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My vegan birth control journey

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My vegan birth control journey

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At the age of 16, I went on the pill. I had only experienced my period for 2 years before being urged to adjust my natural hormone levels. And I was most definitely not the only one.

You learn quite quickly as a teen that boys aren’t always to be trusted with condoms. And, as the potential baby carrier, full responsibility falls into your inexperienced and naive arms.

Please someone tell me when we are going to start seeing injections, pills, and implants being offered to men on the NHS?!

I went vegan at the age of 21 and was still taking the pill. It had become routine for me to take a pill at 6pm every day – and, to this day, I still panic at 6pm thinking I have forgotten to do something!

At first I wasn’t aware that the pill contains lactose, but when I found out, I knew I needed to rethink my method of birth control. But what birth control options are there for vegans? Well, click on this link to fast forward to the answer:

And so began my second birth control journey, vegan style. It led me to get an IUD (commonly known as ‘the coil’) inserted into my womb. A few painful difficulties (a small womb and a scarily big metal coil) meant that it was not at all smooth sailing. I resorted back to the pill in fear of other more invasive methods of birth control.

Knowing that it wasn’t vegan did play on my mind, a lot. So I reattempted a coil fitting, this time at a sexual health clinic rather than my GP. They had to use the smaller coil which lasts for half the time, but it went in, hurray!

I had a blissful few years with the coil. I had no extra hormones pumping through me for the first time in years and I felt safe from unwanted pregnancy. It wasn’t until I met my partner last year that I started experiencing difficulties with the coil. The threads that hang about near the cervix were getting more apparent and I was experiencing pain during sex. This just got worse and worse and was soon joined by regular spotting and cramps between periods.

This led to much unnecessary anxiety about whether I was fully protected against pregnancy as well as fear that I had damaged my womb. Not to mention the despair at having to go through this whole journey all over again.

And so reluctantly, I began my most recent vegan birth control journey. Back again, this time with a new goal, to stay hormone- and cruelty-free with nothing too invasive.

So let me take you through all of the vegan and non-vegan birth control methods that I have encountered as part of my most recent research.

My promise to you, this won’t be yet another copy of the NHS contraceptive brochure.

non vegan birth control contraceptive pill
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Non vegan birth control

The big no-no for vegans is the contraceptive pill as they all contain lactose. This also includes the morning after pill, which is sometimes a necessity if all other birth control methods fail.

As I mentioned, I was taking the pill for many years without realising that it contains lactose. It wasn’t made obvious that it did. Plus, you may have been advised that the pill was the right option for you by a doctor.

So I want to express that this is a no-judgement zone. As vegans, we do our best to reduce animal suffering and we are all on our own journeys to remove the use of animal products from our lives. I merely wish to help you on your journey if you are looking for cruelty-free alternatives.

Vegan birth control methods

Are there vegan birth control methods?

Well, I’m happy to say that yes there are, and plenty of them. But that doesn’t mean that every vegan birth control method will be right for you.

The biggest issue I have found is that the pros and cons given to you by your doctor of each birth control method are generic, often based on outdated and biased scientific research, and they don’t really give you an idea of what your own personal reality could be. So I want to be really open about my experience and the experiences of those around me regarding each of these vegan birth control methods. That way, you can make an informed decision about your choice of vegan birth control.

Please note, many of these contraceptive methods will have been tested on animals at one time or another. Individual brands may not have, but it isn’t always easy to find this out. We just do our best as vegans!

vegan birth control condoms My vegan birth control journey
The banana, a much safer penis option 😉

Condoms

Condoms are a very popular barrier method, meaning they stop sperm from reaching an egg. They also help to protect you from STIs. Oh and they are pretty useful at collecting sperm before it makes a huge mess inside your vagina – no more toilet dashes!

Many brands of condoms are vegan-friendly, but watch out for latex condoms which are often made using casein (milk protein). 

I know I wasn’t all that positive about condoms at the beginning of this article, but it is important to note that one of the biggest risks with this method of contraception is the person wearing it. So if you trust the man behind that penis and you don’t mind keeping condoms on you at all times then this is the vegan birth control method for you.

