The first ever FDA-approved birth control method, a pill called Enovid, became available to purchase in June 1960. Like most first things, Enovid worked but had some problems that have been corrected over the past nearly 60 years, as understanding of what is needed to safely prevent pregnancy has grown. Now there are more than a dozen safe, accessible, FDA-approved contraceptives available, and while there’s always room for further improvement, the current options are, um, pretty damn effective.

So it’s confusing, given the array of ways we have to control if/when an egg is allowed to be fertilized, that anyone would advocate for other, off-book methods. But a recent viral tweet does just that in its suggestion of 10 “natural” birth control methods, which range from things like figs (…K) to pennyroyal (dangerous).

Maybe you’ve already seen the tweet making the rounds and thought to yourself, it would be cool to eat some fruit instead of taking this pill every day at the command of a phone alarm, and on that point I have to agree. I would simply love to yank my IUD out of my cervix right this moment and instead eat a handful of green M&Ms every afternoon to avoid unplanned pregnancy! That sounds incredible! But this isn’t my Barbie dream house we’re living in, and so that’s not a possibility (at least, currently).

But, hey, I’m no doctor! Maybe eating papaya is the same as taking Plan B and I’ve been living in the dark this whole time. So in the interest of due diligence, I asked some real experts—Robin Watkins, a women’s-health nurse practitioner and director of health care at Power to Decide, and Ryan Marino, MD, a medical toxicologist—to weigh in on which “natural” birth control methods actually work and whether they’re safe to use.


1. Papaya

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Not unless you’re allergic.

2. Neem

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: If you attempt to inject it into your “uterine horns,” as the original tweet suggests, then definitely yes, says Dr. Marino. “Neem is used as a pesticide for plants,” he adds. “Trying to find the uterus at home with a needle and attempting to inject some kind of garden supply is going to lead to very disastrous consequences.” Watkins clarifies that this is an extremely tiny part of the body (where the fallopian tube meets the uterus) and not even in a medical setting would this be advisable/ever happen.

3. Asafoetida

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Yeah, probably. Asafoetida usually contains chemicals called coumarins, which the chart in the original tweet mentions. But the info in the chart neglects to mention something very important: “Coumarins are the most common form of rat poison,” Dr. Marino says. They also have a known side effect of excessive bleeding and have caused coma and death when taken in uncontrolled environments.

4. Figs

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Not unless you’re allergic.

5. Ginger

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Not unless you’re allergic.

6. Smartweed

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Unclear—smartweed can be toxic in animals such as horses, but its toxicity in humans isn’t well known.

7. Wild yam

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Not unless you’re allergic, but it does taste very bitter.

8. Pennyroyal

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Yes. Both Watkins and Dr. Marino warn that pennyroyal ingested in any amount can have dire side effects including liver toxicity and death. The chart in the original tweet mentions that Pennyroyal can be used to initiate self-abortion, which is true, but a lot of things that were used to initiate abortion before it was legal often led to severe illness and death.

9. Black cohosh

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Maybe—according to the National Institute of Health, liver damage has been reported in people taking black cohosh products and further research is needed to examine safety. Dr. Marino adds that the chart recommends taking black cohosh along with Pennyroyal for “maximum effect,” and then yes, this shit is definitely toxic.

10. Angelica/dong quai (aka “the female ginseng”)

Does it prevent pregnancy?: No.

Will it hurt you?: Maybe—according to information from Memorial Sloan Kettering, dong quai’s side effects include excessive bleeding, fever, and high blood pressure. There are no conclusive or scientifically supported uses for dong quai.

      TL;DR

      “There are no herbs or plants that prevent pregnancy,” according to Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN and author of the forthcoming book, The Vagina Bible. “Anyone who says otherwise is uneducated and I wonder if their intent is to harm women.”

      In all seriousness, access to safe, reliable birth control is nothing to joke about. If you’re having trouble accessing contraception, Bedsider has great resources to help you find (FDA-approved) birth control in a number of ways. And if hormones are a problem for you, there are several non-hormonal methods that have been through the rigorous process of approval. And none of them involve something you buy in the produce aisle.

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