How to Get Affordable Birth Control Without a Prescription

Answered by Rebecca Farley | Reviewed by a licensed U.S. pharmacist | Posted November 04, 2020

Contraception is an essential medication, despite its various controversies. According to the CDC, 64.9% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 in the U.S. use contraception. That is well over half of non-menopausal adult women in the U.S.

Although a prescription is always required for birth control, there are ways to obtain a prescription from a doctor without facing the cost or potential anxiety of a face-to-face appointment. Legitimate online pharmacies always require a valid prescription. Be wary of any website or operation that markets birth control for sale without a prescription.

Birth control pills prevent pregnancy by releasing the hormones estrogen and progestin into the bloodstream. These hormones prevent female ovaries from releasing an egg that would usually allow a woman to become pregnant. (The mini pill contains just progestin.) This process itself is quite tricky, and getting the right kind of birth control for your body can take some time. In this case, a doctor can help! Whatever your birth control method may be, it probably requires some focus, attention, and, in too many cases, financial consideration. The internet can be a cruel mistress, but she’s actually quite the sidekick for finding affordable, legitimate contraception.

Around the World: OTC vs. Prescription Birth Control

In the U.S., although you can get birth control pills without speaking face to face with a doctor, having a doctor’s consultation and guidance can be helpful.

Many countries across the world, including China, India, Kenya, Sudan, Russia, and South Korea, per the Oral Contraceptives (OCs) Over-the-Counter (OTC) Working Group, sell oral contraceptives over-the-counter, but much of Europe and the U.S. have maintained that the pill belongs in the hands of doctors. This stipulation can be prohibitive, especially if you do not have health insurance or live in a rural area without many health care providers. The U.S. has two decent solutions for that:

Nurx: The Nurx app provides online consultations with doctors for just $15. If Nurx’s doctors deem you eligible for birth control — and can find a contraceptive that matches your lifestyle — Nurx doctors will write you a prescription. Nurx offers prescriptions for the pill, the ring, the patch, and the injection. The app itself will fill the prescription and mail you a three-month supply. Nurx accepts insurance. Without insurance, the site claims the birth control will cost $15.

Lemonaid Health: Lemonaid Health charges $25 for an initial doctor consultation online (by phone if needed) and then $15 per pack for low-cost birth control, no insurance required. Unlike Nurx, Lemonaid Health only sells the pill version of birth control.

Side Note: Lemonaid also offers prescription help for antidepressants like Wellbutrin (budesonide) and erectile dysfunction meds like Viagra (sildenafil).

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Do I need parental consent to get a birth control prescription?

In most cases, no, although laws differ from state to state. Find more information here on your particular state’s laws on minors and prescriptions. Some states, like Oregon, offer birth control prescriptions to any minor regardless of age. Other states require minors to be at least fourteen to get a script without a parent or guardian’s signature. Texas, on the other hand, requires that minors be at least 16 and in charge of their own “financial affairs” to offer their own consent.

Planned Parenthood recommends calling your local PP branch if you are unsure about practices in your state.

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Choose Your Fighter: Comparing Birth Control Options

Birth control comes in many shapes and sizes, mainly because it’s been around for so long. The FDA approved the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, in 1960. In the years since, birth control brands have proliferated, taking over our television screens and interstitial YouTube ads. Birth control costs are not often prohibitively expensive, although some of the more high-tech forms of contraception, like the IUD ParaGard, can be costly.

For birth control, actually, the bigger issue is choosing your fighter: Should you pick the pill, which is daily, or should you opt for the ring, which comes out every three weeks? Better yet, should you get an intrauterine device, which can last up to twelve years? Picking the proper birth control is like picking a soul mate: None of the options are wonderful, and you would do best to try a few different ones out before you land on a favorite.

The cheapest birth control option is, as usual, the one that has been around the longest: the pill. The pill itself comes in two different formulas. Both formulas come in “packs” that have roughly a pill per day for the month. A pack may contain 21 to 24 active pills and the remaining four (or seven) will be inactive, allowing for a space in the month for your period.

