Dear Alice,

My boyfriend and I have a really close relationship. I do not have insurance yet, and I absolutely need contraception. Where can I go or who can I call for free contraception? Please help!!!

—No Money for Birth Control

Dear No Money for Birth Control,

Some of the best things in life may be free, but even the freebies can require money or supplies to enjoy safely, sex included. You can be sure, though, that the money you part with to prevent pregnancy (not to mention sexually transmitted infections) will be less than what it would cost to raise a child, carry a pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption, or even have an abortion. That being said, there are certain resources available to help allay the cost of contraception; read on for some ideas.

To get contraceptives for free, you may need to qualify for and enroll in state or federal programs that assist low-income women in accessing reproductive health care and supplies. To find out if you qualify for assistance, you could visit your local Planned Parenthood or similar family planning health center. These health centers often have staff who are able to help you enroll in appropriate programs. In addition, some Planned Parenthood affiliates and similar health centers are able to offer birth control on a sliding-fee scale, meaning the price you pay is based on your income.

The US Department of Health and Human Services provides health clinics that can help you get birth control at a reduced price but probably not for free. Their online database can help to find a clinic in your area. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also provides free emergency contraception (EC) for city residents through the city's STD clinics, call 311 to find a center near you (keep in mind, EC is not to be used as a continuous contraceptive, it's really just for emergencies).

You might also consider using methods of contraception that do not require insurance or a prescription. Latex condoms are a popular choice of non-prescription birth control because they are relatively cheap, widely available, and in addition to preventing pregnancy, they also guard against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can buy condoms at any drugstore, and if you're a Columbia student you can get them free from Health Services. Always looking out for you, New York City also provides free condoms throughout the city, look for them at bars, restaurants, health centers, community organizations, and more. Finally, is your boyfriend able to help pay? With your resources combined, you may find an affordable option more easily.

There are many, many options for birth control available to you, including oral contraceptives, the patch, male and female condoms, diaphragms, the sponge, and surgical procedures. You might want to make an appointment with a health care provider to discuss which methods would be best for you and your budget. Columbia students can make an appointment through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284.

For further enlightenment on the issue, you can check out the related Q&A to find information on the various methods of birth control and how you can get these for yourself. Good luck in your search, and may you succeed in enjoying sex safely and affordably. Alice!

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