Just be wary of the condom splitting, which may happen if you buy bad quality condoms, or if you buy the wrong size.

There are also female condoms but I really don’t trust these not to slip out of place during sex.

Pros

Cons

The Best Vegan Condoms

vegan friendly birth control diaphragm
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Caps & Diaphragms

This weird tongue and mouth looking implement is actually a diaphragm. It is another barrier method of contraception and is arguably more environmentally friendly than a condom, albeit less effective.

You need to insert this before sex along with a gel-like substance (spermicide) that kills sperm. I wouldn’t recommend using this method of contraception to anyone who isn’t accustomed to poking around inside their vagina. If you are used to putting a menstrual cup or dam inside yourself for your periods, then you’ll likely be a pro at inserting caps and diaphragms also.

Make sure to buy a silicone version to ensure it is vegan and use it with a vegan spermicide that’s free from Nonoxynol 9, such as Contragel.

Pros

Cons

iud vegan birth control My vegan birth control journey
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

IUD

The IUD (intrauterine device), also known as the coil, is a hormone-free device that releases copper into your womb. It thickens the cervical mucus, stopping sperm from being able to reach and fertilise an egg. It also thins the uterine lining, preventing eggs from being able to implant themselves in the uterus.

It is a very effective method of birth control and on paper it sounds great. But the reality isn’t always so great.

The device needs to be inserted by a medical professional. From my own experience and the experience of other women I know, I can say that sexual health clinics are much better at doing this than GPs. Probably due to the amount of coils they insert on a regular basis.

Despite many GPs telling you that this isn’t a painful procedure, I can tell you that it most definitely is. And I am not the only woman to say this. Taking a pain killer before my appointment wasn’t enough. Thankfully, the removal is nowhere near as painful, although still unpleasant.

From my personal experience, the first time trying to get an IUD inserted was nearly enough to put me off forever. It was a sickening pain made even worse by the fact that the GP just simply couldn’t get it in properly. The second time, performed at a sexual health clinic, was much easier but still very painful. Enough to warrant having another nurse in the room talking to me to keep me calm. If dentists give you local anaesthetic to place a crown on your tooth, why don’t doctors give you the same to place a very unnatural t-shaped device through your vagina and into your womb?

Once it is inside you, you can mostly forget about it…well, for some. I have heard from quite a few friends about their coil horror stories. One said it fell out during sex, another said it caused them severe cramping that would keep them bed-bound for a week every month. My sister (Alice) experienced numerous issues with hers, including regular cramping throughout her cycle, severe cramps during her long and heavy periods, extremely irregular periods and spotting.

For me, after a few years I could feel it inside me. I had constant cramping and penetrative sex became impossible. All cleared up after I got it removed (more on this below).

That being said, I also know women who have zero issues. But I’d like to say that it really isn’t as clear cut as many doctors make it out to be.

What confuses me is why these experiences aren’t recorded; thousands of women get their coils removed due to health and well-being complications, why is this data not being collected and analysed to improve our knowledge about who the coil is suitable for and who should avoid it?

Please note, this isn’t to be confused with the IUS which is the hormone version of the IUD. This isn’t known to be vegan-friendly due to the origin of these hormones being currently unknown.

Pros

Cons

vegan birth control patch
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Contraceptive Patch

Not to be confused with a nicotine patch, this patch sits on your skin for a week at a time and releases hormones into your body which stops the release of eggs each month.

This patch acts pretty much like the pill, sans lactose capsule. So if you are a fan of the pill then this may well be for you. It can help to control your periods, with some months being period free. When I was on the pill I enjoyed how much lighter my periods were, I just didn’t like the idea of messing with my body’s natural hormonal cycle. These hormones do mean that, like the pill, the patch can put you at risk of blood clots, albeit very rare.

The Evra patch is known to be vegan-friendly and is the one offered in the UK.

