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Our Health Information Database is provided by A.D.A.M. the leading provider of electronic and printed information for professionals and consumers in healthcare and industry. It provides authoritative, reliable content written and reviewed by an editorial board who represent a variety of specialty areas. This board reviews and evaluates all healthcare information to ensure it is accurate, reliable, and can be used with complete confidence. And now you have access to the same authoritative, trusted clinical information relied upon by health professionals around the world.

Special Considerations

This article may contain information on medical procedures that are not recommended or endorsed by Catholic Health Partners. Promotion of this topic is prohibited by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services. In the Ethical and Religious Directives, Catholic health institutions are prohibited from condoning contraceptive practices. Married couples should be given information about natural family planning as well as the church’s teachings on responsible parenthood. The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only. It is not provided as a professional service or as medical advice for specific patients.

Over-the-counter birth control


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

For more information about birth control options, see:

Alternative Names

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


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

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


  • A male 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 STIs.


  • 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.
  • Spermicides are generally combined with other methods (such as condoms or diaphragm) as extra protection.
  • Warning: The spermicide nonoxynol-9 can help prevent pregnancy, but also may increase the risk of HIV transmission.
  • Risks include irritation and allergic reactions.


  • 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.
  • Risks include irritation, allergic reaction, trouble removing the sponge. In rare cases, toxic shock syndrome may occur.


  • The "morning after" pill consists of two doses of hormone pills taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
  • The emergency contraceptive pill is available as either single pill (Plan B One-Step) or as two pills (Plan B, Next Choice). See: Emergency contraception


Amy JJ, Tripathi V. Contraception for women: an evidence based overview. BMJ. 2009 Aug 7;339.

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    Review Date: 3/30/2010

    Review By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine.

    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- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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