Moving to a new city is one of the most exciting things ever: especially when that city happens to be Buenos Aires. The sunshine! The food! The onda! What you may also have noticed is that our beloved streets are home to some of the most beautiful men and women on the planet. And this is not pure speculation my dear friends!

Buenos Aires ranked number 5 in the 2015 Traveler’s Digest poll of “Where Live the Most Attractive Men in the World” and while I can’t comment on how the survey was put together, I’ll hazard a guess the writers had a lot of fun doing it.

2016 Buenos Aires also offers an increasingly open-minded sexual culture, where us ladies are able to enjoy sex outwith the confines of pro-creation. However, getting hold of contraception in an unfamiliar country can feel confusing and (let’s face it) a pain in the ass. But fear not! It’s not as complicated as it seems. Read on for all the info you need on how to get birth control in Buenos Aires and keep yourself blissfully baby-free (whoop!).

The History Bit

Within Latin America, Argentina boasts a decent standard of contraceptive health care, particularly since the government introduced the provision of free contraception in 2003. But problems still exist, with long delays, demands for ‘spousal permission’ (i.e. needing the thumbs up from your other half to get treatment) and sometimes even outright refusal of treatment (due to a doctor’s personal or religious beliefs) all affecting women’s access to care.

Abortion remains illegal in Argentina, permitted only in extreme circumstances. Despite this, a report from the Argentine Ministry of Health in 2007 estimated that approximately 500,000 illegal abortions take place in Argentina every year. Safety of the procedure varies wildly with thousands of women hospitalised annually due to related complications.

Dr. German Pablo Cardoso, a gynaecologist who has been performing abortions in Argentina for over 15 years, is a fierce campaigner for abortion legalisation. If this a topic that interests you, you can see his website or Women on Waves for more information. Abortion is legal in neighbouring Uruguay, but you need to be a Uruguayan citizen or have resided there continuously for a minimum of 1 year in order to be eligible to terminate a pregnancy.

Activists campaign for legal abortion in Argentina. Photo credit: International Women's Health Coalition.
Activists campaign for legal abortion in Argentina. Photo credit: International Women’s Health Coalition.

The Practical Bit

If getting pregnant isn’t on your radar right now, you’ll be glad to hear that contraception is free via the Argentine Public Health system, which includes public hospitals and public health centers. Click here to find your nearest one, head to their main reception (with identification/passport number) and explain you’d like to see a doctor for contraceptive care (‘anticonceptivos’). Lines can get long so get there early and take a book, friend, your non-ironic knitting habit.

If it’s the first time you’re getting contraception via the public system you’ll be given an appointment with a gynaecologist to walk you through the options. A good deal of doctors speak english here, but if you have a Spanish speaking friend at a loose end, bringing them along can help. Be aware that not all methods are available through the public system: generally just condoms, pills, the injection and the Intrauterine Device (IUD).

For more information, you can call the Linea de Salud Sexual on 0800-222-3444 (free from public phones and landlines throughout Argentina) or if email’s your thing, you can contact the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Buenos Aires on saludreproductiva@buenosaires.gob.ar. I received a response from them within 24 hours after emailing. Both services welcome English speakers.

You can access private contraceptive care via a number of gynaecologists (‘ginecologos’) that offer more options: hormonal implants, the Intrauterine System (IUS/”Mirena”) and the vaginal ring. Dr. Claudia Maria Battista is based in Recoleta (3rd floor, Arenales 1611, tel: 4811 6127), is very experienced and speaks both Spanish and English. You will need to book an appointment and prices are available on request.

How To Choose

Choosing the right method of contraception can feel daunting, so here is a run-down of the various methods available here and how you can get your mitts on them.

Condoms (preservativos)

One of the greatest inventions ever, not only do condoms prevent pregnancy, they also protect you from STI’s! Woo! You can pick them up for free all over the city, just click here to find your nearest spot. You can buy them from pharmacies, most supermarkets and chinos, starting at around 15 ARS for 3. Always check the expiration date to make sure they’re up to the job.

An important point to make here is that while times have moved on in terms of sexual equality, machismo culture remains a issue in Argentina. Machismo is essentially a heightened sense of masculinity that can make the word “NO” difficult for some men to understand.

NEVER feel pressured into having sex without a condom or be made to feel “dirty” for insisting he bags up. Because let’s be honest: if he doesn’t want to wear a condom with you, he probably didn’t wear one with the last person either. Take pride in your sexual responsibility (and keep your bits protected in the process).

A less reliable method. Photo credit: www.images20.com.

Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC)

LARCs are a great option if you struggle to remember to take pills every day, if it’s a pain getting hold of regular prescriptions or if your condom use isn’t as religious as you’d like.

