Hormones: Yes or No For Birth Control?

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

Hormones are a big deal, especially when it comes to sex, which is why we talk so much about them (you know…”My hormones are raging,” “I’m feeling hormonal,” et cetera). For all that we toss those terms around, very few of us actually understand the impact of hormones on our body—or our ability to get pregnant.

One of the most common questions that I get is about hormonal vs. non-hormonal birth control methods. Hormonal methods of birth control use estrogen and/or progestin to prevent pregnancy, though they can vary in the 1) type of hormone used, 2) amount of hormone, and 3) method of delivery. Hormonal methods—like the pill, the patch, and the ring—are great because they’re extremely reliable (when used correctly) and reversible. It’s important to remember, though, that none of these methods protect against STDs.

The most popular non-hormonal method of birth control is the condom, which is great because it also protects against STDs. However, women looking for a non-hormonal method do have other options! Today I’m going to talk about some longer term non-hormonal methods. As always if you have questions you can always email me at [email protected]

I get migraines with aura, so…as you probably know, no one will prescribe me the regular pill because of the migraines and a higher risk for stroke while taking the pill. I’ve been on the mini-pill for a few years, and while it’s worked for me so far, I want to know if there are any other options?

Whether it’s because of migraines, medication interacting, or family history, there are reasons why a dual hormonal (progestin and estrogen) birth control method may not be an option. Progestin only birth control pills (sometimes called the mini-pill) are available for women who have sensitivities to estrogen. However, you have to take it at the same time (literally) every day. No snoozing the alarm on that one. If you’re responding well to the progestin only pill, but want a longer-term method, the Mirena IUD and Implanon are both progestin only options.

What about non-hormonal methods? Condoms are great but I’m in a long-term, monogamous relationship and want a more reliable birth control.

Besides the condom, there aren’t a lot of non-hormonal methods out there. There’s the sponge (insert Seinfeld joke here), but with a high failure rate, it’s not a great option for someone seeking peace of mind.

The Paragard IUD is a much more reliable option. It’s a small T-shaped device that is inserted by a clinician into the uterus. The Paragard doesn’t use hormones, and instead relies on copper to interact with a woman’s chemistry to prevent pregnancy. It’s good for 12 years (talk about set and forget it!), and can be used by women who haven’t been pregnant. Because it’s longer term, there’s usually a higher cost (between $500-1000). You might end up paying the same amount for pills over 12 years, but not all at once. Health insurance, and sometimes state programs, can help cover the cost.

Are there any side effects with the Paragard that I should know about?

Since the Paragard doesn’t have hormones, it avoids some of the side effects common to other methods, but may result in longer and heavier periods. This can also mean that their period symptoms (for example, menstrual cramps) might be stronger, which can be a deal breaker for some women. Your local Planned Parenthood health center can help you decide if the Paragard is right for you.

(Image via Shutterstock)