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What Are Over-the-Counter Birth Control Methods?

Provided to men and women without a prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) birth control methods are easily accessible. OTC options are often the first birth control method used when a man or woman begins having sex. Some OTC options you may have heard of, but others may not be as familiar.


Condoms are a barrier form of birth control that stops semen from entering the vagina. Condoms are available in a variety of materials and styles, including:

  • Non-lubricated latex — standard condom with no lubricant applied to the outside before packaging.
  • Lubricated latex — standard condom with lubricant applied to the outside before packaging.
  • Polyisoprene — alternative material often used by men and women with a latex allergy.
  • Hexagonal — condom designed with a geometric, hexagonal style to improve strength
  • Female or internal — condom designed to be inserted into the vagina up to eight hours before sex.
  • Spermicidal — standard condom lubricated with spermicide (to kill sperm) as an extra line of defense.

Condoms, on average, are about 99% effective when used as directed and applied before vaginal intercourse.

Vaginal Contraception

Vaginal contraceptives come in sponges, creams, gels, and tabs all designed for insertion into the vagina before sex.

  • Sponge — round sponge, saturated with nonoxynol-9, a spermicide.
  • Gel — pre-filled applicator containing spermicide.
  • Film — square dissolving film laced with nonoxynol-9 that, when inserted into the vagina before sex, provides pregnancy protection for up to three hours.
  • Cream — same as the gel form of vaginal contraception, but in cream form.
  • Foam — same as the gel and cream, but in foam form.

All vaginal contraceptives rely upon a spermicide to prevent pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, spermicide use has a failure rate of up to 28%.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception, like Plan B, can be used for up to three days following unprotected sex. If taken within 24 hours, the effectiveness is about 95%. At 72 hours, efficiency drops to about 89%. The efficacy of Plan B depends on a variety of factors, including weight. For women weighing more than 165 pounds or with a body mass index (BMI) over 25, Plan B may be less effective.

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