Pros

Cons

vegan birth control injection
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Contraceptive Injection

The contraceptive injection is a shot of hormones delivered into your buttocks, and it is just as fun as it sounds.

If you don’t faint at the very idea of having a needle injected into your skin and you are happy with hormones then this is a good method for you.

Both Depo-Provera and Noristerat, providing protection for 13 weeks and 8 weeks respectively, have been confirmed as vegan-friendly due to the hormones coming from synthetic sources.

Pros

Cons

vegan birth control implant
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Contraceptive Implant

The contraceptive implant is a little white stick that gets implanted into the skin in the soft fleshy bit of your upper arm. Anyone with tattoos will knowingly be thinking ‘ouch’ right about now.

It releases a synthetic hormone into your bloodstream and will last for 3 years.

Unfortunately, I have had a few friends who have either gotten pregnant whilst having the implant or the device has been rejected by the skin, both due to improper implantation.

If it is put in place properly then you can forget about it for 3 years, unless you are easily grossed out and decide to check out how it looks and feels on your arm. It does leave a visible bump.

Alice’s implant story:

I’ve tried so many different methods of birth control over the years, all of which messed with my menstrual cycle and body in a variety of ways. After deciding to try the implant, I had to wait for the usual recommended 6 months for my body to adjust. Unfortunately, during that time, my period never ceased.

6 months of bleeding left me feeling pretty exhausted, so imagine my dismay when I realised that my implant was inserted incorrectly. According to the nurse, it was still doing its job but the angle meant that it wasn’t quite as easy as it should have been to remove. The nurse had to cut deep into my skin until she managed to get a grip on and wiggle out the implant, leaving me with stitches.

Luckily, I’m ok with gore and watched the entire procedure with fascination. But for those of you with a sensitive disposition, I would recommend against this particular method of birth control, particularly because finding the right one for you still seems to be trial and error. The trauma of having to get it removed doesn’t seem worth the effort simply to see if this was a suitable contraceptive for one’s body.

Surely this trauma of trialling multiple methods of birth control could be mitigated by collecting more data on women and their contraceptive experiences? Can you imagine what could be achieved by a more person-centred approach to birth control?

Pros

Cons

vegan friendly birth control vaginal ring
Photo credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Vaginal Rings

Okay, I’ve got to admit, this is the only vegan birth control method that I actually don’t know about, nor do I know anyone who has used it. And no, it’s not just a hairband. So I have done some thorough research into it and can hopefully shine some light on this weird contraption and how it actually stops babies from being made.

Essentially, you insert the ring inside your vagina and keep it there throughout the month. Each month you replace it with a new ring. You can choose to keep it in there for 21 days or for the full month, both are considered ‘standard use’. 

It continuously releases hormones into your body that prevent the release of an egg.

On rare occasions it can fall out, but it can easily be plopped back in. Just clean the ring and your hands and insert back in. And apparently it can stay in during sex, but I’d be keen on hearing people’s experiences with this? Please comment below if you have anything to add here!

My main concern here, other than the hormones (which I am keen to avoid, see top of article), is that is seems quite wasteful. It is made of plastic and you use one per month (although it’s less waste than condoms, depending on how much sex you have)!

If you do use these please cut them open, I’d hate to think of these rings ending up in the ocean!

Pros

Cons

vegan birth control steralisation

Sterilisation

The most serious and the most permanent of the vegan birth control methods, but also the hardest to get. If you have made the decision to be kid-free and have no hesitations about this I do believe you should be able to access this service more readily, but then I don’t manage the NHS so I really have no say.

Female sterilisation involves a surgical procedure where the fallopian tubes are blocked or sealed which prevents eggs from making their way down to meet the sperm. You are normally put under general anaesthetic or are given local anaesthetic to complete the procedure.

Male sterilisation (vasectomy) is a slightly easier process involving the cutting or sealing of the tubes that carry their sperm. This means that when they ejaculate the semen won’t carry any sperm. It is a 15 minute procedure normally done under local anaesthetic.

It is worth noting here that both procedures can be difficult to reverse (especially for women) so this needs to be really well thought out.

