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Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

Can Birth Control Pills Be Bought Over the Counter?

By April 8, 2009

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One of the greatest parts about being the Contraception Guide is the opportunity to dispense accurate and truthful information to my readers. Just the other day, Angela emailed me wanting to know what kind of birth control pills she can buy over the counter; specifically, Angela wanted to know which birth control birth control pills do not require a prescription from a doctor.

Speaking in terms of the United States, ALL birth control pills require a doctor's prescription, so the unfortunate news for Angela is that there are NO types of oral contraceptives that are sold over the counter. There is, though, one exception, and that is Plan B One-Step(more commonly known as the morning-after pill) as this can be bought over the counter. The clincher - you need to be at least 17 years old to purchase it. Those of you under 17 still are required to obtain a prescription in order to buy Plan B One-Step. Most pharmacies stock this behind the counter, so you will need to provide proof of age to purchase it. Plan B One-Step consists of only one pill that is designed to provide a heavy dose of hormones in hope of preventing a pregnancy AFTER one has had unprotected sex (so it doesn't work like birth control pills do and is not a substitute for them).

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Updated April 11, 2011

Birth Control Pill Photo Courtesy of Stockbyte/Getty Images

January 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm
(1) Girlpower says:

I can’t believe how people are okay with forcing women to undress in front of doctors and have someone shove metal tools into their most private of places.

Women should have the choice of over-the-counter birth control instead of being forced into an inconvenient and uncomfortable visit ot the doctors.

February 6, 2010 at 12:06 am
(2) Susanne Heidt says:

I cannot believe that at this day and age, you still cannot get the pill over the counter, BUT you can get Plan B without an RX. This makes no sense to me. If you live near the border, I suggest you get your pills in Mexico for only a few bucks a pack.

December 16, 2010 at 12:09 am
(3) Elizabeth (Aust) says:

We can get the Pill with a blood pressure check in Australia but doctors do pressure you to have pap tests, our doctors get target payments from the Government when they screen a percentage of their patients. It’s 65% at the moment…these payments are not made known to patients, of course. Did someone say conflict of interest!
The Pill is proven safe after decades of research, but in Australia’s case the Govt has invested millions in a cervical screening program probably for political reasons and succumbing to pressure from misguided but well-meaning groups. Cervical cancer is rare, the pap test intrinsically unreliable and that spells risk! Lots of false positives and unnecessary and possibly harmful biopsies and over-treatment. Lifetime risk of referral here for colposocpy (and usually some sort of biopsy) – 77%-78%, almost all are false positives – less than 0.50% benefit from pap tests. Some women are left with damage after unnecessary biopsies and LEEP – this can mean infertility, miscarriages, high risk pregnancy, premature babies, c-sections and psych issues.
As a low risk woman, I made an informed decision not to screen over 20 years ago.
Pap tests have nothing to do with birth control and should never get in the way. An unplanned pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or abortion carries far more risk to our health. The Pill even has some protective benefits – against ovarian cancer.
I believe we should make the Pill available over-the-counter. Viagra is available at the pharmacist, no prescription required and men don’t need prostate checks before they can get Viagra or condoms.
It’s time paternalistic attitudes were struck down and all women had free and easy access to reliable birth control.

January 18, 2011 at 10:45 pm
(4) Mai says:

I think that all birth control pills should be over the counter. Women have rights to decide for themselves if they want to purchase those pills or not. They should not be restricted. I believe all women should have rights like men. Why is it that men walks around not caring where they stick their penises and can/cannot get the women pregnant while women NEED PERMISSION to GET PROTECTION!!! IT IS WRONG how people view gender rights!!! WRONG WRONG WRONG!!! Its the 21st century!!! EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS!!!

January 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm
(5) The One Guy here says:

I agree with you girls… You can buy cigarettes that are proven to kill you, with no problem, but you cant get birth control over the counter. Politics are stupid!

