Getting birth control over the counter
There are several kinds of birth control that you can buy whenever you want for just a few bucks at drug stores, grocery stores, super-retailers like Walmart or Target, or online. Called over-the-counter methods (unlike prescription methods kept behind a pharmacist’s counter), when used correctly these do a pretty good job of preventing pregnancy. Among them, condoms—both the traditional ones for guys and the internal condom—also offer excellent protection against sexually transmitted infections. Lots of women pair the condom with another method for an extra level of confidence. Because it’s much more fun to knock boots when you’re not worried about getting knocked up.
We surveyed online retailers Walmart.com, Target.com, Walgreens.com, and CVS.com to get the scoop on prices for these methods. A few things to keep in mind:
- Typically you’ll find more choices from these retailers online than in their stores. Cost for shipping tends to start at about $1.
- Each website allows you to find out whether the store closest to you has a particular item in stock, though it never hurts to call ahead.
- Prices at the store may be a bit higher—or lower—than what’s online.
- Large grocery stores typically carry external condoms and sometimes spermicides on their shelves, and their in-house pharmacies usually have emergency contraception on hand.
If you don’t see what you need at your pharmacy, grocery, or super-store, ask! (Or call first, if you’re feeling shy.) But seriously: you have a right to freely buy any and all of these methods whenever you want them, just like you have the right to buy aspirin, allergy medicine, or toothpaste. Now let's get down to business:
- Condoms: Condoms are one of the easiest methods to come by and can range in price from free (some health clinics give them away free; click here to find a clinic near you) to roughly $1 each. Price depends on where you get them and how many bells and whistles they come with (are they ribbed? multi-colored? flavored?).
- Spermicide: Generally spermicide prices were lowest at Walmart, highest at Walgreens, with CVS in the middle (and just FYI, CVS has a website chock full of helpful, plain-English health info of all kinds). Depending on whether you go with a film, a gel, or a foam, prices can range from roughly $1-$6 per use.
- The Sponge: Truth be told, the sponge is still not that easy to find and they’re pricier than other over-the-counter methods. When you can get your hands on them, they run about $5 per use.
- Internal Condoms: Internal condoms are becoming more and more popular, meaning that they are much more easily available. You can find them online and in many local drugstores for about $4-$5 per use.
- Emergency Contraception (EC): Currently one type of EC pills, Plan B One-Step, is available to anyone of any age over the counter without a prescription. Generic levonorgestrel-based EC pill options are kept behind the counter and are available without a prescription to anyone 17 or older. Depending on where you get EC pills (a pharmacy vs. a clinic) and whether you choose the generic or name brand version, EC can cost between $10 and $65 per use.
- Fertility Awareness Methods: With the exception of the investment of time it takes to use this method, Fertility Awareness Methods can be a nearly free method of birth control, depending on the method you use. You may need a calendar and a thermometer (about $10 or less at any grocery, drug store, or super-store) or a set of CycleBeads ($10-$25). Many experts recommend training classes which can range from free to $25-$100 per hour.