What’s the Difference Between Hormonal and Nonhormonal Birth Control?

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Home » What’s the Difference Between Hormonal and Nonhormonal Birth Control?


As research and technology advances, there are more and more birth control options available. These options can be sorted into two basic categories: hormonal and nonhormonal. Here, we explain the basic differences between these two options and how you can choose the best birth control method for you.


How Does Hormonal Birth Control Work?


Hormonal birth control works by changing the body’s chemistry. Depending on the specific type of hormones used, hormonal birth control may work by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs, thickening cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg, or thinning the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation. Different types of hormonal birth control are more suitable for different patients and finding the right one for you can sometimes take a bit of trial-and-error. While each type may be more or less equally effective for everyone, some patients may experience unpleasant side effects with some types of hormonal birth control. However, a qualified OBGYN will be able to recommend a hormonal birth control option that is most likely to
work well for you.

What are Some Hormonal Birth Control Options?


There are several types of hormonal birth control options available. Birth control pills are usually the most well-known and require the patient to take a daily pill at the same time each day. If remembering a daily pill is a challenge for you, or if you have a particularly busy or less predictable schedule, you may be better suited to other hormonal options. These include stick-on patches, which should be applied each week, vaginal rings, which are replaced each month, shots, which are administered every three months, or implants, which are placed below the skin or into the uterus and remain in place for several years.


Emergency Contraception


Emergency contraception pills are also a form of hormonal birth control. These pills can be taken if your normal birth control method has failed, whether that is a hormonal or nonhormonal method. Emergency contraception should not be considered your primary form of birth control.


How Does Nonhormonal Birth Control Work?


Nonhormonal birth control typically functions as a barrier method, simply meaning that a barrier is created between the sperm and egg to prevent pregnancy. However, behavioral birth control methods (such as the rhythm method) and permanent birth control are also nonhormonal options.


What are Some Nonhormonal Birth Control Options?


Barrier methods of nonhormonal birth control include both male and female condoms. Each of these options is about 80% effective and convenient as they can be purchased without a prescription at a drugstore. In addition, barrier methods prevent STDs as well as pregnancy.

Less popular options include the sponge, which is soaked in spermicide before placing it high in the vagina. With a prescription, a cervical cap, cervical shield, or diaphragm are also available as barrier methods.

A copper IUD is also available, which naturally kills sperm after being placed in the uterus. A copper IUD is 99% effective and can remain in place for up to 10 years.


Finally, if you are certain you do not want to conceive in the future, permanent birth control options are available. These include a tubal ligation, commonly known as “having your tubes tied.”


How Should I Choose Birth Control?


Choosing between a hormonal and nonhormonal birth control option depends on your persona preferences, unique health considerations, and lifestyle.

Some patients prefer nonhormonal birth control because they want to avoid side effects that can be associated with hormonal options. Perhaps you’ve tried hormonal birth control in the past and are now looking for something that will be equally effective without the side effects you experienced.

Your lifestyle may also influence your decision. For example, if you have multiple sexual partners, you should use a barrier method to prevent STDs. Or, if you are very busy, you may prefer a lower-maintenance option, such as an implant or birth control shot.

Ultimately, choosing a birth control method is up to you and the recommendation of your OBGYN. It’s important to choose a qualified and knowledgeable gynecologist who you can trust when determining your birth control plan.

Schedule an Appointment


To learn more about your birth control options, schedule an appointment at Carnegie Women’s Health in New York City. Call our office at (315) 628-7063 or request an appointment online.

Dr. Stephanie Lam

Dr. Stephanie Lam

Dr. Stephanie Lam is a Board Certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist. She served for many years as full-time academic faculty at the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York before joining the practice. She is a committed teacher, and during her academic tenure, Dr. Lam was the recipient of multiple medical school teaching awards.