Natural, effective birth control does exist! From FAM to the IUD, here are five contraceptive options to help you find a method that fits with your values.
Birth control is often the “final frontier” when it comes to greening your lifestyle. Perhaps you’ve ditched the toxic deodorant, now make your own cleaning products, and have swapped your plastic Tupperware for glass food containers. Now you wonder if it really makes sense to be taking hormonal birth control when you’ve worked so hard to reduce your carbon footprint and your exposure to endocrine disruptors.
In addition to all the possible side effects for your own health (ranging from mood disturbances to blood clots), hormonal birth control also wreaks havoc on the environment. All that excess estrogen ends up in our water system and there’s evidence it’s feminizing our fish.
So what are your options if you want effective contraception that’s kinder to the planet? Here are five waste-free birth control methods. Please note that because this post is specifically about birth control, not about safer safe practices, we have excluded condoms which produce waste. However, if you are looking for STI protection in addition to birth control, condoms are the only way to go. You can pair condoms with one of the methods listed below for added contraceptive efficacy.
Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM)
We learned about the Justisse Method almost a decade ago and we can honestly say it’s changed our lives. In addition to being a highly effective form of contraception (over 99% in perfect use), FAM increases body literacy, encourages communication with your partner (many of our clients report better sex lives), and improves your chances of conceiving if you decide in the future you want to start a family. It’s important to note efficacy rates are greatly increased when a person receives professional support to ensure they are accurately interpreting their charts. While we love books like Taking Charge Of Your Fertility as a starting place, if you’re planning to use FAM as your primary form of contraception we highly recommend additional support. Similarly, there are a variety of phone apps available for charting your cycle. If you go this route be sure to choose one that is designed for FAM – like Kindara or Groove – rather than a period tracking app. If you’d like the structure and support of a group, as well as the confidence that comes from being trained by a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, check out our signature Eco Contraception program.
The copper IUD has a lot going for it – over 99% effective, inexpensive (in Canada you only pay for the device itself, not the procedure, which is around $50), and requires zero effort once it’s inserted. That said the ParaGard IUD definitely isn't for everyone. It can increase your menstrual flow and people often experience more intense cramping so it’s not recommended if you already suffer from painful periods. In some cases your partner may feel the strings (Kim experienced that with her IUD) and there is the possibility of expulsion, particularly in the first few moths (we know a few clients who had that problem). There’s also some debate about whether it’s compatible with menstrual cups. A study from 2012 concluded there's no evidence that using a cup results in higher rates of early IUD expulsion, but we have anecdotal reports of a possible correlation so it's something to consider if you're a Diva Cup fan like us.
Sometimes referred to as “pull and pray”, coitus interruptus (aka, withdrawal) is actually far more effective than you might think. When done correctly, the efficacy rate can be as high as 96%. That said, efficacy rates can be as low as 73% in typical use. In other words, a lot depends on how much control a person has over their ability to anticipate seminal ejaculation and react in time. Withdrawal is best suited to couples with strong communication skills and an established plan in case the method fails. Withdrawal can also be used in conjunction with other methods, such as FAM and barriers, to increase overall efficacy. One of our most popular blog posts of all time is the one in which we outline how to maximize the efficacy of withdrawal by pairing it with FAM.
Cervical caps are hard to find these days, but they do exist. We're most familiar with the brand FemCap - a silicone version that's FDA approved and 92% effective in typical use (estimated 98% with perfect use). Unlike traditional cervical caps, the FemCap doesn't require a fitting but it does require a prescription in the USA. One important thing to note about modern day cervical caps is that they're really just a holder for spermicide. They can't form an absolute seal on their own so you need a gel to cover any potential gaps. Unfortunately, the active ingredient in most contraceptive gels is Nonoxynol-9 which is known to cause mild to severe allergic reactions. As a result, you might have to search a little harder to find a body-friendly option. We recommend Contragel (now rebranded as Caya Gel). Lastly, while the FemCap is reusable, according to their website it does need to be replaced annually so there's a higher waste factor than with the other methods listed here.
Diaphragms are similar to cervical caps in that they offer a "holder" for spermicide. However, they tend to be a little different in terms of the shape and the material. We like the Caya Diaphragm which is relatively new (released in Canada in 2014). It has an ergonomic oval shape rather than the classic round design which seems to make it more comfortable and the "removal dome" allows for easier retrieval. The Caya diaphragm is made of body-safe silicone and needs to be replaced every two years (so it lasts twice as long as the FemCap). Unlike the FemCap which comes in three sizes, the Caya is a one-size-fits-most. As a result, there's a chance you might end up discovering it doesn't work with your particular anatomy.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.