Is Birth Control Vegan?

Ever wondered if the birth control method you are using is vegan? Are birth control pills less vegan than IUD? If you are not sure what to look for, this is your guide.

Now that’s a question that many of us didn’t even consider when we went vegan!

As veganism isn’t just a diet, but a comprehensive lifestyle focused on doing as little harm to all animals (human and non) as possible, this is yet another interesting issue to consider.

What are the means used to create different contraceptives? What are their effects on the environment? Were the products tested on animals? Were the ingredients of different contraceptives tested on animals? Do birth control products contain any animal parts or animal by-products?

Here is some information that will help you choose the method that is the best match for you.

Barrier Methods

Give vegan condoms a go!Image: Shutterstock

Give vegan condoms a go!
Image: Shutterstock

Barrier methods involve making sure that egg and sperm never meet by placing a barrier between the two. They include condoms and diaphragms.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of condoms sold or handed out fall into the very non-vegan category. Latex, the substance most condoms are made from, contains the milk protein casein – just like dairy cheese.

While there may be some cases in which you can’t completely avoid latex, who really wants casein involved during the act? (hint: not me!) Fortunately, there are several brands of vegan condoms out there; safe, reliable, and actually cheaper than regular drugstore brands. Plus they all have super awesome packaging! All they require is a little advanced planning. My personal favorites are Glyde (4 for $2.00 from Food Fight Grocery), but Sir Richard’s will work as well, and they make “variety packs” for you adventurous types (12 pack for $12.00 from Food Fight Grocery). Condoms, vegan or not, are about 97% effective if used correctly, every time.

Diaphragms are usually latex (not vegan for the reasons listed above) or silicone (which is vegan friendly). Usually diaphragms are used with lubricants and spermicides, which are probably not vegan unless you obtain them from a specifically vegan source. Check out Vegan Love for examples of vegan condoms, diaphragms, lube and spermicides.

Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control includes the daily pill, the monthly pill and birth control shots. Image: Shutterstock.

Hormonal birth control includes the daily pill, the monthly pill and birth control shots.
Image: Shutterstock.

Hormonal birth control includes the ever-popular pill, as well as methods like DepoProvera (the birth control shot) and NuvaRing (the once a month pill). These methods work by regulating and preventing ovulation using synthetic hormones. They’re effective, on average, about 97% of the time when used properly.

Like any prescription drug in this country, all methods of hormonal birth control are tested on animals as required by the FDA. In addition, some pills contain milk by-products in the form of lactose, which is a relatively common additive to pills and tablets.

There’s also the issue of studies that show environmental effects on aquatic animals that appear to be related to the release of synthetic hormones into the water system, theoretically because not all the hormones taken in contraceptives are absorbed by the body, and are then excreted in the urine where they make their way through the water filtration process and back into ground water.

Intra-Uterine Devices

IUDs, during their development, are tested on animals. Image: "Blausen 0585 IUD" by BruceBlaus. When using this image in external sources it can be cited as:Blausen.com staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

IUDs, during their development, are tested on animals.
Image: “Blausen 0585 IUD” by BruceBlaus. When using this image in external sources it can be cited as:Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

IUDs fall into two categories, hormonal and non-hormonal. Both kinds consist of a device that is surgically implanted in the uterus. Hormonal systems (technically called intrauterine systems or IUS) excrete hormones over their life cycle, which prevent fertilization for up to five years. Non-hormonal IUDs rely on their shape to prevent sperm from reaching eggs, and embryos from attaching to the uterine wall.  IUDs are pricier to start with, and some require you to have had at least one child before they can be implanted, but they also don’t require daily or monthly upkeep like hormonal methods or condoms.  IUDs are about 99% effective, but in the 1% of cases where pregnancy occurs, complications can arise because the device is still in the uterus.

IUDs must, during their development, be tested on non-human animals. And like hormonal birth control methods, hormonal IUDs, do introduce synthetic hormones into your body.

Permanent Sterilization

Like all surgical methods, tubal ligation was, at one point, tested on non-humans. However, no “upkeep” testing is required.Image: Shutterstock

Like all surgical methods, tubal ligation was, at one point, tested on non-humans. However, no “upkeep” testing is required.
Image: Shutterstock

“Permanent” sterilization for men and for women are both surgical in nature, requiring either local or general anesthesia.

For men, there’s the good ol’ vasectomy, a procedure in which the vas deferens are clipped or tied, preventing the addition of sperm to semen. Vasectomies are highly effective (1 out of 2,000 is estimated to fail). There is a surgical procedure to reverse them that is effective approximately 60% of the time.

For women, there’s a tubal ligation. Unlike men, this procedure isn’t routine, thanks in part to the fact that many doctors in the United States won’t perform it on women under 30 who haven’t had any children yet. Tubal ligation is considered “permanent” but has a 1% failure rate and can be surgically reversed.

Like all surgical methods, these procedures were, at one point, tested on non-humans. However, no “upkeep” testing is required.

Natural Methods

"Natural Methods" are the most “vegan”. However, they’re also the least effective/reliable. Image: Shutterstock.

“Natural Methods” are the most “vegan”. However, they’re also the least effective/reliable.
Image: Shutterstock.

Natural methods are possibly the most “vegan” simply because they are self-regulated and have never been lab tested on non-humans. Unfortunately they’re also the least effective/reliable.

Calendar based methods basically consist of keeping track of your monthly cycle and assuming that you ovulate about two weeks after your period. Don’t want to get pregnant? Don’t have sex during a period in which conception could be achieved. No hormones, no devices, just regular body rhythms and the ability to actually keep track of what you’re doing.

Pulling out (and I feel like a 16 year old writing that) is technically known as coitus interruptus is exactly what it sounds like – avoiding ejaculation inside the vagina.

Now excuse me while I go giggle in a corner…

In conclusion

If you can stick to vegan condoms, diaphragms, spermicides or even “natural methods” – great! But what if you are in need of hormonal solutions? Image: Shutterstock. Modification: TVW.

If you can stick to vegan birth control methods – great! But what if you are in need of hormonal solutions? Image: Shutterstock. Modification: TVW.

Like most sane people, I understand it’s impossible to be 100% vegan and live in regular society. Birth control follows this pattern too. The most effective methods of birth control are often not completely vegan.

If you can stick to vegan condoms, diaphragms, spermicides or even “natural methods” – great! But what if you are in need of hormonal solutions? Some people use hormonal birth control for health reasons outside of preventing conception. This then broadens the question from birth control issue to include all animal tested medication and their suitability to a vegan lifestyle.

Are medication tested on animals acceptable for vegans? Should we differentiate between medications that are necessary and what some call “luxury medications” such as birth control? Is birth control a “luxury medication”? Is it not our duty to constantly look for cruelty free options that are feasible and affective? 

Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below!

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