Non hormonal birth control – what are my options?

A guide to deciding which non-hormonal birth control is best for you

When it comes to different methods of contraception, the list is pretty endless. You’ve got everything from internal, external, oral, hormonal, and even natural birth control – how on earth are you meant to know which one is best for you?

Here at The Lowdown we’ve answered all your prayers and created a website that can help you choose a contraceptive to suit you. If you’re sick of hormones being pumped into you and cannot deal with one more mood swing or pussing spot, then non hormonal contraception might be the right option for you.

Here’s your guide to different types of non hormonal birth control methods.

IUD – the non hormonal coil

Copper IUD

There are two types of IUDs, hormonal and non hormonal. The non hormonal IUD is also known as the copper coil.

The copper coil is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device that is inserted into your womb by a doctor or nurse. It releases copper into your womb which prevents pregnancy by making the fluid in your cervix thicker (which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb), and preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an embryo to grow in it.

Length of use

3-5 years

Things that can go wrong
  • There’s a small risk of infection after it’s been fitted. This may occur when harmless bacteria normally found in vagina is pushed inside the womb. You’ll know it’s infected if you have unusual discharge, there’s a strong smell, or you develop a high temperature or chills.
  • Around 1 in 20 copper coils can fall out or be pushed out by the womb, this is most common in the first few weeks of getting it fitted, or during a period. If this happens, head to your doctor or nurse to get a check up.
  • If the copper coil doesn’t work and you get pregnant, there’s also a small increased risk of ectopic pregnancy – when the egg implants outside the womb, normally the fallopian tubes. However, the overall risk of ectopic pregnancy is less in women using a coil than in women using no contraception at all.
  • Very occasionally the threads get lost. This happens to about 1 in 100 women and is more commonly caused by the threads being pulled up inside into the cervix. They may notice this when you go to have the coil removed, and sometimes the threads can reappear naturally.
  • Even more occasionally (1 in 1000 chance) the coil goes through the wall of the womb into the abdomen. This is called ‘perforation’ and it this happens, they can remove the coil via surgery.

For more information on the non hormonal coil, check out our user reviews of the copper coil or see our complete guide to IUDs.

Barrier Methods

Cap or Diaphragm

A contraceptive diaphragm or cap is a circular dome made of thin, soft silicone. You need to use it with a gel that kills sperm called spermicide. The most common active ingredient of spermicides is nonoxynol-9.

A contraceptive diaphragm or cap is a small reusable circular dome made of soft silicone that is inserted into the vagina before sex. It is covered in spermicide (a gel that kills sperm) and prevents pregnancy by covering the cervix so sperm can’t get into the womb.

Length of use

One use only

Things that can go wrong
  • The most common thing that can go wrong is that the cap doesn’t cover your cervix because it’s the wrong size or doesn’t fit properly. You may also accidentally remove the diaphragm or cap too soon – less than six hours after you had sex. If these things happen you may need to use emergency contraception.
  • There is a small chance you could develop toxic shock syndrome if the cap or diaphragm is left in for several days. This happens at a rate of 2.4 cases per 100,000 women using diaphragms, when it is left in for more than 24 hours.
  • Some women can be more likely to develop cystitis, bladder infections or bacterial vaginosis when they use a cap or diaphragm. If this happens your doctor or nurse can check the size as changing it to a smaller size may help.
  • Like condoms, quite a lot of things can make diaphragms and caps less effective – these include
    • If it gets damaged or has holes in it
    • You don’t use spermicide or extra spermicide when you use it or have more sex
    • You have sex three hours or more after you put it in and don’t use extra spermicide
    • Some oil based products (like oils and lotions) can damage latex based diaphragms or caps.

For more information check out our user reviews of cap or diaphragm contraception.

Male and Female condoms

Male condom

Male condoms are thin latex or polyurethane sheaths that are worn on the penis. They prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from getting to the womb and are one of the most common methods of non hormonal birth control.

Length of use

One use only

Things that can go wrong
  • The most common thing that can go wrong is a condom breaks, splits, or slips off during sex. If this happens, you may need to use emergency contraception. If it keeps happening, you may not be putting condoms on correctly (leaving some air in there) or you may need to use a bigger condom size. There are hundreds of types, brands and sizes of condom so it’s worth trying out a few to find one that works for you and your partner.
  • Occasionally, condoms can fall off and get lost inside a women’s vagina during sex. Don’t panic, just reach your fingers inside your vagina and try to pull it out. If you can’t feel it, it’s probably lodged at the top of your vaginal canal near your cervix. Sometimes squatting or propping one foot up on a higher surface, can help you reach your cervix. If you can’t get it out after a few hours, head to your local A&E or clinic and they can remove it for you.
  • People who are allergic or sensitive to latex shouldn’t use condoms made from latex.
  • Quite a lot of things can stop condoms being effective – these include:
    • If a penis touches the vaginal area before the condom is put on. Make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself– sperm can come out of the penis before a man has ejaculated.
    • Condoms being past their use by date – don’t use them if they’re out of date
    • Condoms stored in intense heat or cold.
    • Condoms used with oil based products or lubricant (like moisturiser, lotion, Vaseline).
    • Condoms used with medication for things like thrush (pessaries etc).

