Everything You Need to Know About How to Get Birth Control

In most of the United States, you will need to visit a doctor, nurse, or health clinic to obtain a prescription for birth control.

Read more about how to get birth control and the types of birth control available, their benefits and risks, as well as their side effects, from this overview.

Types of Birth Control

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

An Overview of Birth Control

Hormonal birth control prevents pregnancy in several ways. One such method is by reducing, or stopping, ovulation. Ovulation is the process of releasing the egg from the ovary. Hormonal birth control can also thicken the mucus surrounding the cervix, making it harder for the sperm to reach the egg.

Additionally, the hormones found in birth control can sometimes also impact the uterine lining, making it difficult for the egg to attach to the uterine wall.

Types of Contraceptives

There are a number of hormonal birth control options, including:

  • Intrauterine Devices (IUDs): This birth control method is a tiny, flexible plastic device placed into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. These are up to 99% effective.
  • Depo-Provera shot: This medroxyprogesterone shot is a reversible form of birth control. It's also known as DMPA, Depo shot, or the birth control shot and is administered via injection. One Depo shot prevents pregnancy for several weeks by thickening the cervical mucus and halting ovulation.
  • The Minipill: Containing only progestin, the synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, the Minipill is a low-hormone option for birth control. These prevent pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining. These oral contraceptives may also prevent ovulation.
  • The pill: People using the pill must take these oral contraceptives daily to prevent pregnancy. These pills contain both estrogen and progestin and stop ovulation.
  • Arm implants: Arm implants, such as Nexplanon, are implants placed under the skin of your arm, preventing pregnancy by suppressing ovulation. Implants provide a steady course of progestin and last three years.
  • Emergency contraception: Levonorgestrel, brand name Plan B One-Step or the generic version Next Choice One Dose, are oral hormone pills used as emergency contraception, such as when a condom breaks or no protection is used at all. It can be purchased over the counter with no age restrictions.

In addition to hormonal methods of birth control, non-hormonal options for birth control include:

  • Condoms: These are a barrier used during sex to prevent pregnancy and lower the risk of STDs. These are disposable and placed on the penis. Condoms are 85% to 98% effective.
  • Internal condoms: These go inside the vagina for pregnancy prevention or into the vagina or anus for protection from sexually transmitted infections.
  • Diaphragm: This is a shallow cup-shaped device made of soft silicone that you bend in half and insert inside your vagina to cover your cervix after inserting spermicide.
  • Cervical cap: This little cup made of silicone is inserted into your vagina to cover the cervix after inserting spermicide.
  • Birth control sponge: A contraption that is placed deep inside your vagina before sex, covering your cervix. Birth control sponges contain spermicide.

Recap

There are many options for birth control. There are both hormonal and non-hormonal methods. Each method varies in effectiveness, side effects, and whether or not a prescription is needed.

Benefits and Risks

Hormonal birth control has several associated benefits beyond preventing unwanted pregnancy. Some such benefits associated with some forms of hormonal birth control include:

  • Reduces bleeding and cramping during menstruation
  • Causes fewer periods (or no periods at all)
  • Improves ovulation pain
  • Lowers risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Lessens the risk of ectopic pregnancy

Hormonal birth control is also associated with some risks. The most serious concern is the increased chance of developing a blood clot in the leg, lungs, brain, or heart, although this is rare.

Other factors that increase the chance of medical issues include:

  • Being 35 or older
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Blood-clotting disorders

Side Effects

Hormonal birth control may cause side effects. Some potential side effects of oral contraceptives include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Acne
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Spotting between periods
  • Menstrual flow changes
  • Missed periods
  • Painful mensuration
  • Breast tenderness, enlargement, or discharge
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Lowered libido

How Can I Get OTC Birth Control?

There are over-the-counter (OTC) options for birth control. However, OTC options are typically barrier methods, like condoms.

Many chain stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies have OTC birth control for sale. Prices will vary based on the retailer. OTC birth control is also available online if transportation is an issue or if you feel uncomfortable purchasing OTC birth control in person.

