The Difference Between Hormonal And Non-Hormonal Birth Control

Unplanned pregnancies are prevalent across the United States, with over 3 million of them occurring annually, leading to 1.5 million induced abortions. Women who are from minority races — or have less than 12 years of education — are at a higher risk for unplanned pregnancies (via NIH).

A part of the solution lies in birth control, which is any method used to prevent pregnancies. Birth control is practiced using several devices, drugs, agents, sexual practices, or surgical procedures (via WebMD). Some ways, however, are more effective than others. 

Birth control allows people to grow their family whenever they like, but there's more to it than that. In developing countries, birth control has decreased the death rate of women during or around the time of pregnancy by more than 40%. Death rates could be reduced even more with better availability of contraception (via The Lancet).

Contraceptives come in several forms. According to data from the 2015–2017 National Survey of Family Growth, the most widely used contraceptive methods were female sterilization (18.6%), oral contraceptives (12.6%), long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) (10.3%), and male condoms (8.7%). Birth control falls under two major categories — hormonal and non-hormonal birth control — and here we will be looking at the difference between the two.

What is hormonal birth control?

Hormonal contraceptives function by altering the body's natural chemical mechanism. Depending upon what type of hormones are used, hormonal birth control may prevent pregnancy by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs or by preventing implantation by thinning out the uterus lining. Types of hormonal birth control include pills, rings, patches, shots, and implants (via CDC).

IUDs and hormonal implants are more than 99% effective, which makes them two of the most effective forms hormonal of birth control, alongside combination pills, Depo-Provera shots and patches — also at 99% effectiveness. It must also be noted that the effectiveness of these methods depends on how efficiently they are used (via Healthline).

The physiological benefits of hormonal birth control include lower risks of developing uterine cancer. Effective hormonal birth control methods also reduce the risk of ovarian cysts and relieve premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms (via Healthline).

However, hormonal birth control comes with side effects, since it alters the body's chemical systems. These types of contraceptives bring about hormonal changes in the body, which may result in mood changes, acne, migraines, blood clotting, change in appetite, bloating and nausea, lower chances of conceiving, risk of high blood pressure, hair growth or reduction, weight fluctuation, vaginal irritation, and more (via Healthline).

If you feel that your hormonal birth control is not right for you, or has too many unwanted side effects, then you should get in touch with your doctor and be as open and detailed about the side effects as possible. Knowing how your body responds to a particular contraceptive might help your doctor prescribe you something that actually works for you.

What is non-hormonal birth control?

Non-hormonal birth control refers to methods that do not alter the body's natural chemical mechanisms. These contraceptives function by preventing the sperm cells from fertilizing the egg cells. Non-hormonal birth controls act as a barrier between the reproducing cells. They are also less likely to have side effects. Non-hormonal birth control is also popular among those who are not sexually active on a regular basis (via Healthline). 

Non-hormonal contraceptives like condoms are readily available and do not require a prescription. However, other forms of non-hormonal contraceptives such as IUDs and cervical caps require prescriptions. These forms of birth control are quite effective. While the effectiveness of IUDs was reported to be over 99%, condoms and cervical caps were found to be only slightly less effective with perfect use, but had a higher failure rate (via Healthline). A more permanent solution to avoid future pregnancies is tubal ligation — having the tubes tied. This is effective only if people do not want to conceive at all.

To choose the right type of birth control, it is crucial to consider a few things: preferences, health status, and lifestyle, among others. It is also best to consult a gynecologist to better understand and evaluate birth control options.