Natural Alternatives to the Birth Control Pill
This is the year. You’ve been talking about this for a while, you’ve told all your friends, you’ve socialized it with your partner, and you’re ready to take the next step. This is the year you’re giving up the birth control pill. Before I go any further, I just want to throw in this reference to the greatest movie of all time…
So maybe it’s not the greatest movie of all time, but I figured it was worthy of a mention. Moving on.
If you are considering giving up the birth control pill as your method of contraception, you likely fall into one of three categories: you no longer want to deal with the side effects (moodiness, low libido, depression etc.), it no longer aligns with your healthy lifestyle, or you are hoping to conceive in the near future and you are concerned about fertility.
I want to start off by saying congratulations for making this first step. Making the decision to no longer take the birth control pill is not an easy one, especially if you, like many women, have been a loyal user since the age of 16. If you fall in the last category listed above, the decision to part ways with the birth control pill may seem like a no-brainer, but if you find yourself in one - or both - of the other categories, then what lies ahead may seem like a very daunting process. In a society where the birth control pill and contraception have become synonymous, it can feel like there are no other options. Or at the very least, no other options that work. So, it usually comes as a surprise that there are, in fact, healthy natural alternatives to hormonal birth control.
As a teenager I had the most terrible skin. My acne was so bad that there is about 4-5 years of my life where there are no photos of me, as I ran for the hills every time someone pulled out a camera. I was so uncomfortable in my skin that I wanted to do anything I could to fix it. When I learned about the birth control pill and the fact that one of the side effects was controlling acne, I begged my mom to let me go on it. Of course, naive 14-year-old-Amy had no idea what the birth control pill was, how it worked, and that the reason it helps clear up skin is because of the synthetic hormones that come with it. All I cared about was my skin. (I’m sure there are many of you reading this that can relate.) Well, let’s just say my mom had a good head on her shoulders and didn’t approve of this plan.
Fast forward 6 years and as a sexually active 20-year-old, I decided I was going to give birth control a try. (As a note, my skin had cleared up at this point, but I was just as clueless as to how the pill worked as an actual birth control.) I used it for approximately 5 months before I realized it was not for me whatsoever. After only about 3 months of taking it I started noticing significant changes in my mood, and it wasn’t until I, without any reason, burst into tears on a random Tuesday afternoon after a lecture at university, that my girlfriend pointed out to me that I have turned into an emotional wreck. It was right at that moment that I decided to not be so clueless and learn about how the birth control pill works and what the physiological effects are on the body. It was at that point that I decided I would find other methods of birth control that were much less harmful to the body, and I haven’t looked back since.
I can absolutely relate to you if you feel that the pill really is the only option for effective birth control. As someone who decided mid-way through university that the pill was not an option for me, I was definitely not the norm within my social circle. I’ve had women judge me, question me, ask me how I could possible live without being on it, and I’ve even had a guy - mid hook-up might I add - ask me “are you not on the pill?’ when I refused to do anything without him wearing the proper protection. Luckily, almost 10 years later, more research has come into light about how unnatural the pill is to the female body, and women in general are starting to question things more, especially as it pertains to their health.
So, if you are in that latter group, then you’re in luck, as there are other options available to you that are as effective as the birth control pill, but a lot more natural to the body.
Copper IUD (Hormone Free)
If you’re looking for something as effective as the pill that requires little-to-no hassle, the copper IUD is a good option. It is over 99% effective, requires no maintenance and lasts up to 12 years. The copper IUD is hormone free and works by stopping sperm from reaching an egg and therefore preventing fertilization. The downside can be that insertion is uncomfortable, if not painful, and it can cause spotting for up to 6 months.
Fertility Awareness Method
The Fertility Awareness Method uses physiological signs of fertility to help track when a woman is fertile. When used correctly, it is 99.4% effective. The benefits of the Fertility Awareness Method are that it is 100% natural, can be used in conjunction with other birth control methods, and can also monitor hormonal health. In addition, it is a great way for women to become more in-tune with their body’s menstrual cycle and how the body changes throughout the cycle.
The downside is that it does require some time to learn about the method and how it fits with your cycle, and it also requires abstinence on days when you are fertile in order to be most effective. It is also most suited to women who have a regular cycle.
Of course, it is only natural that condoms make the list. Everyone is aware of condoms as a birth control option, but a lot of people decide against using them as their primary birth control for a few reasons: the efficacy is lower compared to other methods (82% with typical use and 98% in perfect use), they reduce sensation for both partners and there is some pre-planning that is required. However, when combined with the above Fertility Awareness Method, they can be a very effective and hormone-free method.
One of the methods that falls under the Fertility Awareness Method is the Temperature Method. In a nutshell, the Temperature Method predicts at what point you are in your cycle by tracking changes in your body temperature. The body temperature naturally changes throughout the menstrual cycle: it is lower during the first part of the cycle, the follicular phase, and increases when you ovulate. After ovulation, the body enters the luteal phase and the temperature drops back down. For most women, 96-98°F is the typical temperature before ovulation. During ovulation and for a few days after, the temperature rises to 97-99°F. As you can guess, the temperature method requires consistent daily readings of your temperature, in order to recognize at what stage of the cycle the body is in. Natural Cycles is considered a digital birth control that uses an app to gather daily body temperature, which then uses an algorithm to map out your cycle and inform you when you are most fertile, so you can either use protection (such as condoms) or abstain from sex. Basically, it is a digital way of using the Temperature Method/Fertility Awareness Method.
When used diligently, it is 93% effective with typical use. On the downside, it does require a thermometer that reads to 2 decimal places in order to increase accuracy, there is a monthly or annual subscription involved and requires dedication in order to effectively calculate your menstrual cycle based off your temperature readings.
When I decided against using the birth control pill at the age of 20, I was in the minority. However, there are so many women now, almost 10 years later, that feel empowered to take control over their body and what they are consuming on a daily basis. While healthy eating and exercise are of course incredibly important to living a balanced and healthy lifestyle, as women, we cannot overlook the significance of the type of birth control we use and how it impacts our minds and bodies.
I hope this article has been helpful and that it has opened your eyes to what is available to you outside of the birth control pill. If anything, I challenge you to learn more about your menstrual cycle and take note of how you feel throughout the month. That process alone should help shed some light on how the body works and, hopefully, unravel the fearful ‘contraceptive mentality’ that is instilled in us from our early years. As we say, knowledge is power, but unfortunately as women, we are not equipped with the knowledge on this topic while growing up. However, we can now work to change that by challenging the status quo and embracing natural contraceptive options that work with our bodies instead of against them.
I always love to discuss this topic, so if you have any questions at all or just want to chat, please connect with me through Instagram @thewholeisticway.