Emergency Contraception

Young women's version of this guide
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taking medicineEven though guys can’t get pregnant, it’s important to know about emergency contraception if you are having sex with a female partner.

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) is a backup method of birth control that a woman can use to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Even though you may have heard EC called the “morning-after pill”, there is both a pill and an intrauterine device that can actually be used within 5 days (120 hours) of unprotected intercourse for emergency contraception. EC works better the sooner a woman takes it.

Names of EC you should be familiar with:

  • Levonorgestrel (1.5mg pills): Plan B One-Step™, Next Choice One Dose®, My Way®, AfterPill™ are available over-the-counter without a prescription. The package insert says to use it within 3 days (72 hours) but it has been shown to be effective up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse.  EC is most effective the earlier it is taken. This method is less effective on day 5.
  • Ulipristal acetate (30mg): Ella™ which is effective up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. A prescription from a health care provider is necessary. In some states, a pharmacist can dispense it without a prescription. Ella™ can also be purchased online after a telephone consultation; however, it is likely to be more expensive and you may need to factor in overnight shipping. Please be aware that online pharmacies cannot mail Ellato certain states including: Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, and Oregon.
  • Copper T IUD Paraguard®: This is a copper intrauterine device (IUD) that can be inserted into a woman’s uterus within 5 days of unprotected intercourse for emergency contraception and then provides contraception for up to 10 years. All women need to see a health care provider for placement of the IUD.
  • Other Oral Contraceptive Pills: Some oral contraceptive pills may be prescribed in two high does (12 hours apart) by a health care provider. This type of EC must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.

When should a woman use emergency contraception?

Your partner should use EC if:

  • You had unprotected sex, which means that you didn’t use a condom and your partner wasn’t using a hormonal method of birth control or an IUD.
  • Your partner forgot to take her birth control pills, patch or vaginal ring (and you’ve been having sex).
  • Your condom broke or slipped off while you were having sex.

How does emergency contraception work?

The medication in EC pills works by giving a strong short burst of hormones that change a woman’s menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation. Ovulation is the time in a woman’s menstrual cycle that she is most likely to become pregnant. It’s important to remember that EC doesn’t continue to protect against pregnancy during the rest of the menstrual cycle. The copper IUD works by preventing fertilization and if left in the woman’s uterus, it will continue to protect against pregnancy for 10 years or until removed by a health care provider.

Does EC cause an abortion?

No. EC will NOT cause an abortion because it doesn’t work if a woman is already pregnant.

How well does EC work?

Emergency contraception lowers a woman’s risk of pregnancy by 60-90%. It’s important to remember that emergency contraception does not always work, and does not guarantee that pregnancy will be prevented. The EC pills may also not be as effective for overweight or obese women (body mass index >30). If your partner is obese (body mass index over 30), the IUD is the most effective option and then Ella™.  EC also doesn’t work as well as regular birth control methods and doesn’t protect you or your partner from sexually transmitted infections. The best way to prevent pregnancy is to use a long acting birth control method, such as an IUD or implantable rod, or another birth control method such as the Depo-Provera shot, birth control ring, patch, birth control pills, or to abstain (don’t have) sexual intercourse.

Is EC safe?

Yes. Millions of women have used emergency contraception successfully.

Are there any side-effects with taking Emergency Contraception (EC)?

The most common side effects of EC include: nausea, and irregular menstrual bleeding. Other less common side effects may include: vomiting, breast tenderness, fatigue, dizziness, headache, and menstrual cramps.

If your partner throws up within 3 hours after taking any oral EC, she should call her health care provider as she will likely need to take another dose along with something to prevent vomiting.

How can my partner get emergency contraception?

In the United States, women at any age can get Plan B One-Step™ at most pharmacies without a prescription. Women can get Next Choice® at age 17 and older without a prescription and under 17 with a prescription.

Your partner can also get Ella™ (Ulipristal acetate) at a pharmacy, but she will need a prescription.

For a copper IUD, your partner will need to be seen at a clinic, such as her primary care provider or gynecologist’s office,  or Planned Parenthood, to have the IUD placed in her uterus.

Here are a few ways to find emergency contraception:

Is it ok for my partner to use EC as her regular form of birth control?

No. Emergency contraception is not meant to be a regular method of birth control. It is meant to be a one-time emergency treatment. Emergency contraception can be used when a condom breaks, when a diaphragm or cervical cap gets moved, or any time when there is unprotected sex. You and your partner should not use emergency contraception as her only protection against pregnancy, because this method doesn’t work as well as other types of birth control.

Key Points to Remember about Emergency Contraception (EC):

  • Emergency contraception is a safe treatment to help prevent pregnancy in adolescent girls and adult women who have had unprotected sex.
  • EC will NOT cause an abortion. It does not work after ovulation.
  • Emergency contraception does not guarantee that pregnancy is prevented. The best way to prevent pregnancy is to use a regular birth control method, such as birth control pills, long acting reversible contraception (IUD’s, injection, implants), condoms, or to abstain or not have sexual intercourse.
  • Many EC products are available to all women in the United States without a prescription including: Plan B One-Step™, Next Choice One Dose®, My Way®, AfterPill™ and other single dose 1.5mg Levonorgestrel products.
  • Ella™ is available with a prescription.
  • Paraguard® (IUD) is available at some health centers and clinics and must be inserted by a health care provider.
  • Your partner should have a pregnancy test if she does NOT get her period within 3 weeks after taking EC.
  • Abdominal pain and/or heavy or unusual menstrual bleeding after taking EC is not normal and should be reported to your partner’s health care provider right away.

After your partner takes EC, a backup method of birth control (condoms) should be used for at least 7 days or you should not have sex during this time. Condoms should be used every time you have sexual intercourse to prevent STI’s.