You’ve got lots of birth control options, and they’re excellent at preventing pregnancies when you use them the right way. Here’s how to get them, and what to do if costs get in the way.
Do I Need a Prescription for Birth Control?
It depends on the type of birth control you want to get.
You need to get a prescription for these options:
- Birth control pills
- Emergency contraception
- Vaginal ring
- Skin patch
You need a doctor’s help to start using these types of prescription birth control:
- Diaphragm: You need to be fitted for one unless you buy a one-size-fits-all diaphragm.
- Hormonal shot: Your doctor or nurse usually gives you the shot every 3 months. You can ask them if they’ll teach you how to give it to yourself after the first time.
- IUD (hormonal or nonhormonal): The doctor does a minor procedure to insert it in your uterus.
- Implant: Your doctor also needs to do a minor procedure to insert this tiny hormonal device under the skin in your upper arm.
How Can I Get Birth Control Without a Doctor?
You can get some types of birth control over the counter without a doctor’s prescription, like these:
Some states and the District of Columbia also have laws that allow pharmacists to prescribe certain types of birth control.
How Can I Get Birth Control Online?
You can use a telehealth service website or app to buy birth control pills online. Some of these services also offer the patch or ring. You can choose from different brand-name and generic versions of contraceptives.
In general, you start by creating an account and filling out a form that asks questions about your health history and recent blood pressure. A doctor then reviews your answers. Depending on where you live, you may need to have a video consultation with them, too. This usually costs extra.
With the doctor’s OK, you can get a prescription for birth control sent to your home or your local pharmacy.
How Old Do I Have to Be to Get Birth Control?
It depends on where you live. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia allow people younger than 18 to get birth control.
Another 23 states let children and teens get birth control only for certain reasons. Depending on the state, some of the exceptions for minors are:
- They’re a certain minimum age.
- They’re married.
- They’ve already had a child or have been pregnant before.
- They meet requirements like having graduated high school.
- Their doctor says their health would be at risk without contraceptives.
Four states don’t have a clear policy on whether people younger than 18 can get birth control.
How Can I Get Birth Control for Free?
If you have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, your plan covers FDA-approved types of prescription birth control for women.
If you get your insurance through work, your plan might cover birth control, too. If it doesn’t, you can ask your human resources department if you can get it straight from the insurance company they work with.
If your income is low, you don’t have health insurance, or you have a plan that doesn’t cover birth control costs, you still have options. You can try:
Your city or county health department. You can call them to find out if they offer lower-cost birth control options based on your income. If they do, they may ask you for proof of income, like a paycheck stub, W2 form, or unemployment paperwork. Some health departments offer free condoms and other types of birth control to teens.
Family planning (or reproductive health) clinics. Call your local clinic and ask if they provide reduced-cost or free birth control. You can find a nearby clinic online with the “Find a Health Center” tool offered by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) Data Warehouse.
Payment assistance programs. Some companies that make birth control products -- including pills, shots, IUDs, and other options -- have programs that cover some or all of your costs if they decide you’re eligible. You can ask your doctor’s office to help you find out. Or you can look up the company that makes your birth control of choice online and see if they have a program.
Drugstores. Some of the big chains offer discount programs for medicines, including birth control pills. They might also offer free consultations with a pharmacist, who can help you find low-cost birth control meds. And if you go to an independent pharmacy, they might be willing to work with you on cost, too. What’s more, some states and the District of Columbia let pharmacists prescribe DIY types of hormonal birth control -- like the pill, patch, and ring -- which could save a trip to the doctor’s office.
Planned Parenthood. This nonprofit organization has been around for more than 100 years. You can call your local Planned Parenthood center to find out if they’ll lower the cost of birth control pills for you based on your income.
College health center. If you’re a college student, your campus health center might offer condoms for free or at a reduced price. You can ask if they provide other types of birth control for free or at reduced cost, or refer you to a clinic that does.
Telemedicine apps or sites. Some of these offer low-cost video appointments with a doctor or nurse who can write you a prescription for the pill and send it to your pharmacy. They might also offer the pill at prices that fit your budget.