March 2, 2011 at 3:15 am
(6) josh says:

(Why is it that men walks around not caring where they stick their penises) – Why is it that you immediately have to go there like men are pigs?

March 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm
(7) Kyia says:

I can’t believe that women have to get the permission of a doctor to protect their lives ,and their future, and then be subjected to criticism is they are under 18, this is crazy..!

March 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm
(8) shanz says:

Has anyone ever considered that some birth control pills may have adverse effects on some people? therefore, doctors need to prescribe the right type or kind of pill for the individual

March 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm
(9) Elizabeth (Aust) says:

Shanz, Doctors could do that, but your doctors have shown over and over that they use their prescriptive powers to force or coerce women into unnecessary and potentially harmful gyn exams AND they use the consult to force women into cancer screening.
All cancer screening has risks and only one person can decide whether the benefits exceed the risks – YOU!
Everyone has a different risk profile…for me, the risks exceed the benefits. IMO, the Pill fed into a paternalistic profession that saw another opportunity to take advantage.

At the moment you have some/many US women locked out of ALL medical care – you have women buying the Pill overseas or online, you have women coping with unplanned pregnancies, having abortions, miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. So, these restrictions do not improve health care, they’re harmful and unnecessary and drive women away from all medical care.

Thankfully, things are finally changing for you – some ethical doctors are trying to free up BC – Dr Robert Hatcher from the “Managing Contraception” site has had some strong words for doctors who tie up the Pill and states your medical history and a blood pressure test is all that’s clinically required. See his comments by searching his name, pelvic exam and BC. Also, the WSJ carried an article recently, “Women after BC get unneeded pelvic exams”.

Dr Carolyn Westhoff is also speaking out and confirming that the routine pelvic exam is not clinically helpful and risks your health, leading to more hysterectomies and removal of healthy ovaries. See: “Is the routine pelvic exam obsolete?” and “Questioning the value of the routine pelvic exam”.

Now it’s up to every woman to help these doctors – never let a Dr coerce you into these exams.

Dr Joel Sherman’s medical privacy forum under womens’ privacy concerns has some great information – in the side bar.

April 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm
(10) Ana says:

Actually you are not giving accurate information you can purchase plan b over the counter at 17.

May 5, 2011 at 8:41 am
(11) Raylene says:

Viagra can be purchased everywhere, but birth control, proven safe over decades is still tied up with unnecessary and harmful barriers. It’s nothing more than the profession trying to hang onto control and maximize profits AND to force elective cancer screening. Men of course, have a choice about screening, yet we’re expected to behave like sheep.
It’s paternalistic nonsense – i rejected it years ago and get my Pills online.
It is disgusting that a woman can be coerced into unnecessary and harmful invasive exams to get the Pill – blackmailing women – if you refuse you risk an unplanned pregnancy or having an abortion.
People will say women have equal rights in society – what a joke! Female doctors are a huge disappointment – they’re just as bad.

May 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm
(12) Casadina says:

When you go to the doctor and get a pill prescription do they actually do any kind of test that shows what birth control to use? NO they don’t so why can’t we buy them over the counter? Its all trial and error anyways

October 28, 2011 at 8:15 am
(13) danielle says:

Guess i’ll just keep having babies then lol they keep giving me one months supply and I have to keep makin appts just for birth control that’s stupid

January 28, 2012 at 10:35 pm
(14) audra says:

