If you think back 5, 10, or perhaps 20+ years, you might remember the first time you sheepishly asked your local GP for birth control pills. Perhaps all these years later, you’re still washing down that same pill with your morning cup of coffee. And while hormonal birth control (birth control pills, the Mirena IUD or the patch, to name a few) are highly effective in protecting against unwanted pregnancy, some might women wish to explore other options.
Not all birth control is created equal, so we’ve rounded up some tried-and-tested birth control options according to the NHS, keeping you hormone-free and baby-free.
One of the most popular birth control options out there, male condoms are worn on the shaft of the penis, preventing sperm from coming into contact with the vagina (and ultimately, an egg). Not only are they 98% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy, they also provide protection against most common STIs. Whether or not you’re taking hormonal birth control, it’s always a good idea to throw a male condom into the mix until you and your partner have both been cleared for all seuxally transmitted infections.
While some may complain of decreased sensitivity when using a male condom, try experimenting with different brands, cruelty-free condoms, vegan condoms, or organic flavoured condoms to find the right fit for you and your partner.
While female condoms are the ‘less popular sister’ of male condoms, they’re still 95% effective if used correctly. Like male condoms, female condoms act as a barrier during sex, but instead of being placed on the shaft of the penis, female condoms are inserted into the vagina to create an internal sheath. For some women, proper insertion can be tricky business, but this can be easily learned with a bit of solo practice.
Once you’ve mastered insertion, female condoms are an effective means of birth control and like male condoms, they can also protect against STIs. As a plus, some women may feel empowered by female condoms – rather than leaving birth control to your male partner, you’re (literally) taking matters into your own two hands.
If you and your partner don’t particularly enjoy the sensation of male and female condoms, you may wish to try another form of barrier protection – the diaphragm. A diaphragm is a silicone cervical cap that essentially covers the cervix during sex, and it should always be paired with spermicidal lubricant for additional protection. While many women find insertion difficult at first, a correctly placed diaphragm is between 92-96% effective at protecting against pregnancy.
Because the silicone cap only covers the cervix, this allows you and your partner to enjoy sex without the restricted sensation that male and female condoms can sometimes create. This also means, however, that diaphragms aren’t an effective means of protecting against STIs (and they also need to be kept in place for at least 6 hours following sex), so you should chat with your healthcare provider to determine whether a diaphragm is right for you. Your GP or nurse will fit you with a diaphragm, show you how to replace it, and send you home to experiment with your partner.
While some IUDs use hormones to protect against pregnancy, the copper IUD is a small device (coil) inserted into the uterus for up to 10 years – copper is toxic to sperm and is over 99% effective at protecting against pregnancy. While this is a more invasive option that other forms of non-hormonal birth control, the copper IUD can’t usually be felt (there is a smooth, floss-like string that hangs into the vagina, but most women and their partners can’t detect it), and it requires no maintenance on your part, assuming you don’t have any physical symptoms.
Copper IUDs are a simple, once-a-decade birth control option for women who wish to steer clear of hormones – but for some (not all) women, the copper IUD can cause increased bleeding, cramping and spotting between and during periods.
Natural family planning
There is quite a bit of misinformation out there surrounding natural family planning, a birth control method that according to the NHS requires excellent ‘fertility awareness’ to be effective. In order to understand your own cycle, you must carefully monitor your cycle (perhaps using an app), perform daily readings of your body temperature and monitor changes in your cervical mucus (discharge). You’ll then learn to use this information to determine your ovulation window, at which point you’ll either abstain from sex or use a barrier method of contraception.
While the NHS says this method of birth control can be 99% effective if done absolutely perfectly, many women struggle to accurately estimate their ovulation window as this can be impacted by factors such as stress, change in diet, travel or illness. Before attempting this method of birth control, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to determine how it can best suit you and your daily habits.
The bottom lineAt &SISTERS HQ, we know that every woman is different. Only you and your doctor will know what works best for you, your body and your lifestyle. For more information on both hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options available in the UK, take a look at the dedicated NHS webpage here.