over-the-counter birth control

Choosing an Over-the-Counter Birth Control Option – Nov. 10, 2020

Birth control simply refers to the measures you take to prevent pregnancy. There are a number of different birth control options out there. At One Community Health in Sacramento, we’re here to help you figure it all out and determine what is best for you. In today’s post, we’ll focus on over-the-counter birth control options. 

1. Condoms

A condom is a thin sheath of latex (or other material) placed over the penis that blocks sperm from entering the vagina. This option has an 85% effectiveness rate at preventing pregnancy. 

  • Pros: They are generally free to $1-2, making them very affordable. They are the only birth control option that also provides protection against STDs.
  • Cons: They can break, they are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, and they can cause allergic reactions. Some people complain that they reduce sensitivity during intercourse. You have to use one every time you have sex. 


2. Internal Condom

Sometimes called a “female condom”, this is a thin tube of latex (or other material) that is placed inside the vagina or anus, creating a physical barrier for sperm. This birth control method is 79% effective. It should never be used in addition to a traditional condom. 

  • Pros: They range from $2-$4 and are available in most pharmacies, making them an affordable, convenient option. They can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse. They also provide some protection against STDs.
  • Cons: Same as above. 


3. Contraceptive Sponge

Also called a birth control sponge, or just “the sponge,” it is a round, soft plastic sponge soaked with spermicide that fits inside the vagina, both blocking and killing sperm. It is about 76% effective at preventing pregnancy in women who have given birth before, and 88% effective for women who have never given birth. It is generally available at pharmacies and some grocery stores for $4-$6. 

  • Pros: The sponge can be left in for 24 hours and covers you for as much sex as you want to have in that period. They don’t interrupt sex or diminish sensitivity. They are also small and can fit into your pocket for a discreet option. 
  • Cons: It does not protect against STDs. It can also be difficult to use correctly every time, reducing its effectiveness. It can cause irritation and rarely Toxic Shock Syndrome. It may also actually increase your risk for HIV and other STDs. 


4. Spermicide

Spermicide is a chemical that you put into your vagina right before having sex that blocks and kills sperm. It is about 68-78% effective at preventing pregnancy so it is best used in conjunction with another birth control method, such as a condom. 

  • Pros: It is convenient and cheap. It doesn’t interrupt sex. 
  • Cons: It contains a chemical called Nonoxynol-9 that can irritate your vagina and make it easier to contract an STD. 


The Morning After Pill

This is worth mentioning here as it doesn’t require a prescription, however, this is not a safe routine birth control option—it is emergency contraception and isn’t meant to be used on a regular basis. The morning after pill consists of hormones that prevent an egg from implanting. There are two kinds of morning-after pills available: 

  • Levonorgestrel (Plan B and Next Choice) 
  • Ulipristal acetate (Ella)


Come See Us

At One Community Health in Sacramento, we care about keeping you informed when it comes to your body and your health. If you have any questions about these over-the-counter birth control options, or need help deciding which method is right for you and your situation, schedule an appointment with one of our compassionate women’s health specialists today. And be sure to stay tuned for our next posts in this series about prescription and surgical birth control options. 

Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

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