A Guide to Vegan Birth Control
On the whole, going vegan is straightforward. Swap your cow's milk for almond milk, switch to cruelty-free makeup, and replace those snakeskin shoes in your closet with animal-free alternatives.
But what about your birth control?
It's possible that this hasn't even crossed your mind – at least not in a vegan sense, anyway. But the reality is that most popular forms of birth control aren't vegan, and either contain animal products or were, at some point in the process, tested on animals.
Condoms and Other Barrier Methods
Condoms are a popular birth control method for a reason. They're inexpensive, accessible, and don't require a prescription for use. When used correctly, they'll protect against sexually transmitted diseases and prevent pregnancy.
The bad news? Most well-known condom brands are made from latex, which uses the milk derivative casein during processing. Yuck!
Fortunately, there are latex-free options available – some marketed toward individuals with latex allergies, but as more people have adopted plant-based diets, some are advertised specifically as vegan products. Some brands also offer natural rubber latex condoms that do not utilize casein during manufacturing, ensuring a vegan-friendly final product.
FemCap is a reusable, hormone-free, latex-free option to help women control their fertility. The cap is coated with spermicidal gel and placed over the cervix. FemCap needs to be inserted before sexual arousal, so it does require a bit of planning, but it's a great option for women looking for birth control that doesn't contain latex and doesn't mess with your natural hormones.
When you get into hormonal birth control pills, things get a little more complicated. There are two main issues when it comes to the Pill, the first of which being that most brands contain lactose, a milk derivative (man, what is milk doing in all these different items?).
While it's impossible to research every single brand on the market, all of the major brands I looked up did contain lactose in their list of ingredients. Some also included magnesium stearate, another non-vegan ingredient.
These brands included (and should be AVOIDED):
In addition to the use of animal-based ingredients, it's possible that hormonal birth control pills may not be as safe as we assume. Studies have found links between the use of hormonal birth control pills and an increase in the risk of developing depression and blood clots.
Medicine, as is veganism, is a highly personal issue. While birth control pills are most known for preventing pregnancy, some women are prescribed the pills for other reasons, like regulating periods and managing acne.
As we mention in our vegan baby formula article, veganism is not so much adhering to a certain ideology as much as it is causing the least amount of harm that you can. If you need to be prescribed the pills to manage a particular condition, that is a personal decision that you can make.
However, if you're only looking for ways to prevent pregnancy, you may decide to use a vegan-friendly alternative to hormonal pills.
Remember that birth control pills don't protect against STDs/HIV/AIDS, so be sure to use barrier methods like condoms if necessary.
Are IUDs Vegan?
Intra-uterine devices, or IUDs, have a lot of pros. They are safe, low-maintenance, and super effective when compared to other forms of birth control. In fact, birth control pills, which are currently the most popular form of reversible birth control, are 20 times more likely to result in unplanned pregnancy than IUDs.
This could be due to the fact that IUDs erase the potential for human error – there's no remembering to take your pill or insert your ring since the device is put in place by your doctor.
While they're super effective at preventing pregnancy, it's important to note that IUDs do not protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. You'll need a barrier method if you need protection beyond preventing pregnancy.
IUDs come in two forms: hormonal and non-hormonal.
ParaGard, currently the only non-hormonal IUD, prevents pregnancy thanks to a small copper filament wrapped around the T-shaped implant. It provides the same super-effective pregnancy prevention without the use of any hormones – great news for those who don't want to have a baby but don't want to clutter their body with external hormones. The ParaGard can last for up to 12 years.
Without the use of hormones, ParaGard is the most vegan-friendly IUD option. Its only ingredients are a polyethylene frame and copper filaments. However, remember that all prescription drugs and vaccines in the United States have been tested on animals at some point, even if they themselves do not contain animal products.
The hormonal IUDs currently available are Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla. All of these birth control methods use progestin to prevent pregnancy. This material closely mimics the hormone progesterone, the hormone our bodies make naturally, and prevents pregnancy for anywhere from 3-6 years.
On the positive side, it makes it so you don't have to worry about packing your pills with you or interrupting the moment to grab a condom. However, the hormones do have side effects, so it's up to you to weigh the pros and cons as far as the medication's effect on your body.
Pharmaceutical companies are super cagey about where their ingredients come from – after all, have you ever really thought about where your meds come from before now? Even after research, I still haven't found a straight answer to the question "where does progestin come from?". As I understand it at the moment, progestin can be made synthetically, but if you're considering a hormonal IUD, have a conversation with your doctor or pharmacist about your concerns.
Protecting Animals – and Your Body!
It's amazing how many ways animal products can sneak into your life – even into your bedroom! Vegans who aren't ready or are simply unwilling to have children, but still want to enjoy the benefits of the act, can still choose from a range of birth control options that are either completely vegan or come close to it.
For those who want to stick firmly to vegan values, opting for a plant-based, vegan-friendly condom or barrier method will be the best course of action. Since all prescription drugs in the United States go through animal testing, this is the only way to prevent pregnancy without a prescription from your doctor.
If you decide to use a birth control method that does contain hormones, such as the Pill or an IUD, you'll need to accept that there will be some un-vegan qualities about it, either through the ingredient list, or the processing methods.
However, it's important to remember that veganism is not about perfectionism or popularity. It's a good thing to be responsible about your fertility, and if your worst offense in modern society is the little bit of lactose in your birth control pill, that is an entirely fair choice to make. Base your actions on your own principle – not holding blindly to a certain ideology.
Thankfully, we live in a time where plenty of vegan-friendly products – even condoms! - are available in stores and online. Consider your (and your partner's) needs, as well as your own health and body, as you make the best decision for you and your lifestyle.