The Implant (el implante)

This is the most effective form of contraception available, aside from not having sex (which just isn’t as much fun). It’s a discreet plastic bar that’s inserted underneath the skin of the upper arm and lasts up to 3 years. Inserting it is safe, quick and well tolerated.

The implant releases progestogen, a clever hormone that does 3 things: stops ovulation, makes it harder for sperm to penetrate the opening of the womb (the cervix) and keeps the lining of the womb thin to prevent fertilisation. A contraceptive hat-trick of sorts. It’s main side-effect is erratic bleeding, but this is usually not a problem and can be managed if it becomes too troublesome. It’s currently only available via the private system.

The Injection/Depot (el inyeccion)

This is an injection in your butt cheek every 1 – 3 months depending on the type used. It contains the same hormones as the implant, works in the same way and has similar side-effects. Do note that fertility can take up to a year to return after your final dose though, so this is not the best option if you’re considering trying for pregnancy straight after using it.

It’s available via the public and private systems and can also be bought without a prescription from pharmacies. A months’ prescription at Farmacity was quoted to me at 30 ARS.

The Coil

A word that sends a shiver down many a spine, when really it shouldn’t. Let me tell you why:

The Copper Coil or IUD (el DIU)

The IUD is a tiny T-shaped device containing copper, which is toxic to sperm and released eggs. It’s a fab option if you want your contraception hormone-free and it can stay in for up to 10 years.

It’s fitted via a vaginal examination, so this does mean exposing your bits to a virtual stranger but I promise these docs have seen it all before. The device is pushed through the cervix and attaches to the womb wall. I realise this may sound totally scream-inducing, but in reality it can be done in a few minutes and is a well-tolerated procedure. 

The IUD can make your periods heavier, so it’s not the best choice if you already suffer with heavy periods. It can be fitted in both the private and public systems.

Type 2: The Mirena or IUS (Mirena)

The IUS looks super similar to the IUD and is inserted in the same way. It contains the hormone progestogen and can last up to 5 years.

It works by keeping the womb lining very thin, which means your periods are likely to become lighter or even stop altogether. This makes the IUS an excellent choice if you struggle with heavy, painful periods. It is NOT offered via the public health system so must be obtained privately.

Essential Pre-coil Dos and Don’ts!

  • You need a test for STI’s before you have a coil fitted to avoid pushing infections up into the womb. Ask your doctor about this.
  • Neither coil will be fitted if there’s ANY risk you could be pregnant!
  • Strange but helpful tip. Go for your fitting while on your period: the cervix is more open at this time and it may be more comfortable to pop in.
  • Coils have 2 ‘strings’ attached to the end that hang outside the cervix, useful for checking it’s in place. You can feel them in the first few weeks after insertion and it’s possible your partner will feel them during sex. The strings will quickly soften however and this problem will pass.
A teeny tiny copper coil. Photo credit usnews.com.
A teeny tiny copper coil. Photo credit usnews.com.

Non-LARC

Non-LARC methods are a great option if you can fit contraception into your regular routine and you like the idea of being able to stop your contraception without having to visit a doctor.

The Pill (pildoras)

The pill is the most common method used in Argentina and it comes in 2 types. You can get both via the public and private health systems and they can be bought at a pharmacy without prescription.

Type 1: The Combined Pill

This contains 2 hormones, hence the name. There are loads of different types (with various names) that contain varying levels of hormone in each.

In general it’s taken every day for 3 weeks and then you have a week off, during which you’re still pregnancy protected. During this week off you’ll have a withdrawal bleed or “fake period” that’s very predictable and generally very light (whoopee!). The week off can be skipped if you wish to avoid a bleed.

Check out this guide to see if it’s suitable for you and here for spanish speakers. A month’s prescription at Farmacity was quoted between 42 and 150 ARS.

Type 2: The ‘Mini Pill’ or Progesterone Only Pill (POP)

This contains just 1 hormone and has the same mode of action and side-effects as the implant. It’s an excellent alternative for ladies that can’t take the combined pill.

It’s taken every day, with no breaks, so pretty easy to fit in with your daily goings on. It can be accessed in the same way as the combined pill and prices are similar.

The Patch (el parche)

This handy little tool is a nude-ish adhesive patch that you stick onto your skin weekly. It releases 2 hormones through the skin which work in the same way as the combined pill. It’s generally only available via pharmacies and one month’s prescription at Farmacity was quoted to me at 168 ARS.

Vaginal Ring Nuvaring (el anillo)

This is a soft, plastic ring that’s inserted into the vagina once a month. Sounds weird but loads of chicas love this option. It releases the same combination of hormones as the combined pill. It stays in place for 21 days and is then removed for 7, during which time you have a withdrawal bleed as described above. It’s available via the private system with prices upon request.

For more info on all the methods described see this english guide from SH:24 or here for Spanish speakers.