Someone asked us: I keep hearing on TikTok that hormonal birth control has a bunch of bad side effects and is really bad for you. Is that true? Is it better to use non-hormonal methods?
There’s been a LOT of talk about hormonal birth control online lately, so it’s normal to have questions. Here’s the deal:
Hormonal birth control has been around for more than 60 years, and millions of people have used it safely. It’s one of the most researched medicines in the world. Hormonal birth control is also more effective at preventing pregnancy than almost all non-hormonal methods.
Hormonal birth control methods — like the pill, ring, patch, shot, IUD, and implant — have the hormones estrogen and progestin, or just progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone). The estrogen and progestin in birth control are really similar to the estrogen and progesterone that everyone’s body makes naturally.
Hormonal birth control safely prevents pregnancy by:
- Making mucus in your cervix thicker, so sperm can’t get to an egg.
- Stopping eggs from leaving your ovaries, so there’s no egg for sperm to fertilize.
Hormonal birth control can also have other health benefits — many people actually use it for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Almost all hormonal methods make periods lighter and help ease cramps and PMS. You can even use hormonal birth control to safely skip or stop your period temporarily. For trans and nonbinary people who experience gender dysphoria around their period, hormonal birth control can be an important part of their gender-affirming treatment. It can also help treat PCOS, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Some types of hormonal birth control can clear up acne, and even help prevent certain types of cancer and other health problems.
All medicines have possible side effects, and that goes for birth control too. The most common ones are changes in your periods, headaches, nausea, and sore breasts. But these side effects usually go away within a few months, once your hormones balance out. Everyone’s different, so everyone’s body reacts to all medicine differently. Lots of people use birth control with no problems at all.
The chance of having serious problems from the hormones in birth control is really, really low. In fact, pregnancy is more likely to cause serious health problems than the hormones in birth control. And hormonal birth control doesn’t impact your future fertility either — it’s actually possible to get pregnant very soon after going off birth control.
Hormonal birth control is totally safe for most people. But at the end of the day, you know your body best. And birth control shouldn’t make you feel sick or uncomfortable. If you’re using hormonal birth control and you don’t like the way you’re feeling or you’re worried about side effects, talk with your nurse or doctor. They may recommend a different brand or method of birth control. They can also let you know if there’s any reason you shouldn’t use hormonal birth control based on your medical history.
If you don’t want to use hormonal birth control, that’s OK — there are non-hormonal methods you can try. The copper IUD is over 99% effective, and it doesn’t have any hormones. There are also condoms, internal condoms, withdrawal (pulling out), spermicide and vaginal gels, diaphragms, cervical caps, and fertility awareness methods. It’s important to note that these methods are usually less effective at preventing pregnancy than hormonal birth control. But you can help make them more effective by combining them — for example, using a diaphragm and condoms, or using condoms and pulling out. It’s actually always a good idea to use condoms even if you’re using another birth control method, because condoms help prevent STDs, too.