Hormonal Birth Control
The most popular birth control options today contain synthetic hormones and for that reason are called hormonal birth control. Hormonal birth control includes all products that use synthetic hormones to shut down the body's natural ovulatory cycles and/or prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. This includes the pill, patch, shot, implant, ring and the hormonal IUD. While these methods have a lot of pros for a modern woman, the synthetic hormones cause a wide range of frustrating side effects as well as increased risk for serious health issues. Read more about the side effects and risks of hormonal birth control in my post called Reclaim Healthy Cycles.
Negative impacts on health and wellbeing are not the only reasons that hormonal birth control is not green-friendly. For example, the estrodial in hormonal birth control goes into and through our bodies (where it may or may not mix with other chemicals in the body) and then as we continually excrete it, it becomes an active agent once again in the environment. Scientists are continually studying the environmental impact that synthetic hormones have on animal, plant and soil life. All current hypotheses point to no bueno! One example is frogs.
For the last two decades in urban areas of the northeast, populations of frogs have been found with limb and reproductive deformities. For example, male frogs have testes that contain eggs and other intersex abnormalities. Professor of ecology at Yale, David Skelly, shares his concern, "this phenomena may have troubling implications not only for amphibians, but for other vertebrates, including humans." You can read more about the studied link between hormonal birth control and populations of deformed frogs here.
A common question for many women has now become “do the pros of hormonal birth control outweigh the cons?” That is up to each individual woman to decide for herself based on her needs and with concise understanding of all the options available. The good news is that there are a variety of options that are effective, hormone free, and eco-friendly.
Non Hormonal Birth Control
Non hormonal birth control refers to the products that do not contain synthetic hormones and work by putting a barrier between the sperm and egg . This includes, but is not limited to, products such as the male condom, female condom, cervical cap, diaphragm, vaginal spermicides, and copper IUD (the Fertility Awareness Method is also non hormonal, see below). Non hormonal birth control methods are currently not as popular as hormonal birth control options and therefore carry negative stigma. It’s commonly assumed that the reason non hormonal products are not as popular is because they are not effective. Actually, these products have effectiveness rates comparable to hormonal contraceptives. You can read more about the effectiveness rates of non hormonal birth control options from my colleague, Hannah Ransom, here. Non hormonal birth control is a benefit to a woman's reproductive system, but the question remains: are all non-hormonal birth control methods eco-friendly?
Hormone free, check! Waste Free? Chemical Free? Hmm…
Just because a birth control method is free of synthetic hormones, does not necessarily mean that it is eco-friendly. Just like any disposable product, disposable birth control methods accumulate in waste lands and if they are not biodegradable then they are left to impact the land, soil, and water for countless decades to come.
First of all, condoms are the only form of contraceptive (hormonal or not) to protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and in that sense are very important and necessary! That said, if you’re in a long term relationship and want a waste free birth control, condoms may not be the best option because the majority are not biodegradable. The only condom product on the market to date that is fully biodegradable is the Lambskin Condom; however, please note that these do not prevent from STIs. It’s also important to point out that, unless otherwise labelled, the majority of condoms are sold doused in spermicide and lubrication. Because condom manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients of the spermicides and lubrications on the packaging, consumers are left in the dark as to which chemical compounds are absorbed by one's skin and then later absorbed by the soil in the landfill.
Unlike condoms, the cervical cap and diaphragm are not disposable which saves the amount of waste put in the environment. However, cervical caps and diaphragms are often used in conjunction with vaginal spermicides for increased effectiveness. If you are looking for to avoid skin contact with chemicals, then spermicides may not be the best option.
The copper IUD is free of hormones and does not have the same amount of waste associated with condoms. However, if you are looking for the most natural and non-invasive method, then the copper IUD may not be the best option. It is a T-shaped metal device that requires a doctor to dilate the cervix for insertion. The copper IUD comes with a different set of unfortunate side effects. Read more about weighing the pros and cons of the copper IUD with holistic fertility expert, Natalie Kringoudis, here.
Hormone, Chemical, & Waste Free
Are you wondering, “What’s left??” I'm not going to say the withdrawal method (although you can read more about how pulling out can work for some couples here).
Actually, The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is a hormone free, chemical free and waste free form of birth control! Furthermore, beyond the initial fee to learn FAM, it is a cost-free birth control method. FAM certainly sounds too good to be true and that’s because in a small way it is. FAM is not for everyone and it requires commitment and discipline. Read more about the pros and cons of FAM in one of my previous blogs here.
FAM is a highly accurate and effective method of natural birth control when the 4 FAM rules are charted and followed in each cycle. FAM is over 99% effective when used correctly, meaning it is as effective as oral contraceptives in preventing pregnancy.
FAM is based on the observation and charting of two scientifically proven fertility signs that determine whether or not a woman is fertile on any given day. These fertility signs are the pattern of a woman’s cervical fluid throughout her cycle and her waking Basal Body Temperature.
Men are fertile (meaning capable of impregnating) every single day of their reproductive years, whereas a woman’s fertility in her reproductive years comes in waves. One biological fact about the female reproductive system is that a woman is only fertile (meaning capable of getting pregnant) for 1/3 of her cycle. A cycle is defined as day one of a woman’s period until the first day of her next period. Whether a woman’s cycle typically lasts 25, 28, 45 or even 73 days long, if it is an ovulatory cycle then she is only capable of getting pregnant for 1/3 of that cycle.
It's the amazing biological truth missing from our middle school health classes!
If you’ve already done the math, this means that if a woman’s cycles typically last 30 days, then she is only fertile for 7-12 days. That leaves the possibility for barrier free intercourse for a total of about 18-23 days in that cycle.
Couples who want to have a completely waste free birth control can choose to abstain from intercourse completely for that 7-12 day fertile wave each cycle. Alternatively, couples can use a barrier method (such as a condom or diaphragm) during the fertile wave. The difference in land fill waste between using condoms for all sex versus only using condoms for sex during the 7-12 day fertile wave is significant. Use of a barrier method during the fertile wave means that you are using that barrier method (i.e. condom, diaphragm) to prevent pregnancy and are therefore depending upon the effectiveness of that barrier, not the effectiveness of FAM.
In order to use FAM correctly, a woman must learn how to accurately pinpoint the beginning and end of her fertile wave in every cycle.
This requires a commitment to learn in a class setting and a short period of practicing her charting technique before relying on FAM as the primary birth control method.
When you take a class from a certified Fertility Awareness Educator (FAE), such as myself, you are learning how to accurately determine the following on a daily basis:
A. When your fertile wave begins.
B. When your fertile wave ends.
C. Other amazing facts missing from middle school health class!
Green Your Birth Control Challenge
As you can see, there is a wide variety of alternative birth control methods that are effective and eco-friendly. Here are some ideas that can guide you in the challenge of greening your birth control:
1. Decide for yourself and with your partner what you are comfortable with trying.
2. Read more about the options you've decided to try using the links below.
3. Purchase the eco-friendly contraceptive item or class you're interested in using.
- Barrier Methods
- Fertility Awareness Method
- Chemical Free Lubricants
4. Manufacturing companies need motivation to create biodegradable and eco-friendly packaging. You can help by calling the manufacturer companies of birth control methods that use a lot of packaging (foil and plastic wrappers) such as oral contraceptives and condoms and tell them that you only give your dollar to companies that are working to minimize packaging waste!
I hope you enjoy these resources to get you started with the steps you may take toward a greener birth control! I am available for further details on any of the topics discussed. Feel free to chat with me via the comments below, Email, Twitter, or Facebook.