Pills, patch and ring: What types of birth control are prescribed online?

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 4 min read

Birth control. It’s something that millions of women in the U.S. must consider and make decisions about. Since the first birth control pill hit the market in 1960, there have been numerous iterations and advancements. Today, when it comes to hormonal birth control, you have a lot more options. But, until very recently, you didn’t have a lot of options when it came to how you could actually get prescription birth control.

If you use birth control, you probably equate an annual in-person pelvic exam as being your golden ticket to getting a new or refill birth control prescription. But the truth is that you can get a birth control prescription without going into a clinic. That’s right – in most cases, you only need an in-person exam when you’re due for a pap smear which, according to the American College of Obstetricians, is recommended every three to five years for most women. What does this mean for you? It means you have options – including getting birth control pills, the patch or ring online (commence happy dance).

Hormonal birth control: The pros and cons

If you’re currently on or considering taking hormonal birth control, it’s important to be informed. Let’s take a look at some benefits and possible side effects of using birth control.

Pros of hormonal birth control

  • When used correctly, the pill, patch and ring are 91% effective at preventing pregnancy
  • Help regulate periods and periods tend to be lighter
  • Reduce PMS symptoms like cramps, bloating, headaches and mood swings
  • Manage symptoms of endometriosis
  • Calm hormonal acne

Cons of taking hormonal birth control

  • Side effects like headaches, spotting, nausea and bloating can happen, but generally subside within two to three months of starting on birth control
  • Only works to prevent pregnancy when used properly
  • Doesn't protect against sexually transmitting diseases or infections
  • May increase blood pressure and risk of blood clots

With so many birth control options out there, trying to figure out which one is right for you can be overwhelming. Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Let’s dive in and look at what the pill, patch and ring each have to offer and why you may opt for one form of birth control over another.

Birth control pill

To effectively prevent pregnancy, the pill must be taken at the same time on a daily basis. This strict schedule can be challenging for women who don’t like taking medication every day or who have trouble remembering to do so. If you fall into this latter category, consider using a daily alarm to help you remember when it’s time to take your pill.

Additionally, like all forms of hormonal birth control, some women may experience unpleasant side effects. The good news is that there are a lot of different types and brands of birth control pills – including combination pills that contain both estrogen and progestin and so-called mini pills that only contain progestin. So if you don’t feel well on one type or brand of pill, you can switch to one that may have less side effects.

Birth control ring

For women seeking a hormonal birth control alternative to the pill, the birth control ring may be a good option. There are currently two brands of the ring, NuvaRing which was approved by the FDA in 2013 and Annovera, which gained FDA approval in 2018. Both options only need to be removed and reinserted on a monthly basis – making the ring an attractive contraceptive option for women who don’t want or have trouble remembering to take the pill every day.

Regardless of which brand you choose, both work the same way. A small, flexible plastic ring is inserted into the vagina where it releases the hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent ovulation and also thicken cervical mucus to trap sperm. The two brands differ in that you insert a new ring each month with NuvaRing whereas you can store and reuse the same Annovera ring for up to 12 months.

Possible drawbacks of the ring include initial side effects and discomfort as your body adjusts to the hormones and actual device. Additionally, some women may have trouble remembering when they need to reinsert a ring. The ring also tends to be more expensive than the pill.

Birth control patch

If you’re seeking an alternative to oral birth control that can be worn externally, the patch may be right for you. Similar to an adhesive bandage you’d apply if you got a cut or scrape, the patch is applied weekly and can be worn on the upper arm, stomach, back or buttocks. There are two brands of the patch sold in the U.S. – Xulane, which was approved by the FDA in 2014 and Twirla, which was approved in 2020. Both patches work by releasing low-dose amounts of estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy – but they each contain different combinations of these hormones.

While the patch is easy to use, you must remember to change your patch weekly. It’s also important to check your patch daily to ensure it’s sticking well. If a patch starts to peel or come off, it may not be effective at preventing pregnancy and you should apply a new patch. Additionally, the patch isn’t a good option for women with a higher body mass index and for those who are over the age of 35 and smoke. The patch is also more expensive than the pill and ring.

Birth control your way

Today, it’s easier than ever to get birth control that fits your specific needs and life. No trips to the clinic, paper gowns or office exams needed.