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Over-the-counter birth control methods are used during sex to avoid pregnancy and sometimes to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They can be purchased by anyone, without a doctor's prescription.

Alternative Names:

Birth control - over the counter; Contraceptives - over the counter



  • A condom is a thin sheath placed on the penis. In the case of the female condom , the condom is placed inside the vagina before intercourse. Semen is collected inside the condom, which must be carefully held in place and then removed after intercourse.
  • About 14 pregnancies occur out of 100 couples using male condoms over 1 year. About 21 pregnancies occur out of 100 couples using female condoms. Condoms are more effective when spermicide is also used.
  • Condoms are available in most drug and grocery stores. Some family planning clinics may offer free condoms.
  • Latex condoms help prevent HIV and other STDs.


  • Spermicides are chemical gels, foams, creams, or suppositories that kill sperm. They are inserted into the vagina before intercourse.
  • They can be purchased in most drug and grocery stores.
  • This method used by itself is not very effective. About 26 pregnancies occur out of 100 women using this method alone over 1 year. Therefore, spermicides are often combined with other methods (such as condoms or diaphragm) for extra protection.


  • Vaginal contraceptive sponges are soft artificial sponges covered with a spermicide. Before intercourse, the sponge is moistened, inserted into the vagina, and placed over the cervix . After intercourse, the sponge is left in place for 6 - 8 hours.
  • The sponge is similar to the diaphragm (which you must get from a doctor) as a barrier protection method.
  • About 18 - 28 pregnancies occur out of every 100 women using this method over 1 year. The sponge may be more effective in women who have not already given birth to a baby.
  • This method was removed from the U.S. market, but there are plans to re-introduce it in the near future.


  • The "morning after" pill consists of two doses of hormone pills taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
  • The pill may prevent pregnancy by temporarily blocking eggs from being released, stopping fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
  • Emergencies include being raped, having a condom break or slip off during sex, missing two or more birth control pills during a monthly cycle, and having unplanned sex.
  • Plan B is the only "morning after" pill available over the counter. It can only be sold to adults age 18 and older.
  • Emergency contraception reduces the chance of pregnancy by 75 - 95%. It is most effective when used in the first 24 hours.

Over-the-counter birth control methods are not as effective against pregnancy as some prescription methods. However, they are more effective against STDs than any other method except not having intercourse (abstinence). They enable people to protect themselves against pregnancies and STDs without having to:

  • Deal with long-term side effects
  • Spend a lot of money
  • Wait for a doctor's appointment

For a more complete description of birth control options, see birth control and family planning .

Review Date: 2/19/2008
Reviewed By: Peter Chen, MD, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100