VWPA Advice #030: Is Birth Control Vegan?

“What do I do?”

I heard birth control might not be vegan – is that true? What does this mean for my veganism if I want to be on hormonal birth control to protect myself from unwanted pregnancy?

There are two very important parts to this question: Is birth control vegan? If it’s not, what does that mean for my veganism?

Is Birth Control Vegan?

We are going to do a whole episode on birth control and there’s a lot of people who have covered it extensively already, so we’ll keep this short:

Hormonal birth control
Most birth control pills contain lactose, a milk by-product. There may be some brands that do not but the vast majority do and they are changing all the time. If you want to take the pill, you can try researching brands online or ask your doctor to find one that is milk-free.

There are options that do not: Pfizer’s Depo-provera shot and the Ortho-Evra contraceptive patch, are made (from what I could confirm through an internet search) without animal products.

All that being said, there are two additional considerations beyond whether birth control contains animal products. One, that most, if not all, birth control is tested on animals, and is made by companies that definitely test on animals. Two, that the hormones we take we also excrete through our urine, into our water system, having adverse effects on marine life.

IUDs
Copper IUDs do not contain animal products but are tested on animals. Hormonal IUDs are tested on animals and may contain milk by-products.

Barrier methods
Most barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, sponges, spermicides) contain milk by-products (most condoms are made with casein) BUT they also can all be found vegan as well. Vegan Love has all of these things and more (including lube!), for an easy resource. A Google search can turn up other brands that are vegan (like the vegan “super condom” coming out this year!!!).

Other considerations
There are natural methods and also sterilization. These are both valid options, but are big commitments – natural methods are totally vegan but require dedication and great communication between partners AND abstinence or alternative sexual activities during certain times in your cycle; sterilization options are permanent(ish) and require surgery. With sterilization, you may need to take drugs before and after the surgery that could contain animal products and/or have been tested on animals.

What Does it Mean?

The definition of veganism, as provided by The Vegan Society, is: “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

It’s funny how often “as far as is possible and practicable” is ignored. Cars aren’t vegan, but the reality is that, for most of us, it would be impossible to exist without driving a car or taking a bus. No one can truly be 100% vegan in the developed world as it exists today. Concessions have to be made. We need to find ways to navigate this reality while holding true to our ethics as much as possible. Sometimes this means having business lunches at a non-vegan restaurant. Owning a car or, yes, a smart phone. Taking medication that was tested on animals or contains animal by-products.

Many vegans fight for the right to choose what happens with our bodies, women’s bodies. Hormonal birth control is a choice that ANY woman should have, vegan or not, to make for herself guilt-free. And EVERY man or woman should have the option of condoms or other barrier methods without having to special order them ahead of time. Sex happens; it is absolutely critical that we make our community feel comfortable having sex happen in the safest way possible.

The irony is that the very vegans who think having children is against veganism will be the same ones to judge which method you choose not to have them by. This is utter nonsense. Kinda like how the people who fight against the right to abortion also fight against providing government support to mothers and families.

It is also everyone’s right to decide what they don’t want in, or on, their bodies, so if the thought of ingesting or wearing animal by-products is totally unacceptable to you, that is ok too. If you decide to go the natural route (like Nichole has), get sterilized (like Rob Greenfield has), or only use vegan products and abstain from sexual activity if you don’t have any on-hand, that is totally fine. People, omnivores and vegans alike, will tell you that these choices are also wrong: sterilization is seen as too extreme, and natural methods are seen as foolhardy and unreliable. If you give into what other people think, you’ll end up just abstaining from sex forever because there’s no option that everyone agrees on. Then the Patriarchy wins, and who wants that!?

We should all be empowered to do as we see fit with our bodies. This can seem contradictory given that we’re all fighting to make everyone see that consuming and wearing animal products is wrong, but the reality is that we live in a non-vegan world and there will simply be times when the machine is too powerful for our ethics. We cannot, and should not, put our own lives at risk in order to make a point. The best way for us to be effective advocates is for us to have healthy, joyous lives where our major decisions are left to our discretion and not the judgments of others.

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