Over The Counter

Most of the over the counter contraceptives are barrier methods of protection in the form of condoms (male/external and female/internal). They are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at drug stores, grocery stores, some retail stores (such as Target), at some gas stations, and online. When used correctly, condoms offer protection against pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Many people choose to pair condoms with hormonal birth control for an extra level of protection against pregnancy.

Recently, one hormonal form of contraception became available over the counter as well. Emergency contraceptives are available at drug stores and while it is still kept behind the pharmacist’s counter, customers age 17 or older may purchase it without a prescription.

Read more about the various types of over the counter contraceptives below.

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception (EC), formerly known as “the morning after pill” is a pill that contains progestin, a hormone which helps prevent pregnancy.  EC keeps the ovaries from releasing the egg and/or keeps the sperm from fertilizing the egg to prevent pregnancy.

Effectiveness

When taken as directed, emergency contraception is about 88% effective when taken within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected vaginal sex.  The earlier it is taken, the more effective the medication.

Using EC

EC should only be taken to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.  It can be used if there was a sexual assault, the condom broke, or any other birth control method failed.  It is for emergency purposes only so you should not use this as your regular birth control method.

Side effects

Some people experience side effects after using EC. Some side effects include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

Additional information

It is important to understand that EC is not “the abortion pill;” instead, it is used to prevent pregnancy from occurring.  EC is available over the counter to anyone 17 or older, male or female, but prescriptions are available for younger individuals.

Consult a healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of each method of contraception to determine which option is best for you.

Please remember, like most birth control, EC does not protect against STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

Male Condom/External Condom

The male/external condom is a thin sheath made of latex, polyurethane, or animal skin that is used to help prevent the transmission of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and pregnancy. Male/external condoms are available in the WAVES office FREE of charge.

Effectiveness

Latex and polyurethane condoms are the most effective in preventing the transmission of STIs and pregnancy, while animal skin condoms do not prevent STI transmission.  With typical use (including human error), the male/external condom is 85-89% effective.  Typical use is when someone may not use condoms the correct way. Examples of incorrect usage includes, but is not limited to:

  • Opening the package with your teeth and putting a hole in it
  • Putting the condom on upside down
  • Not pinching the reservoir tip
  • Using an expired condom

When used as directed, every time, it is 94% effective.

How it works

The male/external condom acts as a barrier to help prevent the fluids that contain STIs from touching sexual partners and prevents pregnancy by keeping the sperm from entering the vagina.

How to use it

Condoms must be stored in a cool, dark place. It is important not to store condoms in wallets or glove compartments because the heat may cause the condom to break. When using a male/external condom, be sure to use a new condom with each partner, and only use one condom at a time. “Double-bagging” (wearing two condoms simultaneously) does not offer added protection. Instead, it causes the condoms to break more easily.

Before opening the wrapper,

  1. Check the expiration date and make sure there is air in the package
  2. Carefully tear open the package without using your teeth
  3. Pinch the tip of the condom with one hand and roll it down an erect penis or sex toy
  4. Use water-based lubrication to make the sexual encounter more enjoyable (proper lubrication also prevents the condom from breaking)
  5. After sex, hold the condom while pulling out
  6. Once finished, remove the condom without splashing fluids and dispose of it in the trash

Using water-based lubrication (such as KY Jelly, ID Glide, Astroglide) may provide more pleasure, while protecting the condom from breakage. Do not use oil-based lubrication (such as Vaseline) because it may cause the condom to break.

The male/external condom can also be used for oral sex with a penis.  Flavored condoms are available to aid in pleasure.

Side effects

Some people experience irritation and/or allergic reactions, especially with latex condoms.

Female Condom/Internal Condom

A female/internal condom is a thin, nitrile sheath that is used to prevent the transmission of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and pregnancy. Female/internal condoms are available in the WAVES office FREE of charge.

Effectiveness

With general use (which includes human error) the female/internal condom is 80% effective.  When used as directed, every time, it is 95% effective.

How it works

The female condom acts as a barrier to help prevent the fluids that contain STIs from touching sexual partners and prevents pregnancy by keeping the sperm from entering the vagina.  The FC cannot be used at the same time as a male/external condom. Using both at the same time will increase slippage and breakage for both.

How to use it

  1. Use a new female/internal condom (FC) each time you have sex.
  2. Check the expiration date before you use it.
  3. Hold the sheath at the closed end and pinch the inner ring so that it becomes long and narrow.
  4. Gently insert the inner ring end as far into the vagina as possible, using your index finder to push the inner ring up until your finger reaches the cervix.  (It will not go in “too deep” or get lost inside your vagina.)
  5. When in place, it will cover the opening of the cervix and line the vaginal walls.  The outer ring stays outside the vagina and provides extra clitoral stimulation.
  6. Before having intercourse, be sure that it hangs straight and is not twisted.
  7. Add water-based or silicone-based lubrication on penis and/or to the inside of the FC to increase comfort and pleasure and to decrease noise.
  8. After intercourse, twist the outer ring, gently remove the FC and discard in trash, careful not to splash any fluids.

Important to remember

Although it is not FDA approved, some people report using the FC for protection during anal penetration. When doing so, slip out the movable ring and place the FC over the finger, toy or penis.

Side effects

Some people experience irritation and/or allergic reactions to the condom or lubrication.

Fun fact

The female/internal condom may be inserted up to 8 hours before you have sex.

Dental Dam

A dental dam is a small, thin piece of latex that is used to prevent the transmission of STIs when having oral-anal sex or oral-vaginal sex.  The dental dam provides protection against STIs transmitted by fluids as well as those transmitted by contact, such as herpes.  Dental dams come in many exciting flavors to enhance pleasure and are available in the WAVES office FREE of charge.

Effectiveness

While a specific percentage is not available, the dental dam is a barrier method and reduces the chance of transmitting STIs via oral-anal or oral-vaginal sex.

How to use the dental dam

A dental dam acts as a barrier to help prevent the fluids that contain STIs from touching sexual partners during oral sex.  Here’s how to use it:

  1. Before opening the package, check the expiration date and make sure it has not expired.
  2. Carefully open the package and inspect it for any holes.
  3. Place the dental dam over the vagina or anus making sure it is completely covered.
  4. Place your mouth on the other side of the dam.
  5. Either partner may hold the dental dam in place. Use whatever method feels the most comfortable for you and your partner.

You may choose to add lubrication to the dental dam for added pleasure. Dental dams are latex, so make sure to only use water-based lubrication (such as KY Jelly, ID Glide, Astroglide). Oil-based lubrication (such as Vaseline) causes latex to break more easily.

Important to remember

Be sure to store dental dams in a cool, dry place. It is important to use a new dental dam with each partner, and only use one side of the dam.  Don’t flip it over because you will be exposed to fluid.  Also, only use the dam on one body part.  Don’t use it on the anus first and then the vagina (or vice versa) because doing so may transmit STIs or other germs.

Side effects

Dental dams are made of latex. Any person with a latex allergy may choose to refrain from using a dental dam. To combat this, a non-latex condom may be cut in half, or non-microwavable saran wrap may also be used as a dental dam.

Additional Resources

Student Health Services

Go Ask Alice! Health Q&A Internet Service

Planned Parenthood

Sex, Etc.

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