If you’re sexually active, it’s important to use a form of contraception to prevent unexpected pregnancy.
Today, a huge variety of contraceptive options are available, from old-fashioned condoms to a range of hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptives.
Getting birth control is a simple process. However, the best way to get birth control will depend on factors such as your age, location, health insurance plan and the type of birth control you’re interested in using.
Below, we’ve explained how to get the most common forms of birth control, from condoms and non-prescription birth control products to prescription hormonal birth control options like the pill, patch, ring and more.
Not sure which form of birth control is best for you? We’ve also provided information on which forms of birth control offer the highest level of effectiveness, ease of use and convenience.
Less than 50 years ago, women’s options for protecting themselves from pregnancy were fairly limited. There was the pill (at the time, a relatively new option), the Depo-Provera® injection and barrier-based options like condoms.
Today, there are countless ways to protect yourself from becoming pregnant. Popular options for birth control include:
While some of these forms of birth control are readily available from your local pharmacy, others can require a healthcare provider’s prescription, insertion by a healthcare professional or even a surgical procedure.
Condoms are a safe, effective form of contraception when used correctly. Used perfectly every time you have sex, condoms are 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. In “real life” conditions, condoms are about 85 percent effective at stopping you from becoming pregnant.
As well as preventing pregnancy, condoms have the added advantage of protecting you against a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Compared to other forms of birth control, condoms are very easy to purchase. They’re sold at most drug stores, convenience stores and supermarkets. You can also get condoms from most reproductive healthcare providers’ offices and outlets such as Planned Parenthood health centers.
Condoms are inexpensive and usually come in boxes of three and up, giving you enough for multiple sexual encounters. There is no age limit to purchase condoms and you don’t need to see your healthcare provider for a prescription, making this the easiest form of birth control to get.
The pill is another safe, effective and convenient form of contraception. Unlike condoms, you don’t need to use the pill every time you have sex in order to stay protected. Instead, you just need to take your pill at roughly the same time every day.
Used perfectly, most birth control pills are 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. In “real life” conditions, such as the occasional missed or late dose, the birth control pill is about 91 percent effective.
There are three different types of birth control pill available in the United States, each of which works slightly differently:
All three types of birth control pill are readily available online and from most pharmacies. Since this is a form of hormonal medication, you’ll need a healthcare provider’s prescription before you can buy it.
There are two different ways to get a prescription for the pill:
During your consultation, your healthcare provider will typically ask about your general health. To check that the pill is safe for you, you may need to have your blood pressure checked. During your consultation, it’s important to let your healthcare provider know if you want to use an extended cycle pill.
After you’ve received a prescription, you can order the pill to your home address online or buy the pill from your local pharmacy. Depending on your insurance plan, the cost of the pill might be covered partly or in full by your insurance provider.
The birth control patch sticks onto your skin and releases a combination of ethinyl estradiol and a progestin hormone, making it similar to the combination pill. It looks similar to a small, square Band-Aid® and is easy to hide under your shirt sleeve or underwear.
Each patch works for seven days at a time, after which you’ll need to switch the patch for a new one. Just like with most birth control pills, the patch has a 21-day cycle length, with a patch-free week every 21 days.
On average, the patch is 99 percent effective when used perfectly and about 91 percent effective when used in “real life” conditions. Our guide to the birth control patch explains how the patch works and its unique advantages in more detail.
Like the pill, you’ll need a prescription to buy the patch. You can get a prescription for the patch from your regular healthcare provider, from a local health clinic or from Planned Parenthood.
Once you have a prescription, you can buy the patch from most pharmacies.
The birth control ring, or NuvaRing, is a small ring that’s placed inside your vagina. Like the pill and patch, the birth control ring releases a combination of a progestin and ethinyl estradiol into your body, reducing your risk of becoming pregnant.
After you’ve inserted the ring, it stays inside your vagina for three weeks at a time. After three weeks, you can remove it for a ring-free week, then replace it with another to begin your next cycle.
On average, the birth control ring is more than 99 percent effective when used perfectly and about 91 percent effective in “real life” conditions.
Like other forms of hormonal birth control, you’ll need a healthcare provider’s prescription to purchase the ring. You can get a prescription for the ring from your local healthcare provider, from a local health clinic or from Planned Parenthood. With a prescription, you can buy the ring from most pharmacies.
The birth control injection, or Depo-Provera, contains a progestin hormone that will stop you from getting pregnant for three months. You’ll need to get the injection every three months in order to stay protected.
Used perfectly, the birth control injection is more than 99 percent effective, meaning it’s equally as effective as the pill, patch or ring. Under “real life” conditions, such as with the occasional late shot, the injection is about 94 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
The birth control injection can only be administered by a trained healthcare professional. You can get the injection from your local healthcare provider (it’s best to call ahead of time to check that they offer the birth control injection), from most local health clinics and from Planned Parenthood.
