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Non-hormonal Birth Control Methods

Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD Last updated on Jun 16, 2018.

Birth Control Options For Women Who Cannot Or Prefer Not To Take Hormones

Some women cannot use hormones because of health reasons, breastfeeding, side effects or a host of other reasons. Some women prefer to avoid hormones in general. Still, other women may only need occasional pregnancy protection and prefer not to use a full-time birth control method. There are many other birth control options that do not contain hormones, that are effective if used correctly, and that are affordable.

Barrier methods, such as the condom, sponge, cervical cap, or diaphragm, spermicide, the copper IUD, and natural family planning are all hormone-free methods of birth control. However, it is important that women review the effectiveness rates of these birth control methods (seen in this chart here) and discuss with their healthcare provider which might be best for their personal situation. In general, spermicide should always be used with a condom or diaphragm to increase its effectiveness.

A male latex condom is the best way to protect against any form of sexually transmitted disease (STD), including HIV and AIDS. A male latex condom or female condom should be used in combination with other birth control options (i.e., pill, patch, shot, IUD, sponge) if protection against STDs is needed.

Advantages with non-hormonal birth control methods

  • Can be used intermittently if the need for birth control is only occasional.
  • For women who cannot use hormones (for medical, breastfeeding, or other reasons) the barrier methods, such as the cervical cap, condom, diaphragm, contraceptive sponge; spermicide, and copper IUD are all hormone-free methods.
  • Many methods are inexpensive, but may not be covered by insurance because they are over-the-counter (OTC).
  • Some methods are easily accessible without a prescription at retail stores, and are easily transportable.

Disadvantages with non-hormonal birth control methods

  • Except for the copper IUD, these methods require diligent and consistent use to prevent pregnancy.
  • Except for the copper IUD, these methods may be associated higher failure rates when compared to birth control pills or other hormonal birth control options.
  • Some methods cannot be used during menstruation.
  • Some women may not like placing or leaving devices in the vaginal canal, or may find it uncomfortable.
  • Certain methods, such as a diaphragm or condom, may interfere with sexual spontaneity.

Common side effects with non-hormonal birth control methods

  • Non-hormonal barrier method birth control has few side effects. The copper IUD can be linked with serious side effects.
  • Some women or men may have irritation, dryness, or allergies associated with devices placed in vaginal canal, such as the condom, cervical cap, diaphragm, contraceptive sponge or spermicides. If side effects occur with use, contact your healthcare provider.

Serious side effects with non-hormonal birth control methods

  • Serious side effects are rare with the non-hormonal barrier method of birth control, like with the condom, diaphragm, or cervical cap; although allergies can rarely occur, especially if latex is present. Toxic shock syndrome may rarely occur with the contraceptive sponge.
  • Serious side effects with the copper IUD may include: pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), uterine perforation, ectopic pregnancy, and IUD expulsion. Discuss these serious side effects with your healthcare provider.

Other warnings and side effects may occur with the use of birth control. It is important to review the specific consumer information for the birth control of choice and discuss any questions or concerns with your healthcare provider.

Tell your healthcare provider about all other medications you take, including prescription, over-the-counter, vitamin and herbal supplements.

Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options

Product Common Proprietary Names Description
Cervical Cap FemCap
  • Barrier method; flexible cap placed over cervix.
  • Must be fitted and prescribed by a health care provider.
  • Used with spermicide; cap must stay in place 6 hours after intercourse, but do not leave in vagina for more than 48 hours.
  • Do not use during menstrual period due to higher risk for toxic shock syndrome
  • May cause vaginal irritation or allergies if allergic to silicone
  • Cost $60 to $80 per cap plus cost of exam, insurance may cover.
  • 20% to 40% failure rate; failure rate higher in women who have already had children.
  • Does not protect against STDs.
Condom (male) Various options available without a prescription at retail stores and pharmacies.
  • Barrier method; placed over penis and prevents sperm from entering the uterus.
  • May be made of latex; allergies or irritation are possible.
  • Protects against STDs if used correctly.
  • Do not use with a female condom due to a chance of tearing the condom.
  • Inexpensive, easily accessible at retail stores.
  • Not covered by insurance (OTC).
  • 15% to 20% failure rate; to increase effectiveness rate use with spermicide.
Condom (female) or Internal Condoms FC2 Female Condom
  • Barrier method; thin lining that goes into vagina to protect uterus from sperm; can place up to 8 hours prior to sex. Also used for HIV protection with anal sex.
  • In 2017, went to a prescription-only product in US; cannot buy in retail stores.
  • May be able to get online or through a family planning or health clinic; insurance may pay with prescription.
  • Can protect against STDs if used correctly; made of polyurethane and synthetic latex.
  • Do not use with a male condom due to a chance of tearing the condom.
  • 20% failure rate.
  • May cause irritation, burning, rash.
Diaphragm KoroFlex, Ortho-Diaphragm
  • Barrier method; silicone cup placed over cervix prior to sex; reusable.
  • May cause vaginal irritation.
  • Must be fitted and prescribed by a health care provider.
  • Used with spermicide; must remain in place 6 hours after intercourse; use additional spermicide if have intercourse again or more than 6 hours after diaphragm originally inserted.
  • Do not leave the diaphragm in place for more than 24 hours.
  • Costs $15 to $75, plus cost of exam; can last up to 2 years.
  • 20% failure rate.
  • Does not protect against STDs.
Contraceptive Sponge Today Sponge
  • Barrier/spermicide method; do not use if sulfite allergy; foam-like vaginal insert embedded with spermicide (nonoxynol-9); wet with small amount of water prior to use.
  • The sponge can be inserted up to 24 hours before sex, but sponge must remain in place for at least 6 hours after last intercourse; but do not leave in place longer than 30 hours.
  • $15 to $20 for package of 3 sponges.
  • Do not use during menstrual period due to higher risk for toxic shock syndrome; may cause irritation.
  • 20 to 40% failure rate; failure rate higher in women who have already had children.
  • Does not protect against STDs.
Spermicide Examples: Encare Vaginal Inserts, Gynol II, Conceptrol; available without a prescription at retail stores/ pharmacies.
  • Spermicidal creams, jellies, foams, films, vaginal suppositories; usually contains nonoxynol-9, a chemical that kills sperm to prevent fertilization.
  • Spermicides are inserted into the vagina shortly before intercourse; may cause irritation.
  • Cost is roughly $5 to $20 for a multi-pack.
  • High failure rate 20% to 30% when used alone.
  • To increase effectiveness should always use with a condom or diaphragm.
  • Not covered by insurance (OTC).
  • Does not protect against STDs.
Copper Intrauterine Device (copper T IUD) ParaGard; must be prescribed and inserted by a health care provider.
  • Non-hormonal IUD; inserted by healthcare provider within 7 days of menses onset; replace after 10 years.
  • Do not get if you have a copper allergy, Wilson's Disease, or a bleeding disorder.
  • Common side effects include longer and heavier periods or spotting; these may subside after 2 to 3 months.
  • Serious side effects may include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), uterine perforation, IUD expulsion, ectopic pregnancy.
  • If a period is missed, promptly be evaluated for pregnancy; do not use in pregnancy, PID, postpregnancy or postabortion uterine infection in the past 3 months; cancer of the uterus or cervix; infection in the cervix.
  • <1% failure rate.
  • Does not protect against STDs.
Natural Family Planning Not applicable
  • Must avoid sex when fertile and ovulating.
  • Must monitor bodily changes such as cervical mucous changes, body temperature.
  • Involves no hormones or devices.
  • Inexpensive.
  • 25% rate of failure with typical use.
  • Does not protect against STDs

Learn More: Permanent Birth Control Methods

See Also


Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.