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over-the-counter birth control

Alternative Names
over-the-counter contraception, birth control available without a prescription

There are different ways to prevent pregnancy. Over-the-counter products are those products that you can buy without seeing a doctor for a prescription. Certain over-the-counter contraceptives can also prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

What is the information for this topic?
Pregnancy is a personal choice. There may be personal and medical reasons for not wanting a pregnancy. There are different methods and products that can be used to prevent pregnancy. Some of these can be purchased without a doctor's prescription.

Some examples of over-the-counter products include: Condoms may offer the important advantage of protecting individuals from the spread of AIDS and most other sexually transmitted diseases.

Some other techniques used to help prevent pregnancy inlcude:
  • breastfeeding
  • coitus interruptus
Some examples of prescription products include: Some examples of surgical methods include:
  • tubal ligation (sometimes referred to as "having your tubes tied")
  • vasectomy in men
  • hysterectomy, the removal of a woman's uterus
The rhythm method, intrauterine device, and morning after pill can also prevent pregnancy.

Each method has different failure rates, side effects, and ease of use. The most common methods used in order of popularity are birth control pills, condoms, IUD, rhythm, foam and diaphragm.

The male condom is a latex sheath that covers the penis and prevents semen from getting into the vagina. Condoms protect both partners from most sexually transmitted diseases. The failure rate is about 15%. This means there are 15 pregnancies over 1 year for 100 couples using this method. Rates for teenagers are higher. Condoms work better when used with spermicides or another method, such as the diaphragm.

Vaginal spermicides kill sperm. They come in a jelly, foam, cream, or suppository. Though they may help protect individuals from some sexually transmitted diseases, spermicides should not be considered a reliable method of protection against STDs. They contain nonoxynol 9. This is toxic to sperm. They may be used alone or with a diaphragm. The failure rate is 21%. Some women are irritated by the spermicide.

The female condom is a polyurethane pouch. It has two flexible rings at each end. One fits deep within the vagina. The other is at the vaginal opening. The female condom helps protect from sexually transmitted diseases of the cervix and external genitals. Failure rates range from 5% to 20%.

The risk of over-the-counter birth control methods is their failure rate. They do not work as well as some prescription methods. Other risks include vaginal irritation from spermicide and latex allergy from condoms.

There are no long-term side effects. Latex allergy is rare. If an irritation allergy occurs, the methods should be stopped.

Side effects are minimal and rare. These include vaginal irritation, latex allergy, and allergy to spermicide.

Author: Eva Martin, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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