OTC options have no age requirements. These methods are also U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved. As for as effectiveness goes, OTC birth control ranges from being 72% to 98% effective.

Where Can I Get a Prescription?

You can get a prescription for birth control from your doctor, health center, or family planning clinic. At the appointment, your healthcare provider will discuss your medical history, do a blood pressure check, and provide any health exams needed. Typically, pelvic exams are not necessary for birth control pills.

Based on your examination, your doctors will help determine the best method for you.

In some states, prescriptions can be given online or from a pharmacist. Recently, there has been research that supports making some oral contraceptives available OTC.

A 2019 study noted that there is some evidence that those who obtain OTC oral contraceptives have a higher continuation rate and may increase access, thus reducing unwanted pregnancies.

Which Option Is Right for Me?

There are many choices of hormonal contraceptives available, and these are not one-size-fits-all. Everybody is different, and sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the correct method for you. Talk to your healthcare provider about what will be right for you based on your specific situation.

Factors to take into account include:

  • Cost: Prices will vary based on the method of contraception. For example, most pill packs cost anywhere from $0 to $50, each pack lasting one month. However, most of the time, birth control pills are free under health insurance or within government assistance programs. Talk to your doctor or insurance provider to understand your financial obligations.
  • Age: Being 35 or older increases your risk of adverse reactions to birth control, including blood clots.
  • Health conditions: Hypertension, diabetes, and other health issues can increase your risk of complications due to hormonal birth control. These conditions may also require other medications that impact birth control effectiveness.
  • Other medications: Some medicine may impact birth control effectiveness, including antidepressants, antibiotics, anxiety treatments, and others.
  • Effectiveness: Different methods of birth control vary in effectiveness.
  • Method of administration: The pill must be taken daily in order to work, while arm implants last for three years. Be honest about your ability to adhere to a daily medication.

Are There Low-Cost Birth Control Options?

Because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most insurance plans are required to cover birth control at no cost. This includes hormonal options like the pill.

Do note, however, that some health plans will only provide coverage of certain brands of pills, or only generic versions. All FDA generic medications have the same active ingredients as the brand versions (same hormones and same dosages). Also, note that, under the ACA, health plans do not need to cover OTC, non-prescription options such as the condom.

For those who do not have health insurance, there are still ways to find low-cost birth control. Some options include enrolling in government assistance programs or Medicaid, depending on your legal status and income level. Healthcare clinics may also be able to provide low-cost birth control.

A Word From Verywell

Taking control of your reproductive health is important. In most of the United States, you will need to visit a doctor, nurse, or health clinic to obtain a prescription for birth control. Knowing your options and educating yourself on the risks, benefits, and drawbacks of each type help you make the most informed decision possible.

Remember, you are your own advocate. Be open and honest with your healthcare provider when deciding which method of birth control would work best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I get birth control without my parents knowing?

    In most states, healthcare providers are able to prescribe birth control without needing parental consent. However, there are certain situations where a parent will need to provide approval. The best bet is to discuss your options with your insurance and healthcare provider to fully understand their policies.

  • How can I use birth control to get pregnant?

    Oral contraceptions can be used prior to in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Oral contraceptives must be taken for a month straight to prevent the ovaries from producing an egg, a process known as anovulation.

  • How long does it take for birth control to be effective?

    It can take up to seven days for the pill to be effective in preventing pregnancy. You should use other contraception, such as condoms, during this time. If the pill is being taken for other reasons, such as a form of acne treatment, it can take three to four months before an improvement is seen.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Michigan Health. Birth Control: Pros and Cons of Hormonal Methods. Updated October 8, 2020.

  2. University of Michigan Health. Hormonal birth control: risk of blood clots. Updated October 8, 2020.

  3. MedlinePlus. Estrogen and progestin (oral contraceptives). Updated September 15, 2015.

  4. Kennedy CE, Yeh PT, Gonsalves L, et al. Should oral contraceptive pills be available without a prescription? A systematic review of over-the-counter and pharmacy access availabilityBMJ Global Health. 2019;4(3):e001402. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2019-001402