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What are the Different Types of Non-Prescription Birth Control?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 17, 2024
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Non-prescription birth control methods usually include barrier devices and natural birth control. Barrier devices are designed to prevent sperm from being able to fertilize the egg. Condoms and cervical sponges are two of the most common barrier methods. Natural methods usually involve changing sexual behavior, and may include abstinence or sexual activities that do not involve vaginal penetration.

Breastfeeding is sometimes used as a non-prescription birth control method, because in most cases, mothers who are breastfeeding their infants usually do not ovulate for the first six months following delivery. This is because while breastfeeding a hormone called prolactin is produced. Prolactin inhibits the maturation of eggs, and only mature eggs can be fertilized. For this method of birth control to be effective, both breasts must be used while feeding, and feeding needs to occur several times per day. If a menstrual period occurs while breastfeeding an infant, it usually indicates that the method is no longer effective and that eggs are reaching maturity.

Abstinence is considered the most effective method of birth control, if it is complete, which would mean not having intercourse at all. Though some single people may practice complete abstinence, most couples rely on a method of periodic abstinence that is often referred to as the rhythm method. This method involves determining what days of the month are fertile, and avoiding having intercourse on those days. Determining periods of high fertility is frequently difficult to do, and this method often results in many unplanned pregnancies. To be even remotely accurate, women should first chart their cycles for several months and use a reliable ovulation calculator.

Condoms are one of the more popular methods of non-prescription birth control, probably because they are inexpensive and easy to purchase. Condoms have the added advantage of offering some protection against sexually transmitted diseases. The main drawback associated with the use of condoms as a method of non-prescription birth control is a 15% failure rate. Most of the time, this failure rate is the result of breakage. In addition, some couples believe that their enjoyment of intercourse is diminished by the use of condoms.

Cervical sponges that are saturated with spermicide can be purchased over the counter at most pharmacies, and are one of the more popular barrier methods of birth control. The sponge is inserted into the vagina in order to serve as a cap over the cervix. The spermicide will kill many of the sperm as the sponge serves as a barrier, preventing sperm from reaching eggs. When used in conjunction with a condom, cervical sponges are about 97% effective. When used without a condom, their effectiveness drops to about 85%.

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