Some need a prescription from your doctor, while some require an insertion procedure to be done in a doctor’s office.
This article will cover birth control and how it works, the different types of birth control, how much they cost, and if they are available for free.
The article will also cover how to get birth control and when you need to see a doctor.
What is Birth Control?
Birth control is any method you use to prevent yourself from getting pregnant.
Some birth control methods are more effective than others.
Some require you to use them every time you have sex, or every day, while some require a procedure performed by a doctor.
How it works
There are different birth control methods, and each works differently.
- Stopping ovulation (the monthly release of egg from the ovary)
- Thickening your cervical mucus (so sperm cells can’t get through)
- Thinning your endometrium (thereby making implantation difficult)
There are also barrier methods of birth control. These methods block the sperm from entering the uterus (e.g., condom).
Some people track their fertility by monitoring their menstrual cycle, daily temperature, cervical mucous, and other markers to figure out when it’s safe to have sex (when you are not fertile) and when you should avoid it if you don’t want to get pregnant.
This method is not as effective as other birth control methods.
Some birth control methods will significantly reduce your risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), while others will not.
Longer-term options for birth control include IUDs (intrauterine devices) or a permanent procedure (tubal ligation).
Types of Birth Control
Let’s go over all the different birth control methods out there, how they work, and how you can get them.
Note that only barrier methods (condoms) prevent sexually transmitted infections, so if STIs are a concern, you should always use a barrier method in addition to your other method of birth control.
Birth control pills are a hormonal type of birth control.
You take one daily, and they change your estrogen and progesterone levels to prevent pregnancy.
This type of birth control requires a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.
There is also an emergency contraception pill you can get in case you have unprotected sex or if your birth control fails (for example, the condom broke).
You need to take this pill as soon as possible (within 72 hours).
You can get one of these pills OTC and do not need a prescription.
Because of the very high dose of hormones this pill gives you, this is not a method you should use regularly.
The emergency contraception pill (“Plan B” or “Morning-after pill”) will not cause an abortion if you are already pregnant and is not an abortion pill.
The Depo-Provera shot is a progestin hormone injection that your health care provider will give you.
You’ll need to get a dose every three months at your doctor’s office.
This is a two-inch flexible ring that you insert into your vagina. It slowly releases estrogen and progestin.
You replace it once per month.
You need a prescription from a healthcare provider to get the ring.
The patch is a thin square adhesive patch that contains estrogen and progestin.
You place a new patch on yourself each week for three weeks, then break for one week while you have your period.
You need a prescription from your provider for the patch.
There are two types of IUDs, namely copper IUD and hormonal IUD.
The copper IUD is a small T-shaped device that gets put into your uterus.
It works by blocking a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It must be implanted by a healthcare professional and can stay in your uterus for up to 10 years.
The hormonal IUD is also a T-shaped device that a doctor gets implanted into your uterus.
It contains progestin which is slowly released, preventing pregnancy from occurring.
It can last from 3-5 years and then will need to be replaced.
The implant is a small plastic rod that contains progestin.
It’s about the size of a matchstick, and it gets implanted by your doctor into your upper arm.
The implant lasts for about three years.
An external condom is a thin covering that is placed over an erect penis right before having sex.
It blocks sperm from entering the uterus. It is a one-time use, and these are available for purchase OTC.
Condoms help to reduce the risk of STI transmission as well.
An internal condom is a thin lubricated pouch with a ring on each end that you insert into your vagina before sex. They block sperm from entering the uterus. A new condom must be used each time you have sex.
These are available for purchase OTC. These can help prevent the transmission of STIs.
A diaphragm is a thin dome-shaped cup that you insert into your vagina to cover your cervix.
To work properly it needs to be used with spermicide. It can be cleaned and reused for a few years.
You must be fitted with the correct size by your healthcare provider.
Diaphragms do not protect against STIs and are less effective than condoms.
Birth control sponge
A sponge is a round disk-shaped piece of foam that contains spermicide.
Before sex, you insert it into your vagina to cover your cervix. It is one-time use.
Note that you should not use this if you are allergic to sulfites, sulfa drugs, or spermicide. These are available OTC. These do not prevent the transmission of STIs and are less effective than condoms.