Moreover, the procedure can fail but isn’t very likely to happen.

The NHS won’t give out this procedure willy nilly. Normally you have to be of a certain age (above 30) and to already have kids. If you don’t fit this description then you’ll probably have very little luck getting this done. It can however be done privately at a cost.

Find out more about sterilisation here.

Pros

Cons

vegan friendly birth control natural family planning

Natural Family Planning

All the rage a few years back, natural family planning includes monitoring your fertility to discover when you are more and less likely to get pregnant. 

This is a method often used by women looking to get pregnant, but there are companies which have utilised this to create natural birth control apps.

I’ll be honest here, I wouldn’t put my faith in it as a method of contraception. I did try one of the most well known apps on the market for 3 months and I was able to discover A LOT about my cycle, which was great! But there were many days where I was recommended to use extra protection (much more than I expected) and the few days where I wasn’t, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to trust it. Even though I was told by an ambassador for the app that she feels more confident using this app than she did taking the pill, I can’t get past some of the horror stories that I have read.

I’d recommend this method only to people who have another method of contraception and simply want to learn more about their cycle. Or to those actively trying to get pregnant.

Pros

Cons

My vegan birth control decision

If you read the introduction to this post then you’ll know that I was having a difficult time on the coil. It caused me a lot of pain, spotting, irregular periods, plus I could feel it during sexual intercourse.

Turns out it was dislodged. Seems to be quite a common issue amongst those whom I know. Whilst I know that myself, my friends and my family don’t make up a large proportion of society, I just can’t believe that this isn’t also a problem on a bigger scale. Therefore, I think there should be more data collection and analysis, as well as improved and more informative discussions between a woman and her doctor or sexual health nurse.

Anyhow, I moved on, got the thing removed. Was asked by the sexual health nurse about which methods of contraception I’d now be using, to which I replied, ‘Condoms and then my partner will be getting a vasectomy’.

I am in the fortunate position of having a male partner who, like me, made the decision to be child-free. Neither of us ever wanted kids and that isn’t going to change. I know there will be some of you out there thinking, ‘Oh just you wait until you turn 30 Lucy, the baby bug will take over’.

I am nearing 28, I am an environmentalist, I am a digital nomad (with no permanent home base), I am vegan, and I have an incredible nephew whom I love, but no, having one of my own does not appeal nor does it fit in with my beliefs.

If only that sexual health nurse had understood this. Eek. Being questioned by a health professional on your reasoning, your age and whether you’ve really thought this through is not what you need.

I’m sure if I’d have told them I was planning on having kids it would have been celebrated. 

Now I don’t want this to come across as an anti-child blog, because it isn’t. We are all on our own journeys which is why it is so important we all do our own research. Definitely do not let a health professional’s personal opinion get in the way of your birth control journey.

I’m enjoying life post-coil. My periods have gotten lighter, my cramps are much easier, and I am now pain-free. There are plenty of vegan condoms on the market and many other vegan birth control methods to try out.

I hope you can continue on your journey more informed and make the right choice for you.

Good luck on your vegan birth control journey!

What is the best vegan birth control?

As much as I want to be able to advise you on the best vegan birth control method, I am not a doctor. But what I can say is that the best vegan birth control method for you is a well researched one.

Do you want to avoid extra hormones?
Avoid the pill, injections, the vaginal ring, or the implant. Consider condoms or the IUD.

Are you squeamish? 
Avoid any invasive methods including injections, the implant, or an IUD. Consider condoms, the pill, the vaginal ring, or the patch.

Want to go au naturel?
Well good luck to you, but please please go chat to a fertility consultant first.

It is important to be able to make a well informed decision based upon real experiences. So I hope I have been able to provide you with that.

A big thank you to Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition for many of these images of vegan birth control methods.

Lucy Johnson

Lucy Johnson

One half of the Vegan Sisters, she is the Founder of SHiDO, a vegan web design studio. She is an avid cook, sharing her recipes on Edible Ethics vegan food blog.

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