requires no maintenance.

3. The calendar method

Another ancient non-hormonal birth control, the calendar method is a form of fertility awareness-based contraception. There are documented references to periodic abstinence which are over 1000 years old… However, in the 21st century, we have the luxury of modernizing the calendar method and can keep track of fertile days on our phones.

The calendar method works by abstaining sex in the fertile window, which is calculated by average cycle length, predicting that most women are fertile about two weeks before they get their period. However, since we are all different our fertile window varies from woman to woman. Typical use effectiveness for the calendar method is 77%, while perfect use is 97%. 

4. The birth control app

A new player in the contraceptive landscape, the birth control app, Natural Cycles, offers a non-hormonal birth control option for the modern woman. Unlike traditional fertility awareness-based methods, the app is assisted by an algorithm that works to identify ovulation through a rise in basal body temperature which happens after ovulation.

Natural Cycles requires women to take their temperature first thing in the morning when they wake up, and enter it into the app. The algorithm then learns the unique pattern of their cycle and can find the fertile window and give green days (when a woman is not fertile) and red days (when there is a risk of pregnancy and protection, such as condoms, should be used). Natural Cycles is 93% effective with typical use. 

5. The birth control sponge

Another non-hormonal method of contraception is the birth control sponge. Before intercourse, the sponge is placed inside the vagina where it sits against the cervix and releases spermicide. It works both by blocking the uterus and by slowing down sperm so they can’t reach and fertilize the egg.

The sponge has a small loop for removal and it should be left in the vagina for at least 6 hours after sex but for no longer than 30 hours. This non-hormonal birth control method is not reusable. The sponge is between 76% and 88% effective and can be used with the condom to increase effectiveness. 

6. Withdrawal

Another non-hormonal birth control that’s stayed with us from the ancient world is withdrawal or the pull out method. Unfortunately, withdrawal hasn’t got any more sophisticated as our technology has advanced, yet it is still in common use today.

By removing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation, withdrawal works by stopping sperm and egg from meeting. However, it can be a tricky thing to time. There is still semen in pre-ejaculate, meaning some sperm is likely to still be present even when withdrawal is ‘correctly’ – as we know it only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg. Withdrawal is 80% effective with typical use.  

7. Sterilization and vasectomy

Very effective, but also potentially permanent, sterilization and vasectomies are invasive surgical procedures that alter the female and male reproductive tracts to prevent pregnancy.  Female sterilization works by permanently closing or blocking the fallopian tube which stops sperm from getting to an egg. The vasectomy blocks or cuts the vas deferens tube, thus keeping sperm out of semen. 

Because of their invasive and permanent nature, sterilization or vasectomy are not procedures which should be chosen lightly. They are however, more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, and once used, are effective for a lifetime.

More birth control methods

In this post we’ve outlined some of the non-hormonal birth control methods available to you. If you’re interested in browsing the wider contraceptive landscape, check out our post on birth control options, where you can also see the history and effectiveness of a mix of different methods, including those containing hormones. 

At Natural Cycles we believe in more contraceptive choice for all. This is because we are all different and require different methods to reflect our diversity. Our birth control app is just one of the non-hormonal birth control options available.

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Written By

Jennifer Gray

A writer with a passion for women’s health, Jennifer Gray has years of experience writing about various reproductive health topics including birth control, planning pregnancy, women’s anatomy, and so much more.

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Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

With 10 years of experience working in the field of fertility, Dr. Jack Pearson is Natural Cycles’ in-house expert. As Medical Affairs Manager, he dedicates his time to conducting groundbreaking research and educating healthcare professionals.

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