Birth Control Is Now Available Online, But Is It Safe?
A closer look into the convenience and hype.
Published Feb 21, 2019 7:00 AM
Birth control has been a legal right in the US for over 50 years. This readily available access has been contested in the Supreme Court, protested and celebrated in marches across the world, and has justly become a fundamental right for everyone. Today, it may seem rather routine or accustomed, but birth control is an extraordinary invention and catalyst for women’s rights.
Five years after the landmark Griswold v. Connecticut (the 1965 ruling that made birth control a legal right), Planned Parenthood points out that college enrollment for women was up 20 percent, making the number of women who completed four or more years of college six times what it was before birth control became legal.
Yet, even with these great strides, it can still be difficult to access birth control, either from a cost, availability, or stigma standpoint. In the US, approximately 19 million women, ages 15 to 44, lack access to convenient contraceptives.
There is one convenient solution that’s hoping to solve these problems though. Birth control ordered online and shipped to you directly is readily available now, and there are a lot of companies vying for your attention.
Should you order birth control online?
It may sound a bit sketchy, but online birth control via telemedicine is real and perfectly legal. The CDC guidelines for obtaining contraceptives specifies that neither a physical nor pelvic examination is necessary. You need a recent blood pressure exam and a detailed medical history report, both of which online companies require. “Not only is telemedicine more convenient for patients, but it also allows people to feel more comfortable expressing concerns about their wellness in their own home,” says Hilary Coles, Hers brand lead. “We’ve found that this asynchronous method of telemedicine encourages patients to share much more detail around their concerns and medical history, compared to an in-person doctor visit where they might be too nervous to bring up certain topics.”
How does online birth control work?
There are handfuls of companies offering online birth control access, but each process works pretty much in the same way. You’ll fill out an online health questionnaire and health history form, a medical professional will review your paperwork and write a prescription based on your responses, and a prescription will be filled and shipped directly to you. The process can take anywhere from two to 10 days, and you’ll have automatic refills shipped each month.
While it might seem like it takes the physician out of the equation, companies are quick to clarify that conclusion. “It does not serve as an alternative to getting a regular checkup, rather a supplement,” says Janell Sanford, the pharmacist in charge at The Pill Club. “We seek to provide access to birth control for those in-between times, when you need medication but don’t necessarily have the time or money to visit a doctor, which can take weeks to schedule, on top of stopping by the pharmacy.”
You still very much need regular physical exams, and this is not aiming to replace your physician, says Dr. Stephanie McClellan, chief medical officer at New York–based Tia Clinic. “When taking birth control—or any medication, for that matter—there should be collaboration with a skilled healthcare provider who considers you fully as a person in the context of your lifestyle, medical and family history, and specific risks factors, which would make the use of birth control pills unwise and potentially dangerous.”
Is online birth control right for you?
“Having access to birth control is a right that women should have that should be unencumbered,” says Alisa Vitti, a functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert and the author of the best-selling WomanCode and founder of FLO Living. “For people who have no issue with the pill and just want a direct-to-consumer choice, this is absolutely serving that demand—and that’s a really positive, empowering thing,” says Vitti.
But it is not for everyone. Vitti cautions that women who struggle with their hormones or have period-related problems should potentially stay clear of these online options. “You want someone—a hormone specialist, practitioner, or gynecologist—to help you navigate your more complex issues,” she says. The surge of synthetic hormones can be a volatile problem for those struggling with hormone issues already.
“Birth control should be accessible to women, and that should not be messed with,” says Vitti. “But equally critical is if you have a hormonal imbalance, the solution is not birth control,” she says. “They are not mutually exclusive and they both can exist concurrently, so it’s just figuring out where you fit bio-individuality in that conversation.” McClellan reminds us that, “Birth control pills are neither side effect– nor consequence-free,” and to keep your doctor abreast with your medication changes.
Which one is right for you?
Between the shortage of OB-GYNs in the US, and the aforementioned lack of convenient birth control access, these online female wellness companies are here to empower women’s options. There are a lot of companies emerging in this telemedicine field, so which is right for you? Here are three companies that are available for your various needs.
If Glossier and Thinx had a sexually woke baby, it would be Hers. The brand is focused not just on pretty-packaged birth control, offering the generic form of 10 common brands, but it also offers the controversial “female Viagra,” Addyi. Hers also has skincare and haircare offerings specific for female needs, like hair loss– and hormone-addressing facial treatments. Their doctors are available for regular checkups, refill inquiries, and questions on demand. Hers does not accept insurance and is targeting women who lack options and have no medical insurance. The price for birth control is $30 a month, and the brand is proud of its 100 percent transparent pricing, with no hidden monthly costs or shipping fees.
If you’re a fan of monthly box subscriptions and want your birth control to follow suit, The Pill Club is for you. The care packages offer your choice of generic birth control, from over 120 brands, as well as the NuvaRing and the Xulane patch. Along with your birth control, you receive a variety of monthly treats, like chocolate, skincare samples, and organic tampons.
The Pill Club offers virtual appointments with physicians and it’s currently the only online birth control company to own its own pharmacy, making it less reliant on pharmacy partners and elevated prices. For example, it can offer the vast majority of patients with insurance a zero copay, and for those paying out of pocket, services start as low as $15 for 3 packs of birth control.
If accessible birth control isn’t your only sexual wellness need, Nurx is a great option for you. It offers all forms of basic GYN services and sexual wellness support, including morning-after pills, at-home HPV screenings, and the HIV-preventative medication PrEP. It offers over 50 types of birth control, as well as the patch and ring.
Nurx covers most insurances, and for those paying out of pocket, you can purchase your birth control starting at $15 per pack. Beyond birth control, its HPV Screening Kit is a unique offering. Previously, an in-office pap smear would be necessary to screen for high-risk HPV strains, which can lead to an increased risk of cervical cancer in extreme cases. Making this quick exam safe and accessible for at-home use makes this potentially dangerous infection easier to track and look out for.
What else should you know?
“How absolutely marvelous it is that we live in this historical moment when there are so many options and you have the freedom to choose,” says Vitti. But like they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Previously, the burden was to fight for the right to birth control. “We’re kind of winning that fight, we’re taking matters into our own hands, we’re founding companies and creating solutions and products, and that’s just so fantastic,” she says. But now the burden is to get educated and become a discerning consumer. “That is the new role we have to play. It’s not to fight for the right to party but to figure out which party we want to go to.”
Keep reading about brands doing empowering things: Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby The Latest Decor Trend Is All About Body Positivity Finally, Makeup That Comes In Every Skin Tone