Tips on Buying Over-the-Counter Contraceptives

Available OTC Birth Control Options

Over-the-counter birth control methods are contraceptive options that can be bought without a doctor's prescription. Most over-the-counter contraception are considered to be "barrier methods" -- this means that these OTC birth control options work by blocking sperm from fertilizing an egg. Over-the-counter birth control methods are reliable, effective, and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How to Get Over-the-Counter Birth Control:

Most national chain stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies sell OTC birth control -- but the options they offer may vary. So, if you want to buy over-the-counter birth control, you'll need a way to get to the store and money to pay. If you are too embarrassed to check out your local family planning aisle, or if you can't get to a store, you can also buy OTC birth control online. There are no age requirements, so anybody can buy over-the-counter methods.

Some Tips on Buying OTC Birth Control:

In general, prices for over-the-counter birth control methods could vary from store to store -- but usually differ by only a couple of dollars. The costs for OTC birth control online are typically lower than in-store prices.

When looking for birth control online, remember that some methods are only sold in the stores while other methods may only be sold online. Some store websites (like Walgreens, Walmart, and Target) may let you check online -- so you can tell ahead of time if the over-the-counter birth control product you want is in stock at your local store. You may also be able to pay for the product online, and then pick it up at the store.

What if My Store Doesn't Have the OTC Product I Want?

Keep in mind that over-the-counter birth control product selection will differ from store to store. If the store doesn't have what you are looking for, you can check the store's website or another store's website. This could also be the opportunity to try a new OTC birth control product or brand. With so many options and varieties, it may be fun to be a little adventurous.

Over-the-Counter Birth Control vs. Prescription Birth Control:

Prescription birth control methods (like hormonal contraception) tend to be more effective than over-the-counter birth control. That being said, OTC contraception ranges from being 72%-98% effective. Effectiveness can be increased if you are using the method correctly, or if you combine over-the-counter birth control methods. For example:

To be extra safe, buy emergency contraception ahead of time... just incase birth control failure happens or you forget to use birth control. And -- YES -- the morning-after pill can also be bought over-the-counter!

Available Over-the-Counter Birth Control Methods:

Male Condoms:

Over the Counter Birth Control
Over-the-Counter Birth Control. Photo © Dawn Stacey

Condoms cover the your penis during sex. They collect semen before, during, and after ejaculation -- so they prevent sperm from entering the vagina. Condoms can be made of latex, polyurethane (plastic), natural membrane (lambskin), or polyisoprene (non latex natural rubber). There are many types of condoms... like dry or lubricated, colored, flavored, and shapes. Condoms are also one of the few birth control methods that can help protect against sexually transmitted infections

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Female Condoms:

Female Condoms
Female Condoms. Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

Female condoms are made from polyurethane. These plastic "pouches" have flexible rings at each end. The female condom collects semen and prevents sperm from entering your body. You may want to try using female condoms if you or your partner are allergic to latex. It may take some practice when it comes to using female condoms. You insert the ring at the closed end of the female condom deep into your vagina (like a diaphragm). The ring at the open end should hang about an inch outside the vagina. The female condom can also be helpful in the protection against many sexually transmitted diseases. Female condoms are also a great over-the-counter birth control option to use while having sex in the water.

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Spermicides. © Dawn Stacey

Spermicide is an over-the-counter birth control method that comes in different forms -- like foams, film, creams, suppositories, and jellies.  Spermicide should be placed deep into the vagina right before sex. It will then melt (except for contraceptive foam, which forms bubbles) to form a barrier against sperm. These OTC contraceptives contain a chemical spermicide (usually nonoxynol-9) that will immobilize and kill sperm. When used by itself, spermicide is not as effective as other over-the-counter birth control methods. It also does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections.

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The Sponge:

Today Sponge
The Sponge. Photo © Dawn Stacey

The sponge is a soft, round, barrier device that is about two inches in diameter. It is made of solid polyurethane foam, contains spermicide, and has a nylon loop attached to the bottom for removal. The sponge must first be moistened with water. Then, you insert the sponge into your vagina before having sex. It covers the cervix (opening to the uterus) -- so it blocks sperm from entering. The sponge also releases a spermicide that can kill sperm. You must keep the sponge in place for at least 6 hours after you have had sex. The sponge was taken off the market in 1995, but is now available again as an over-the-counter birth control option.

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The Morning-After Pill:

How to Use Morning-After Pill
Morning-After Pills. Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

The morning-after pill consists of one pill and was approved by the FDA specifically for emergency contraception. It contains the progestin levonorgestrel and should be taken within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex or birth control failure -- the sooner you take it, the better. The morning-after pill is NOT the same thing as the abortion pill, and it will NOT harm an existing pregnancy.

The judge in the court case, Tummino vs.Hamburg, ruled that the morning-after pill could now be sold over-the-counter without any age requirements. BUT... not all morning-after pill brands can be bought OTC -- for example, you need a prescription to buy Ella, a newer type of morning-after pill that consists of one ulipristal acetate (30 mg) pill. Also, Next Choice (the generic 2 pill form of the old Plan B) can only be sold OTC if you are 17 years old or older -- you need a prescription to buy Next Choice if you are under 17.

Morning-After Pill Brands Available Over-the-Counter:

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