You can read everything you need to know about the male condom in our complete guide or read real-life user experiences on our contraceptive review page.

Female Condoms

Female condoms are soft thin plastic pouches that are made of a thin, strong plastic called polyurethane, or a substance called nitrile. Female condoms are worn inside the vagina, and they prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from getting to the womb.

Length of us

One use only

Things that can go wrong
  • The most common thing that can go wrong with a female condom is that the penis enters the vagina outside the condom by mistake, or the condom slips out or gets pushed into the vagina during sex. If this happens, you may need to use emergency contraception.  
  • Quite a lot of things can stop female condoms from being effective – these include:
    • If a penis touches the vaginal area before the condom is inserted. Make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself– sperm can come out of the penis before a man has ejaculated.
    • Condoms being past their use by date – don’t use them if they’re out of date.
    • Condoms stored in intense heat or cold.

See our guide to female condoms for more information or read user reviews here.

Permanent non hormonal birth control methods

Sterilisation

Female sterilisation is a permanent surgical procedure to block or seal a woman’s fallopian tubes which carry an embryo from the ovaries to the womb. It prevents pregnancy by stopping embryos from reaching the sperm and becoming fertilised. Eggs will still be released from the ovaries as normal, but they’ll be absorbed naturally into the woman’s body.

Length of use

Permanent

Things that can go wrong
  • About one in 200 female sterilisations fail – this can happen for a number of reasons, the fallopian can occasionally rejoin after sterilisation, immediately or some years after the operation has been carried out. Very rarely there are surgical errors, and the procedure is not completed correctly.
  • If female sterilisation fails, and you do become pregnant, there is a small increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. You should seek advice straight away if you think you might be pregnant or have a light or delayed period, unusual vaginal bleeding, or if you have sudden or unusual pain in your lower abdomen.

Read more about female sterilisation or read our community’s reviews.

Male Vasectomy

A vasectomy (male sterilisation) is a permanent surgical procedure to cut or seal the tubes that carry a man’s sperm. It prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from getting into a man’s semen. The procedure is usually done whilst the man is under local anaesthetic, when you’re awake but don’t feel any pain and takes about 15 minutes.

Length of us

Permenant (however you can get a vasectomy reversal)

Things that could go wrong
  • Sometimes men have unprotected sex too soon after surgery and there is still sperm present in their semen.
  • About one in 2,000 male sterilisations fail – this can happen for a number of reasons, the tubes that carry the sperm can occasionally rejoin after sterilisation, immediately or some years after the operation has been carried out. Very rarely there are surgical errors, and the procedure is not completed correctly.
  • Occasionally, some men have bleeding, a large swelling, or an infection. In this case, see your doctor as soon as possible. Sometimes sperm may leak out of the tubes and collect in the surrounding tissue. This may cause inflammation and pain immediately or later on, but can be treated.
  • A small number of men experience ongoing pain in their testicles, scrotum, penis or lower abdomen. This is known as chronic post-vasectomy pain or CPVP. Drug treatments may be effective in easing the pain and some men require further surgery. It’s not always possible to relieve these symptoms permanently.

Get your answers to every question about getting the snip in our guide or read real-life experiences on our vasectomy review page.

Natural birth control

Natural Cycles

The Natural Cycles app is a mobile application classified in the EU and by the FDA as a medical device for contraception. Technically it’s a method of natural family planning, but we wanted to collect data on it separately as so many Lowdown users are interested in other women’s experiences using it which you can read here.

The Natural Cycles app contains an algorithm that analyses your temperature (measured using a thermometer) and menstrual cycle data to calculate when you are fertile, and telling you to avoid sex or use other protection on your fertile days. Unlike other fertility awareness methods it tries to minimise human error as the algorithm does the calculations and interpretations.

Length of use

Any length of time

Things that could go wrong
  • Check out the Natural Cycles website for all of their information and FAQs. Ultimately, you may have sex accidentally without protection when you are fertile and that could lead to pregnancy. It can take several months for the algorithm to be effective, and lots of factors (illness, lifestyle, stress or travel) may make fertility indicators harder to interpret.
  • You may forget to take your temperature or input your menstrual cycle data into the app. They recommend you measure your temperature at least five out of seven days a week. If you forget to enter data, the app will give you more red days.
  • You may accidentally have sex or not use protection on a red day. If this happens you may need to use emergency contraception.
  • Using hormonal emergency contraception will upset your normal hormone pattern and alter the algorithm and your number of red and green days.

Read more about Natural Cycles in our complete guide.

The withdrawal method

Withdrawal is a method of contraception that works when you pull the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation. It prevents pregnancy by trying to avoid semen from getting into the vagina.

Length of use

One use only

Things that can go wrong
  • There is a small chance that pre-cum can get into the vagina
  • The male may pull out too late

Get more information on if you can pregnant from pre-cum here and read our users’ reviews of the pull out method.

As you can see, there are a number of different options for non hormonal birth control that have much less of a chance of affecting your moods, skin, weight and more.

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

Why not leave us a review of your contraceptive experience? Whether you’ve got good things to say about the Mirena coil or had trouble with implant removal, we want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and help people around the world find the right method for them.