10 Alternate Birth Control Devices and Methods


Women have come a long way since becoming sexually liberated thanks to the invention of the birth control pill in 1960.  

Since then, medical professionals have developed a wide variety of options for women to properly plan for pregnancy outside of choices like the pill, condoms and diaphragms.

Here’s an overview of ten alternate birth control options, split into three categories.

Hormone-Based Birth Control

Hormone-based birth control devices are descendant of the original birth control pill and involve injecting or implanting the hormones progestin or estrogen into the body. These hormones prevent pregnancy by keeping the ovaries from releasing eggs and/or by thickening the cervical mucus which instantly blocks sperm from reaching the egg. Hormone-based birth control affects a woman’s menstrual cycle and how she feels everyday. Common, temporary side effects include sore breasts, nausea and vomiting.

1. Birth Control Implant (brand names Implanon and Nexplanon)

How It Works: The implant is actually a small rod inserted under a woman’s skin. It’s usually placed in the upper arm region and can prevent pregnancy for up to four years.

Credit: Jacqui Brown/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Pros: Unlike the pill, it is safe for smokers and those with hypertension and diabetes.  It can also be safely used while breastfeeding. When you are ready to get pregnant, all you have to do is remove the implant.

Cons: Women may experience irregular menstrual cycles, including irregular bleeding. Users have also complained of dizziness and headaches. Some reported acne breakouts and hair loss.

Effectiveness: Greater than 99 percent for typical use

2. Birth Control Patch (formerly sold as Ortho Evra, now available as Xulane)

How It Works: Resembling a thin, beige Band-Aid, the patch is stuck to a woman’s skin and releases hormones that prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs.

Credit: Xulane.com

Pros: Easy to use, just like applying a Band-Aid. Reduces menstrual cramps and PMS. Offers some protection against endometrial and ovarian cancer, iron deficiency anemia, ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Cons: The patch only comes in beige, which isn’t ideal if it doesn’t match one’s skin tone. Some women complain about bleeding in between periods.

Effectiveness: 91 percent for typical use

3. Birth Control Shot  (brand name Depo-Provera)

How It Works: A shot prevents you from getting pregnant for three months.

Credit: Ciell/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5

Pros: Many women say they experience shorter, lighter periods. It’s a great, alternate method for women who can’t take estrogen, and can be used while breastfeeding.

Cons: Some users say they experience irregular bleeding for the first 6-12 months, including spotting between periods and heavier cycles. A possible change in appetite could lead to a five-pound weight gain the first year of usage.  

Effectiveness: 94 percent for typical use

4. Birth Control Vaginal Ring (brand name NuvaRing)

How It Works: This small, bendable ring is inserted into the vagina and left there for three weeks at a time. On the fourth week it gets taken out. This ring actually resembles those jelly bracelets that were all the rage in the 80s, only stiffer.

Credit: Sakky/Wikimedia Commons

Pros: Easy and simple to use, just like a tampon. Users have experienced shorter, lighter periods. It has been known to help clear up acne and reduce menstrual cramps and PMS.

Cons: Temporary side effects include bleeding in between periods. Long-term users experienced increased vaginal discharge, irritation and infection. Others noted a change in sex drive.

Effectiveness: 91 percent for typical use

Barrier Methods

These methods involve physical devices or chemical substances which prevent the sperm from reaching a woman’s uterus.

5. Intrauterine Device (brand names Mirena, ParaGard, Skyla, Liletta and Kyleena)

How It Works: This tiny, t-shaped piece of plastic is placed in the uterus to interfere with where sperm moves, preventing them from fertilizing an egg. IUDs can prevent pregnancy from three to twelve years depending on the type. Getting pregnant is as easy as removing the IUD at anytime. There are both hormonal and non hormonal IUDs.

Credit: Sarahmirk/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Pros: Easy to use and safe for smokers and those with diabetes and hypertension. The ParaGard brand doesn’t change one’s hormone levels. IUDs might reduce cramps and promote lighter periods. Some women have reported that their menstrual cycles stop altogether.

Cons: Users complain about spotting between periods, and those who use the ParaGard brand have increased cycle flow. Women have experienced cramps and backaches. Other problems include the IUD slipping out or pushing through the uterus wall, and the risk of infection.

Effectiveness: Greater than 99 percent for typical use

6. Cervical Cap (brand name FemCap)

How It Works: The cervical cap is a silicone cup that’s inserted into the vagina. Once in place it covers the cervix and keeps sperm out of the uterus. The cap is an inch and a half wide and one inch high. Spermicide must be used for the cervical cap to be most effective.

