Non-Hormonal Birth Control for Athletes

Non-hormonal birth control for athletes

The non-hormonal method of contraception is one of the most effective methods to prevent pregnancy during your athletic activities. You may use it when you are not using any other form of contraception. It does not require any special skills or knowledge on how to take it correctly. There are two types of non-hormonal birth control: IUD and implant.

IUD (intrauterine device)

An IUD is a small plastic tube inserted into the uterus through the cervix. It releases hormones which prevent fertilization of an egg by a man’s ejaculate. They do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). An IUD usually lasts for 5 years, but they last longer if used properly. If you have had unprotected sexual relations with another person, you must not use an IUD.

If you want to get pregnant while using an IUD, there is a risk of getting an infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is caused by bacteria that live in the lower part of the reproductive tract. These infections cause pain and inflammation. Some women develop blood clots or even die from these infections. If you already have an IUD, it is very important to avoid any intimate contact with your partner until he has been tested for STDs.

You have a higher risk of getting an STD than the general population.


The implant is a small rod containing hormones that are inserted under the skin on the inside of your upper arm. It prevents eggs maturing and being released. It also thins the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg has a hard time implanting there. An implant lasts for 3 years, but it can be removed at any time by an experienced doctor.

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If you want to get pregnant while an implant, you need to have it taken out. This is a simple procedure. Once the implant is out, you will be able to get pregnant as usual.

Natural birth control methods

The natural method is the term for a range of practices that prevent pregnancy without the help of medical intervention or drugs. Some types of natural family planning are NFP, the symptothermal method and the Billings Ovulation Method (BOM). These methods are only suitable for people who have regular menstrual cycles. If you don’t know when you are fertile you can use an ovulation test to find out. At least 12 hours before you expect to ovulate, begin having intimate contact with your partner every day.

The symptothermal method involves taking your body temperature every morning. Your temperature rises as you approach ovulation and drops a little once you have ovulated. Getting the timing right is vital if you want this method to work. You can get a plastic strip that changes color according to temperature: it shows exactly when you are fertile and when you are not.

The Billings method involves checking your cervical mucus every day. The consistency, color and smell of your mucus changes throughout your cycle. You are fertile at the part of the cycle when it is like egg white and not too sticky.

Natural methods have a low failure rate if they are used properly. They do not prevent STDs.

Hormonal birth control

The hormonal pill, the patch or the vaginal ring prevent pregnancy in several ways. They stop your ovaries from releasing eggs. They make it hard for your uterus to accept a fertilized egg and they may also prevent fertilization altogether.

Due to the mix of hormones, these methods may have some unpleasant side effects such as nausea, headaches and mood swings. They reduce your fertility over time and you may have trouble getting pregnant once you stop using them. They may not be suitable if you have a history of blood clots, high blood pressure or certain types of cancer.

The pill needs to be taken every day at the same time for it to be effective. The patch or ring needs to be replaced weekly.

If you are relying on hormonal methods of birth control and you miss one pill, forget to apply a patch or change a ring, it is wise to use a back-up method for a week after you realize your mistake.

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If you are very sure you do not want (or can’t have) any more children, your doctor may suggest sterilization. This is a simple and safe operation for men and women. It makes it impossible for you to father or mother any more children. You can arrange to be sterilized at the same time as a tubal ligation or vasectomy if you are past your childbearing years or if you do not want more children.

If you are still young and do not want any more children, you will need to use a back-up method of birth control until your sterilization is confirmed by test.

Other forms of birth control

There are many other ways to prevent or reduce the risk of pregnancy. They may be useful if you cannot or do not want to use the methods listed above, such as condoms and birth control pills.


The “pull out” method involves the man withdrawing his genitals from the woman before he reaches the point of no return. There is a risk of pregancy if the man does not pull out in time or if there is some spillage before he does so.

Periodic abstinence

This is sometimes called the “temperature” or “calendar” method. This involves tracking your body temperature or the date of your period on a calendar. You avoid having vaginal, unprotected sexual activity during the days of your cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant.

