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What Are My Options for Over the Counter Birth Control?

Condoms, spermicide, and sponges are all over-the-counter contraceptive options. You don’t have to have a prescription to get these types of birth control. Most are available at local drugstores, clinics, and supermarkets. In addition, emergency contraception can be purchased at many pharmacies with no prescription required.

Male Condom

Male condoms are one of the most popular and widely available forms of birth control. This type of condom is made from a thin film that is fitted snugly over an erect penis. When ejaculation occurs, the condom prevents the sperm from entering a woman’s body. One of the most important benefits of using male condoms is that they can help to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Most male condoms are made from latex rubber, though there are also polyurethane options for those who have a latex allergy or sensitivity. Some come with lubricant already included. Additional lubricant can be added to both lubricated and non-lubricated varieties. Only water-based or silicone-based lubricants should be used with male condoms because oil-based lubricants like body lotion, massage oil, and petroleum jelly may cause breakage.

With typical use, male condoms are 82% effective at preventing pregnancy. For more effective use, follow these tips:

  • Put the condom on before any sexual contact occurs.
  • Pull out of the vagina before the penis becomes flaccid.
  • Hold the base of the condom onto the penis while pulling out.
  • Never reuse a male condom.

Female Condom

There’s a second type of condom available over the counter: the female condom. Sometimes called an insertive condom or universal condom, this type of birth control consists of a thin pouch that has a flexible ring attached to each end. One end of the condom is placed inside the vagina, while the other end stays outside the vagina. Like male condoms, female condoms prevent sperm from entering a woman’s body and can help prevent the transmission of STIs.

Female condoms are made from nitrile (a synthetic, non-latex rubber) and are pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant. Any other type of lubricant may be added, including water- and oil-based lubricants, since this type of condom is not made with latex.

With typical use, female condoms are 79% effective at preventing pregnancy. Follow these instructions to use female condoms correctly every time:

  • Female condoms can be inserted up to eight hours before having sex.
  • Squeeze the inner ring of the condom before placing it inside the vagina.
  • To remove the condom after sex, twist the outer ring and pull gently as you take it out.
  • Never use a female condom and a male condom at the same time.
  • Never reuse a female condom.

Sponge

The sponge is another over-the-counter birth control option to consider. This small disc is made with soft plastic foam. It’s inserted into the vagina and creates a barrier so that sperm cannot penetrate the cervix. The sponge also contains spermicide which kills sperm before they have a chance to fertilize an egg.

One notable benefit of using the sponge for birth control is that it can be inserted up to 24 hours before having sex. It’s also discreet; your partner won’t be able to tell that it’s been inserted.

With typical use, the sponge is 76% to 88% effective. Rates of effectiveness are higher in women who have not given birth. To use sponges correctly, you need to:

  • Insert the sponge up to 24 hours before having sex.
  • Leave the sponge in place for at least six hours after sex.
  • Remove the sponge within 24-30 hours from when you initially inserted it to avoid developing toxic shock syndrome.
  • Never reinsert a sponge after taking it out.

Spermicide

Spermicide can also be purchased over the counter to use for contraceptive purposes. It works by killing the sperm before it has the chance to fertilize an egg.

In the United States, the chemical nonoxynol-9 (N-9) is the only type of spermicide available. It is sold as a foam, jelly, cream, film, tablet, and suppository.

With typical use, spermicide is 72% effective at preventing pregnancy.  Use the following tips when applying spermicide for birth control:

  • Apply the spermicide deeply inside the vagina up to one hour before having sex.
  • Follow the label instructions carefully since the application process may be slightly different depending on the type of spermicide you select.
  • Leave the spermicide in the vagina for at least six hours after you have sex.

Emergency Contraception

While emergency contraception should not be used as birth control, it is important to know that it’s available over the counter should your regular birth control fail or you have unprotected sex. Also known as the morning-after pill, emergency contraception should be used as soon as possible within three to five days of having unprotected sex. The sooner you take the morning-after pill, the more effective it will be at preventing pregnancy. If you’re already pregnant, emergency contraception won’t work.

Currently, progestin-only brands of the morning-after pill like Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way are the only types of emergency contraception available without a prescription. When taking progestin-only emergency contraception, about 87% of women who would have gotten pregnant will not get pregnant.

The morning-after pill is available at many pharmacies. You may want to call ahead to find a pharmacy that has it so you can take your pill as soon as possible.

There are a number of birth control options available to you at any time without a prescription. Consider stocking up on your contraceptive of choice so you’re prepared for the next time you have sex.

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