Credit: Ceridwen/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

Pros: The cap can be put into place hours in advance, and the woman can have sex as many times as desired once it’s in. Neither she nor her partner can feel it. It does not affect hormones, and no prescription is necessary. It can also be used while breastfeeding.

Cons: Women complain that they have a hard time inserting it. It can cause vaginal irritation, and some suffer from frequent urinary tract infections. It cannot be used if allergic to spermicide or silicone. Can be pushed out of place by certain sex positions or by large penises.

Effectiveness: 79-86 percent for typical use

7. Female Condom

How It Works: A female condom is a pouch inserted into the vagina. This floppy, clear elephant trunk-looking condom gives women the control during sex. The man’s sperm is kept inside the condom instead of the woman’s vagina.

Credit: Ceridwen/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

Pros: Condoms protect against STIs, and no prescription is necessary. It can be used if allergic to latex and with oil- or water-based lube. It stays in place if your partner loses their erection. Some users say the outer ring could stimulate the clitoris.

Cons: Users say that it can cause irritation. Some women complain that it reduces sensitivity during sex. Other say they are sensitive to certain types of brands. The first generation of the female condom, the FC1, was squeaky, but the newer version, the FC2, is not.

Effectiveness: 79 percent for typical use

8. Birth Control Sponge (Today Sponge)

How It Works: This dimpled piece of white, plastic foam has an elastic loop on one side. Wetting it (which activates the spermicide) and inserting it into the vagina before having sex allows this two-inch sponge to protect against pregnancy in two ways. 1. It continuously releases spermicide and 2. blocks the cervix which prevents sperm from getting into the uterus.

Credit: Wikipedia

Pros: The sponge can be put into place up to 24 hours in advance. You can have sex as many times as you’d like. Hormones are not affected, so it can be used if breastfeeding. No prescription necessary.

Cons: Users complain about vaginal irritation. Some women have a hard time inserting it. Those who are allergic to sulfa drugs, polyurethane or spermicide should not use the sponge.

Effectiveness: 76-88 percent for typical use

Natural Methods

This is not the withdrawal (rhythm method) that involves pulling out before ejaculation, but rather a careful and organized series of techniques that incorporate a woman’s own natural functions and processes, plus careful monitoring of them to prevent pregnancy.

9. Breastfeeding as Birth Control (or Lactational Amenorrhoea Method)

How It Works: When women breastfeed, it naturally suppresses fertility. This method will only work if you’ve just given birth and are breastfeeding in a very specific way.

Credit: Daniel Peinado Photo/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Pros: You learn a lot more about how your body works. No hormones are added to your body, and there are no side effects. No prescription is necessary, and there are no added expenses.

Cons: It can be hard to breastfeed exclusively. Breastfeeding only prevents pregnancy for 6 months. Breastfeeding can have side effects like less vaginal lubrication. Some women complain that nursing breasts don’t feel sexual.

Effectiveness: 98 percent for typical use, but only works if baby is younger than 6-months old

10. Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FAMs)

How It Works: This method, also called natural family planning, is all about tracking and using your menstrual cycle to understand which days out of the month you can get pregnant. This is a scientific method that takes careful journaling to pay close attention to your body and note any specific changes. Ways to monitor fertility awareness include using the Standard Days Method (SDM), which incorporates counting colored Cycle Beads and works if your menstrual cycle is between 26 and 32 days long.  

Cycle Beads are one method of monitoring fertility in family planning. Credit: Dellex/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Monitoring vaginal secretions is another method. There’s the Two Day Method (TDM) where you closely observe secretions to see when you’re fertile, or the Cervical Mucus manner for when your body secretes a specific goo indicating when you’re the most fertile. Keeping track of your body temperature is another way, specifically with the Body Temperature (BBT) that charts your body temperature, or Symptothermal, which indicates how open your cervix is.

Pros: No hormones are added to your body, so you don’t experience any side effects. There’s no prescription necessary.

Cons: All of these methods take careful planning, record keeping and self control. You must abstain from sex for at least once a week per cycle. SDM doesn’t work for women with irregular periods. FAM methods cannot be used after going off the hormonal method, because the hormones affect the regularity of the menstrual cycle.

Effectiveness: 76-88 percent for typical use

Related: Simple Steps Women of All Ages Can Do to Take Care of Their Health