Over-the-counter birth control is sometimes preferred over other methods because these products are generally free from hormones, easy to obtain, and use, and are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Condoms made for either male or female applications, spermicides or the sponge are among the most frequent types of over-the-counter birth control methods utilized to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Condoms are usually the most popular, because they can also prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).
Male condoms have been around for centuries. They are one of the most commonly used over-the-counter birth control options. Many couples appreciate their affordability and simple application and removal process. As an added benefit, condoms are small, discreet, and easy to carry in a purse or wallet. Some people, however, find that they reduce sensitivity and thereby decrease sexual pleasure.
Condoms are usually made of durable latex. The protective sheath is placed over a man’s erect penis just before intercourse. When used properly, they are generally the most effective over-the-counter birth control method. They are also recommended for protection against STDs.
Women who prefer to take control over their own birth control and protection may choose female condoms for peace of mind. Generally, polyurethane is the material used to create them, as opposed to latex in the male variety. They are a convenient option for some, but others find that they are not a user-friendly option.
Female condoms are used by inserting the specialized material into the vagina just before intercourse. Depending on the brand, a ring or sponge holds it in place near the cervix, while the open end of the condom remains outside the vagina, and it is held in place by a second ring. It is not a good idea to use both male and female condoms concurrently, however, because the friction may cause one or both of them to break.
Other barrier methods, such as the contraceptive sponge, offer an alternative for women who prefer not to use condoms at all. It is usually made of polyurethane foam and shaped like a small, round disc — it is also placed inside the vagina and positioned near the cervix. It is purported to replicate the tissues of the vaginal wall to feel more natural than the sensations experienced while using latex condoms. Like most other methods of over-the-counter birth control, each sponge is meant to be used only once. It can be easily removed by pulling on a small loop that is attached to the device.
For the most part, over-the-counter birth control methods are safe and effective, but they do not offer 100% protection against pregnancy when used on their own. For this reason, spermicide is commonly incorporated as an extra safeguard. Many times, the inside of condoms, as well as the sponge, is already coated with such a solution, but not always.
Spermicides are a liquid solution that damages sperm after ejaculation occurs. When that happens, the damaged sperm is not able to penetrate an egg, even if it does get past other barriers, such as the sponge or a condom. It can be purchased as a lubricant and used alone, or in conjunction with other types of birth control, which is generally recommended for maximum pregnancy prevention.