Fertility Awareness

This is another way of tracking your fertility cycle and involves recording your basal body temperature, cervical mucus and other signs. The risk of pregnancy is much lower than with periodic abstinence but it is more difficult to use. You should get an instruction manual and be guided by a doctor, nurse or trained counselor.

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This really means avoiding all sexual activity. The risk of pregnancy is zero but many people find this difficult to stick to. “Abstinence” also includes refraining from any genital contact, as unwanted sexual advances (including kissing) are not uncommon when alcohol is involved.

Emergency contraception

If you have had unprotected sexual contact, you can seek treatment to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. The sooner you take EC the more effective it will be. It is essential to see a health professional within 5 days (120 hours) of the incident. They will decide if EC is right for you and provide you with information on its use, effectiveness, possible side-effects and after care.

More information on emergency contraception

Emergency contraception (EC) can prevent pregnancy if you have had unprotected sexual contact, your birth control method failed, you were forced to have sexual contact or your regular method lets you down. In general EC is a lot more effective the sooner you take it after unprotected sexual contact. EC comes in the form of either a pill or a copper IUD (intra-uterine device or coil).

The sooner you get EC after unprotected sexual contact the better, but there is another option if you are sexually active and not prepared:spermicide. It is a cream, foam or jelly that kills or stops the progress of sperms so they cannot reach an egg. It must be used immediately before and during sexual contact and at least every time you have sexual contact. It must be stored in a cool place away from heat and direct sunlight.

A word of caution: using spermicides with condoms can make them less effective, also always use a new applicator each time to prevent the spread of infections.

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The pill has some side-effects like nausea, weight gain, sore/swollen/puffy nipples for women and decreased sexual desire and erectile dysfunction in men.

It usually takes one to two months for the IUD to take effect and it can be removed at any time. It is made of copper and hormone-free so it is suitable for most women. An IUD can also be used as a long-term, safe and reversible birth control option.

The copper IUD can increase menstrual cramps and cause heavier, longer and more painful periods. Other side-effects include: infection, uterine scarring, infertility and ectopic pregnancies. If any of these symptoms present themselves you should seek medical attention immediately.

It is important to seek medical help if you have severe abdominal pain, increased vaginal bleeding, severe pelvic pain or shortness of breath as it could mean that you are suffering a rare but dangerous uterine infection called pelvic inflammatory disease.

You should also seek medical attention if you experience pain when having sexual contact, as this may mean that the IUD is damaging the wall of your uterus.

If you decide to go for an IUD please ensure that it is suitable for your weight, as a small percentage of women will experience it slipping out each year. If in doubt please seek medical attention before getting one fitted.

If you are allergic to copper do not have the IUD fitted as you may experience an allergic reaction.

The IUD is considered to be less effective than the emergency pill so if you are sexually active and not using any other method of birth control, it is best to use both EC and an IUD.

Sources & references used in this article:

Birth Control and the Female Athlete by L Womack – 2011 –

Period prevalence and perceived side effects of hormonal contraceptive use and the menstrual cycle in elite athletes by D Martin, C Sale, SB Cooper… – … journal of sports …, 2018 –

Evidence for a non-genomic action of testosterone in skeletal muscle which may improve athletic performance: Implications for the female athlete by JR Dent, DK Fletcher, MR McGuigan – Journal of sports science & …, 2012 –

Use of androgens and other hormones by athletes by PJ Snyder, P Fricker – UpToDate. Retrieved July 20th, 2018 –

A perspective on current research investigating the effects of hormonal contraceptives on determinants of female athlete performance by D Martin, K Elliott-Sale – Revista Brasileira de Educação Física e …, 2016 – SciELO Brasil

The effects of sex differences and hormonal contraception on outcomes after collegiate sports-related concussion by V Gallagher, N Kramer, K Abbott, J Alexander… – Journal of …, 2018 –