The Combination Pill

Combination pills are a blend of the hormones progestin and estrogen. This power couple works in tandem to prevent pregnancy: The estrogen prevents ovulation, and the progestin affects the mucus lining of your uterus, effectively stopping the sperm from latching onto the egg. You cannot take estrogen alone because it can have harmful side effects, and the progestin mitigates this. Most importantly, estrogen can increase your risk of blood clots. Different pills come with varying levels of estrogen and progestin.

Average U.S. cost of one-month dose of the combination pill: $35

PharmacyChecker Price: $24.58 for generic Alesse

The Mini Pill

The mini pill solely consists of progestin! The mini pill is for people who cannot (or won’t) take estrogen due to risks. This includes those who are breastfeeding or those who are already at risk for blood clots. The mini pill may be slightly less effective than combination birth control. The Mayo Clinic estimates that 13% of women on the mini pill get pregnant each year.

Average U.S. cost of one-month dose of the mini pill: $35

PharmacyChecker Price: $13.51 for norethindrone

The Ring

Also called NuvaRing (one of two manufacturers), the ring is similar in cycle to the pill. Only, instead of taking a pill every day, you insert the ring inside your vagina for three weeks at a time, removing it for one week a month to allow menstruation. The ring also uses both estrogen and progestin.

Average cost of one-month’s worth of the ring: $141.08 for the generic

PharmacyChecker Price: $24.62 for the NuvaRing

The Patch

The patch lives on your skin in an inconspicuous spot — like your shoulder or your back — and administers the same hormones (estrogen/progestin) via your skin. You have to replace it once a week and, once again, you’ll refrain from wearing it one week out of the month to allow menstruation.

Average cost of one month’s worth of the patch: $138.23 for the brand name

PharmacyChecker Price: $70.18 for the Xulane patch using the PharmacyChecker Discount Card

The Injection/Shot

The shot is, like the mini pill, a regular dose of progestin. This one comes every three months via an intravenous “shot.” You may ask a doctor to do the shot for you, but you also take the shots home with you to administer yourself.

Average cost of one month’s worth of the shot: $33.92 for the generic

PharmacyChecker Price: $40.99 for Depo-Provera

The Implant

“I armor up with Nexplanon!” Remember that pesky ad? Nexplanon, aka the implant, is a matchstick-sized rod that sits just under the skin on your upper arm. (Get it? Arm-or.) The implant lives in your arm for five years. Nexplanon uses progestin only — so, it is a safe form of birth control for people who are otherwise at risk for blood clots.

Average cost of the implant: $934.82, according to Merck, the manufacturer

Cost per month: $25.96

PharmacyChecker Price: $214.95 for Nexplanon

Cost per month: $3.58

The Intrauterine Device (IUD)

The last and most drastic form of reversible birth control (i.e., not getting your tubes tied) is the intrauterine device (IUD), which goes inside your vagina at the opening of your cervix. The IUD itself has several iterations. The longest they can last is 12 years — recent research proved that the ParaGard IUD, the longest-lasting IUD, can stay for 12 years, not 10, as was previously believed. Most IUDs use hormones. The copper IUD (the ParaGard) is the only non-hormonal form of intrauterine birth control.

List prices for IUDs hover around $1,000. The ParaGard/copper IUD is the most expensive, with the Skyla settling somewhere near $700. The lowest-cost IUD is the Liletta, which is specifically manufactured for uninsured individuals. Without insurance, the Liletta can cost as little as $300.

The cost per month will vary greatly depending on the IUD. The ParaGard is the most expensive, but it also lasts the longest. With this view, $1,300 for an IUD doesn’t seem so bad. (That’s $9 per month for twelve years. Better than my Spotify subscription!)

The more upsetting cost of an IUD can be the implantation itself. You cannot administer an IUD yourself. You have to get a provider to do this, and this can cost upwards of $100, depending on your provider and your coverage. Many IUD manufacturers offer patient assistance programs for uninsured people who may not be able to afford the full list cost of the device.

Average cost of an intrauterine device: $1,200

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Questions to ask yourself when considering different forms of birth control:

  • How often do I want to take medication?

