This article was updated on October 14, 2014.
National chain stores and pharmacies such as Target and Walmart often carry a diverse selection of over-the-counter birth control methods. As long as you’ve got a will, plus the following things, there’s a way:
A way to get there. We're talking physically going to the store, so, you'll need to figure that out. BTW, if you have Internet access but don’t have easy access to a store (or just don't feel like going out), there are tons of ways to buy affordable over-the-counter birth control online.
Some money. Like anything else you buy at the store, you'll have to pay the going rate for birth control. If you'd prefer to explore no-cost options, condoms might be a good starting point since you can often find them for free. Check out (Condom Finder, a Web app that helps you locate nearby freebie options). BTW, if you have health insurance, there's a good chance that prescription methods are covered for you with no out-of-pocket costs. And if you don't have insurance, there might still be more options than you think for finding free birth control.
Got a way there and a way to pay? Here's where to go.
We took a look at the selections of the following major chain grocery and pharmacy stores, averaging their in-store prices across the country to find the best deals within reach. We looked at:
A few things to keep in mind:
Target, Walmart, and Walgreens offer the ability to check online to see what birth control options are available and whether a product is in stock at your local store. They also offer online checkout with an in-store pickup.
Generally, in-store prices for over-the-counter birth control don’t vary too much from location to location within a chain—particularly in the cases of Walmart and Target. You may find differences due to state taxes and regional supply and demand.
Online costs generally tend to be lower than in-store costs. Target, Walgreens, and CVS all featured more affordable online prices, while Walmart charged more or less the same price both online and in-store.
Some products are sold in-store only and some are sold online only. If you’re looking for something specific and don’t see it on the shelf, check the store’s website to find out whether they keep the product in stock at all. Remember that store selections will differ from location to location, so don’t give up hope if you can’t find what you’re looking for right away.
If you're at the store and don't see the method you're looking for, it never hurts to try something new. See if something piques your interest and give it a shot.
The methods listed here aren't as effective as some of the methods you'd get from a health care provider, so if effectiveness is important to you, you may want to talk to a provider about the most effective options. If you prefer to stick with over-the-counter options, it might be a good idea to use a combination of these methods, so that for example you use spermicide or the sponge with a condom and keep some emergency contraception on hand for backup.
Condoms are everywhere—just ask Condom Finder. You can get them for free at all sorts of places including clinics and health centers. You can almost always find condoms at gas stations or convenience stores, too.
Since condoms protect against pregnancy and STIs, they’re great to pair with other over-the-counter methods. Condoms can also add extra pleasure depending on what kind you use, so if cost isn't your only consideration, you may want to try out different styles and brands to see which you like best.
Price range: Approximately $0.20 - $6 per condom, depending on condom jazziness.
Cheapest vendors: Target and Walgreens
Unfortunately, out of the vendors we surveyed, only one kept internal condoms in stock: Walgreens. Walgreens sells internal condoms only at select (and rare) in-store locations and mainly relies on selling them from their online store.
Price range: Approximately $4 per condom.
Cheapest (and only) vendor: Walgreens
Like great sex, spermicide comes in many forms: gel, jelly, suppositories (a.k.a. inserts), films, and foams. For whatever reason, vendors tend to carry only one form of spermicidal product rather than selling the whole range of products in physical store locations. (Bright side: You’re less likely to face a huge overwhelming shelf of spermicide when trying to make a quick purchase decision.)
Of the vendors we surveyed, CVS had the best in-store selection, as it’s the only one to carry all types of spermicidal products in-store. Regionally, CVS stores in the West, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast were most likely to have the full selection.
Film, foam, gel and jelly: Approximately $1 - $3 per use.
Inserts: Approximately $0.60 - $1 per use.
Film: Target and Walmart
Foam and gel: Walmart
Inserts: CVS and Walmart
Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS carry the contraceptive sponge, or the “Today” sponge, in stores. Walmart carries the sponge in stock the most consistently across its U.S. stores, while Walgreens and CVS vary by region in both selection and price.
Price range: The sponge comes in a three-pack; each sponge will cost you anywhere from around $4 - $10.
Cheapest vendor: Walmart
You should know: The sponge can be used any number of times for up to 24 hours. Assuming you’re an average human being, and can have sex anywhere from one to three (maybe four… Okay, five?) times in a day, it can be pretty cost-effective.
Emergency contraception (EC)
Last, but not least, all of the vendors we surveyed carry and stock at least one type of EC.
Walmart and Target carry Plan B One-Step; CVS and Walgreens carry it as well, along with a cheaper generic brand called Take Action. Many stores keep EC as a staple of their birth control selection, so the majority of the time you’ll find it offered at store locations. Hallelujah.
Our informal survey revealed only a couple of inconsistencies: Target stores in the Southeast were less likely to carry EC, as were Walmart stores in the Midwest.
Plan B One-Step: Vendors sell Plan B One-Step within the price range of $48 - $52.
Take Action: Vendors sell Take Action for a solid price of $39.99 plus tax.
Plan B One-Step: Walmart and Target
Take Action: CVS and Walgreens