You’ll need to return to the doctor’s office every 10 to 15 weeks for follow-up injections. Your healthcare provider may provide an appointment schedule to help you keep track of your injections. If not, you can add each appointment to your calendar to make sure you stay protected.
The birth control implant, or Nexplanon®, is a long-acting reversible contraceptive that can keep you protected from becoming pregnant for up to five years at a time.
The implant itself is a small, thin rod that’s inserted into your arm. Once it’s inserted, it releases a progestin hormone into your body. The implant is more than 99 percent effective at preventing you from becoming pregnant, making it one of the most effective forms of birth control available.
Because the implant needs to be placed inside your arm to work, you can’t insert it yourself. To get the birth control implant, you’ll need to visit your regular gynecologist, a trained healthcare professional, a local reproductive health clinic or Planned Parenthood.
The procedure to insert the implant is simple. Before insertion, your healthcare provider will use a local anesthetic to numb the tissue in your arm. They’ll then use an applicator to insert the implant into your arm. The entire process is quick, simple and largely painless.
The implant typically lasts for five years. If you want to remove the implant to get pregnant, or if five years have passed, you can return to the doctor’s office to have the implant removed.
The intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small device that’s inserted into your uterus. Depending on the type of IUD you have installed, you’ll be protected from pregnancy for three to 12 years after it’s fitted.
There are two different types of IUD. The hormonal IUD prevents pregnancy by releasing a mild dose of a progestin hormone into your uterus. The copper IUD doesn’t contain any hormones -- instead, it’s wrapped in copper, which repels sperm and prevents you from becoming pregnant.
The IUD is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Because you can’t remove it, the “perfect use” and “real life” effectiveness rates are both 99 percent, making it one of the most effective forms of birth control available.
Like the birth control implant, you can’t insert an IUD by yourself. To get an IUD, you’ll need to visit your gynecologist, trained healthcare provider, reproductive health clinic or Planned Parenthood. A trained healthcare professional will use an applicator to insert the IUD into your uterus in a quick, simple procedure.
If you want to become pregnant, you can return to your healthcare provider’s office to have the IUD removed at any time.
Emergency contraceptives such as the morning-after pill are designed to prevent pregnancy after your regular form of contraception fails.
You may need to use an emergency contraceptive if the condom breaks during sex with your partner, or if you forget to take your birth control pill.
There are two morning-after pills currently on the market: ella® and levonorgestrel-based pills such as Plan B One-Step®.
ella is a prescription medication, meaning you’ll need to see a healthcare professional before you can buy and use it. We offer ella® online, subject to healthcare provider’s approval following an online consultation. You can also talk to your regular healthcare provider about using ella.
You can also get a prescription for ella® from your regular healthcare provider. In certain states, you may be able to receive a prescription for ella directly from a pharmacist.
ella® is effective for up to 120 hours after you have sex, making it the pill of choice if more than three days have passed since you had unprotected sex. It’s the most effective morning-after pill, with a slightly higher pregnancy prevention rate than levonorgestrel-based pills.
Plan B One-Step® and other levonorgestrel-based morning-after pills do not require a healthcare provider’s prescription and are available from many pharmacies. People of any age and gender can buy this type of morning-after pill.
You don’t need to be immediately concerned about pregnancy to purchase the morning-after pill. To stay prepared for an emergency, you can buy ella® or the levonorgestrel pill ahead of time, then keep your morning-after pill in a safe, accessible location.
Permanent methods of birth control, such sterilization (tubal ligation), will permanently prevent you from becoming pregnant in the future.
Tubal ligation involves closing your fallopian tubes, preventing sperm from coming into contact with your eggs. This procedure is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Sterilization cannot easily be reversed. As such, this form of birth control is only a good choice if you are absolutely certain that you don’t want to have children, or if you have children and don’t want to get pregnant again.
Tubal ligation is a surgical procedure. To get this procedure, you’ll need to visit your regular healthcare provider or OBGYN. Some Planned Parenthood locations offer surgical sterilization.
For men, the equivalent procedure is a vasectomy. Like tubal ligation, a vasectomy is intended as a permanent form of contraception and cannot easily or reliably be reversed.
Lifestyle methods of birth control, such as the withdrawal method (pulling out) or abstinence are completely free and don’t require you to purchase anything. Since these methods don’t involve the use of any medications, there’s no need for you to see your healthcare provider in order to use them.
However, it’s generally not a good idea to rely on these methods of birth control. Most, such as the withdrawal method, have major disadvantages that make them an unreliable way to prevent pregnancy.
If you and your partner are sexually active, consider a safer option such as one of these mentioned above.
Getting birth control is usually a simple, stress-free process. For the pill, you can either schedule a consultation for a prescription online or visit a local healthcare provider. For other forms of hormonal birth control, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider or local reproductive health clinic about your options.
Interested in learning more about birth control? Our guides to the pill versus condoms, the IUD and pulling out compare the birth control pill to several other widely used forms of contraception for effectiveness, convenience and more.