    • Birth control pills must be taken every day at the exact same time. This is a difficult task, especially if you have a fluctuating schedule. If you find this too complicated, you may want to opt for a less rigorous routine, like the ring or even the implant.

  • Do I want to use hormones?

    • The hormone estrogen can have harmful side effects, like blood clots. But it can also do things like mitigate acne and regulate premenstrual maladies.

    • The copper IUD, which does not use hormones, will not release any hormones into your system. (Some would call it the “all natural” option.) But it works by irritating your uterine lining, which can lead to heavier periods.

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Birth Control Pill Prices on PharmacyChecker.com

The pill is ubiquitous and generally very cheap. If even the generic is expensive, though, you can turn to coupons like PharmacyChecker’s U.S. discount card. PharmacyChecker-accredited international pharmacies also carry birth control, although not every brand. Compare prices for the birth control you’ve been prescribed at PharmacyChecker.com.

PharmacyChecker’s U.S. Prescription Discount Card can get you 28 Sprintec tablets for just $12 at your local CVS. Some brand name pills can be expensive, but these can be ordered from PharmacyChecker-accredited international pharmacies for up to 80% discounts.

Compare Birth Control Prices

Drug Strength Quantity U.S. Average Retail Price PharmacyChecker.com U.S. Discount Card Price Lowest International Pharmacy Price Greatest Percentage Savings
Beyaz (drospirenone/=ethinyl estradiol/levomefolate) 3/0.02/0.451 mg 28 tablets Around $250 N/A $33.33 86%
Natazia (estradiol valerate/dienogest) 28 tablets $268.16 N/A $28.31 90%
Lo Loestrin (norethindrone acetate/ethinyl estradiol) 1/20 mcg 28 tablets $159.94 N/A $41.66 74%
Sprintec (norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol) 0.25/0.035mg 28 tablets $18.37 $12.72 N/A 31%

Sources: Average U.S. Retail Price calculated based on pricing on GoodRx.com. U.S. Discount Card Price based on availability at pharmacies near New Orleans, LA listed on PharmacyChecker.com. Lowest Accredited International Pharmacy Price based on prices listed on PharmacyChecker.com.

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What is plan B and how much does it cost?

Plan B One-Step is a post hoc contraceptive pill that should be taken as soon as possible and at least within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It can cost as much as $50 at a drugstore. Plan B is exactly that: An alternate plan for when something inevitably goes wrong. It is not as effective as other forms of birth control in preventing pregnancy.

Although plan B first earned FDA approval in 1998, the “morning after pill,” as it’s called, got over-the-counter approval in 2006. At the time, it was restricted to women aged 18 and up. Today, anyone within “childbearing age” can get Plan B, but people under 17 have to have a prescription in order to obtain it.

State laws regarding plan B differ a little; some states have enacted laws forcing emergency rooms to have plan B on hand for survivors of sexual assault. A few states allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense plan B based on their “moral grounds.” In some cases, these laws also ensure the pharmacist who does the refusing refers the patient to a pharmacist or provider who will dispense emergency contraception. Texas, Missouri, South Dakota, Idaho, Arkansas, Arizona, and Georgia all allow providers to deny emergency contraception in the wake of conflicting beliefs — and these states do not enforce a provision to protect patients from denial altogether. For more information on state laws governing plan B, refer to the National Board of State Legislatures.

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What about the rhythm method?

The “rhythm method,” an absolutely non-hormonal, non-invasive form of birth control, relies on the body’s own fertility cycle. You are at your most fertile when you are ovulating; people who are trying to get pregnant will actively pursue intercourse during ovulation. But, if you’re looking for birth control, you can also just avoid sex during ovulation. Certain apps can help you track your fertility cycle, using data on menstruation regularity and basal body temperature.

In 2018, the FDA approved an app called Natural Cycles, allowing it to market itself as a form of birth control. This particular app requires the use of a thermometer. People using the app must take their basal body temperature every day. The app will then tell you when you should or should be using contraception. According to research, 18 in 1,000 women (1.8%) get pregnant while using the app.

 
 

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