Ive never been on birth control & I just turned 30, married at 21 TTC for 6 years unsuccessfully until my husband was diagnosed w/ xxmale syndrome. Were taking time to chill and digest the news; maybe we will try our hand at donor sperm or adoption. Anyways, for the first time this year Im going to ask for birth control, I know I can’t get pregnant, but Id like to control my periods (were taking a couple of trips and I don’t want to be on the rag), Im actually baffled that you still need a script for BC in this day and age. I mean I guess BC is linked to heart attacks, etc. so that might be why you need a script, but what doesn’t have horrible side effects nowadays? Ive had a pap smear along with a transvaginal ultrasound (ladies you thought the pap smear and exam were uncomfortable. well, just hope you never have to have a trans ultrasound, you drink a liter of water and then pretty much have a huge dildo shoved up you and they take an ultrasound from the inside out; most uncomfortable to be diddled by a tech when you have to pee super bad! Honestly who comes up with this stuff? I can’t wait to have to have a mammogram where they squeeze your boobs into a machine that flattens them! Id love to see guys have to have a nutogram! why don’t they have a torture device to put a guys sack in a vise and clinch those suckers flat!? huh? And why do guys only have to have prostate exams at the age of 40 but girls have to have Pap smear & exam starting at puberty, seriously? How traumatizing is that to be 13-16 years old with your legs up and your cash & prizes bald for the world to see while someone with their face in your crotch shoves metal things and fingers and such up in there? And who on god’s green earth would go into a profession like that? To be wrist deep in twat from 9-5, wheres that get fun?

February 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm
(15) Anon says:

God forbid 16 year old girls can’t get protection… >_>

March 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm
(16) CHIK says:

actually, I’ve read reviews on PLAN B and a lot of women have said it DOESN’T work. They became pregnant and I don’t wanna take that risk :(

March 3, 2012 at 3:30 am
(17) George says:

Plan B DOES work. Some pharmacists dispense sugar pills instead of actual Plan B pills. I have a feeling the rate of placebo dispensing is higher even than controversy has so far revealed. Pharmacists have been intruding their religious believes into their jobs and interfering with the health of their female patients without any right whatsoever. It’s a travesty.

March 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm
(18) K says:

To Girlpower, It does not matter whether or not BC pills are sold over the counter or not. you still have to go to an GYN to make sure everything is ok down there! so many diseases and infections are developed today, you need a check up. Plus when you have a baby you still have to get hands and tools stuck up you anyway. so just deal with it and make sure you’re healthy.

May 10, 2012 at 2:16 am
(19) Elizabeth (Aust) says:

K, I disagree with you, sadly, many women have been brainwashed to believe this is about protecting their health – wrong!
Routine pelvic exams are of poor clinical value and carry risk, even Routine breast exam – not recommended at all, they lead to biopsies and there is no evidence of benefit.
Pap tests may be helpful for HPV positive women 30 and over – every 5 years, these are the only women who have a small chance of benefiting.
Sadly, young women don’t benefit from pap tests – no country in the world has shown a benefit, but all have evidence of harm from false positives and over-treatment. HPV testing – 40% of women under 30 would test positive, but almost all will have transient and harmless infections that will clear in a year or two. By age 30 the number of HPV positive women drops to 5%…so HPV testing is not usually recommended for women under 30. If women don’t have access to HPV primary testing, they should lobby the Govt for access asap – in the meanwhile, for those who wish to test, they might consider the Finnish or Dutch programs that offer better protection from false positives, but still offer sound protection from this small risk – 5 yearly pap testing from age 30 to 50 or 60.
The way forward is hrHPV primary triage testing – this testing will identify the 5% who might benefit from pap testing and offer much better protection for HPV negative women who can’t benefit from pap testing, biopsies etc
The Delphi Screener also enables women to test themselves for HPV and is already being used by Dutch women and it was introduced into Singapore and a couple of other countries recently.
This testing is also more likely to prevent these rare cancers.

Just because women may have children does not mean we have to get “used” to anything – invasive exams should be kept to a minimum – and only carried out when clinically necessary. Many women value their bodily privacy.

August 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm
(20) Jlenta says:

GIrlpower… who is forcing you? Is someone forcing you to have sex? Is someone forcing you to use birth control pills? and if you don’t want to see the gyno, don’t.. who’s forcing you? but I’m sure after a while, it may get pretty nasty.. it’s called life

January 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm
(21) Marisa says:

You women DO realize:

A) No one is forcing you to be sexually active.

B) There are female condoms you can get just as easily as men can for around the same price.