A cervical cap is a soft, thimble-shaped cup made that you fill with spermicide then insert into your vagina to cover your cervix before sex.
Your provider will need to determine the right size for you.
It can be washed and reused. Like diaphragms and sponges, these do not prevent STIs and are not as effective as a barrier method like condoms.
Spermicide and gel
Spermicide gel, cream, or foam is used to kill sperm. It works best when used with a barrier method.
These are available OTC.
Fertility awareness method
This method is based on tracking your menstrual cycle.
For it to work, you must have regular periods. Tracking your cycle helps you determine which days you are fertile and should avoid sex and which days are safe to have sex.
This method requires planning, monitoring, and record-keeping.
Withdrawal is when a person pulls their penis out of the vagina before ejaculation and then ejaculates away from the vulva. This is not considered an effective method of birth control.
Since some sperm may be present before ejaculation, the withdrawal method may not effectively prevent pregnancy.
In some cases, this can be a short-term method of birth control if you have a baby less than six months old and you exclusively breastfeed (meaning your baby only breastfeeds and takes no formula or other food).
Also, if your period has not returned yet after giving birth, this method may work; however it is not 100% effective. If you are truly concerned about getting pregnant again, speak with your healthcare provider about contraception options.
Abstinence is avoiding vaginal sex. Without vaginal sex, a person cannot get pregnant.
How Much Does Birth Control Cost?
Birth control can cost anywhere from $0-$55 a month. It depends on what method of birth control you choose.
Over-the-counter options like condoms are usually about a dollar each but will range in price between brands.
Some schools and health clinics provide free condoms.
Birth control pills can be free with most insurance plans.
An IUD birth can range in price from $0-$1,300.
The price varies between which device you choose, the medical exams, getting implanted, and follow-up visits.
How can I get birth control for free?
There are multiple ways to access birth control for free or low-cost.
Health Insurance: Most health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control. Each plan is different, so call and talk to your plan representative to find out.
The company you work for: If you get your insurance through your work and it doesn’t cover birth control, talk to your HR department and find out if you can get it straight from the insurance company they use.
Your city or county health department: Sometimes, they offer low-cost birth control based on your income. They may ask for proof of income. Sometimes they offer free condoms and other types of birth control for teens.
Family planning clinics: Your local clinic may offer free or low-cost birth control.
Payment assistance programs: If you are eligible, you may qualify for free birth control through a company that makes birth control products. Look up the birth control company of your choice to see if they have a program and how you can apply.
College health center: If you are a college student, the health center on your campus may have free condoms available. You can ask them if they have other birth control options for free or reduced-price as well.
How to Get Birth Control
There are a few different ways you can purchase birth control.
To get birth control that requires a prescription, you’ll need to see a licensed healthcare provider.
When you get the prescription, you can get it filled at your local drug store.
The following birth control methods require a prescription:
- Oral contraceptives (the pill)
- Vaginal ring
- Cervical cap
- Implanted rod
There are a variety of birth control options available online.
Any of the methods that are available OTC would also be available for purchase online.
If you want a prescription option, telehealth healthcare providers can prescribe birth control for you.
A telehealth provider is a doctor or an advanced practice professional like a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
Depending on the service, you can do a secure video chat, email, online, or text visit. After the visit, the provider can order your birth control to be delivered to you or provide you with a prescription.
Over-the-counter (OTC) means you can buy it at any drug store or supermarket.
These are the types of birth control you can get over the counter:
- Internal Condoms
- Emergency contraception pills
When to See a Doctor
Before choosing your birth control method, it’s a great idea to see your doctor or healthcare provider and determine the best method for you.
If you go with a hormonal method, your provider will need to have a follow-up visit so you can discuss how it’s working for you and if you have any uncomfortable side effects.
If you experience side effects that are too uncomfortable at any time, schedule an appointment with your prescriber to discuss it.
Also, be sure to ask your provider about anything you don’t understand about your birth control to be sure you are using it correctly.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Anatomy of Female Pelvic Area. (2022).
Birth Control. (2021).
Birth Control. (2022).
Birth Control Methods. (2019).
Birth Control Pills – Combination. (2020).
Choose the Right Birth Control (2021).
Progestin-Only (norethindrone) Oral Contraceptives. (2021).