February 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm
(22) Meow says:

Marisa; female condoms are more expensive than male condoms and often less effective. I also believe that you need to go to the gyn to get fitted for female condoms. And some women would prefer not to have to use a condom with their partner. Married couples often prefer not to use condoms. And [hopefully] no one is being forced to be sexually active, but did it occur to you that many women WANT to be sexually active? Seriously, the whole not selling birth control OTC but selling Plan B (which has more side effects than birth control) OTC is so poorly thought out. IF birth control were sold without a prescription, more women would rely on that rather than the easy-to-access Plan B.

April 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm
(23) renee says:

I suffer from irregular periods due to a non-stop 3month period i went to an obgyn sat extreemly exposed for appx. An HOUR AND A HALF while this obgyn delivered a baby durring my scheduled appointment. While waiting i began to cry as i was extreemly uncomfortable. Now tearfull the Dr. re entered the room said im sorry you waited soo long i cried as he began his inspection of a place i have only allowed one man in my life to see my hubby. Tears streaming down my face he completed his extreemly uncomfortable task after he asked if i wished to continue i cried stating “This is the worst thing I have ever been through in my life.” After this he leaves the room again and i wait. After he came back in i had dressed as he instructed. Telling him i would just like to have my periods regular and understand that is something treatable with birth control. Then finally walking into the lobby i filled out a statement saying that I had waited while Dr. left for approx. an Hour and 30 min half dressed and crying feeling so vulnerable all i wanted was a prescription for Birth Control Pills he then gave me 3 sample packs to last me 3 months and when i called in and told him they worked he refused to give me a prescription unless i came back in to see him for an appointment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is true and i still bleed everyday what can i do??????????? I CANT AFFORD ANOTHER $275.00 VISIT TO HELL AND WOULDNT WANT TO!!!!!!!!!!!

April 21, 2013 at 5:10 pm
(24) renee says:

By the way the previous experience that i shared was my first experience with an OBGYN this in my mind does not bode well for there professionalism.

April 29, 2013 at 5:53 pm
(25) Marie says:

This is unbelievable! I’m 44 yrs old, been married for over 10 years and have a child, but finally I decided to get on “the pill” because at my age and with 2 previous miscarriages it’s dangerous to get pregnant, plus my doctor says it would help me with other small issues. So I have a prescription, but my insurance will not pay for a refill until 10 days from now, at which point I’ll be 3 days without they pill. I was hoping to buy at least an extra pack somewhere for a reasonable price but it’s impossible. WHY ON EARTH do we still need a prescription for the pill??? I could understand an age restriction but this is ridiculous. And believe me my problem is not an unwanted pregnancy (I tried for over 6 yrs to get pregnant again), my problem is the unwanted symptoms and extreme pain of irregular periods.

April 29, 2013 at 6:01 pm
(26) Marie says:

At Renee.
You need to find another OBGYN, the exams are always uncomfortable and sometimes even painful but you need to find a doctor that at least makes you feel like you can trust him/her. All of us women go through that at some point in our life, you’re not alone. Also it might help if you bring a sister, mom, friend or even your hubby for support.

September 19, 2013 at 2:10 am
(27) A says:

The OCP has many known side effects including increasing blood pressure, venous thromboembolism, pulmonary embolism (high fatality risk) and a small increase in risk of breast cancer. It is for these reasons that it is prescription only. Doctors know which pill is at high risk of complications and also which has benefits for certain conditions such as polycyctic overy syndrome. Hormones are complicated compound and therefore their use needs to be regulated. In Australia a prescription is valid for 12 months, the yearly visit should involve BP checks and investigation into any adverse effects but does not require any vaginal examination. A visit to the doctor once a year is not be inconvenient when your health is involved. The emergency contraceptive pill is available over the couter, however it is exactly that…for emergencies. Australian guidleines ensure the pharmacist ensures the product and required and safe based on the circumstances of the patient.

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