EC provides the possibility of prevention after you have sex.
Emergency Contraception can prevent a pregnancy before it starts. (That means it’s not the same as the abortion pill.) There are four types of EC to choose from and they all work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But take it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant — which is a great reason to keep it on hand.
The newest form of EC in the U.S. is a one-pill formula available by prescription only. Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Completely effective for up to 5 days after unprotected sex — but taking it sooner is great too.
Plan B One-Step/Next Choice/ Take Action/ My Way/ Aftera/ Fallback Solo
Available on pharmacy and other shelves, without a prescription. Similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day.
If you want to use insurance to pay for it, take it to your pharmacy counter to purchase.
This is the most effective EC there is. Have a doctor insert it within 5 days of a misstep and lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%.
You can use certain birth control pills as EC if you follow the Yuzpe Method guidelines. Works best up to 3 days following unprotected sex. After that, it’s much less effective.
Swept up in the moment
Maybe it was due to the influence of alcohol. Maybe you thought you could go without birth control just this once. Maybe you didn’t think about it at all. No matter the reason, if you didn’t use any protection during sex, but wish that you had, EC might be for you—as long as it’s been less than five days since that unprotected encounter.
You had a “whoops” moment with your contraception
If the condom broke, or you forgot to take your pill, insert your ring, apply your patch, or if your diaphragm slipped—anything like that—you may want to take EC.
Withdrawal gone wrong
If he didn’t pull out in time, that’s another reason for EC.
For scary situations
Rape is a horrible thing, but it happens. If you’ve been raped, or if you had sex with someone who refused to use another form of contraception, consider EC.
Keep some on hand
The sooner you take EC, the more effective it is. So it’s not a bad idea to keep a box on hand, just in case you need it.
The cost for EC can vary a lot depending
on where you get it (pharmacy vs. health center) and which of the four types you decide to use.
- With Medicaid: Free or a small co-pay
- With insurance: $0. Great news. Preventive health services like birth control are covered for no additional charge now.
- Without insurance: About $18 at Title X/low-cost health centers; $30-$55 (at pharmacies); up to $77 at online pharmacies, but that amount includes the cost of overnight shipping.
- Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning health centers and find out if they offer free or low-cost EC (most do). Also, sometimes manufacturers will offer money-saving coupons on their websites, so check out planbonestep.com or mynextchoice.com or ella-rx.com or paragard.com
* FYI: This info is based on a recent survey of Title X clinics in Colorado and birth control manufacturers. Your cost may vary. Some health centers accept private insurance; some don’t. If you don’t have private insurance, be sure to ask your doctor or health center about Title X (a federal family planning program), Medicaid, or other programs that could reduce the cost of your birth control.
Emergency Contraception isn’t a method
you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you have unprotected sex, it’s the quickest and easiest “after-the-fact” option. Here are the different types you can choose from.
- You need a doctor’s prescription to pick up ella at a local pharmacy. In some states, you can order it from an online pharmacy without getting a prescription first (they handle that for you on their website). There’s no age limit to access ella. Take the one-pill formula within 5 days after unprotected sex.
Plan B One-Step and Next Choice
- Works like birth control pills, but at a much higher dose and taken temporarily. Best used within 72 hours after unprotected sex. The newer version, called Plan B-One Step is available over-the-counter to all people It, is often a bit more expensive than others but is just one pill. Next Choice is a two-pill formula (as was the original Plan B, which is no longer being sold) and is available over the counter without a prescription if you’re 17 or older. Take one right away; the second pill within 12 hours.
The Yuzpe Method
- Some everyday birth control pills can be used as EC. If you go that route, which is called the Yuzpe Method, you’ve got to take several pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. And it only works with certain brands. Check with your healthcare provider about what your options are for this method.
- This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the ParaGard IUD inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You’ll need to make an appointment with your doctor or a local health center to have this procedure.
Remember: Use EC as soon as possible after you’ve had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better—within 24-hours to three days is ideal. But EC will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to 5 days. (The instructions for Plan B and Next Choice say to take it within 72 hours after sex, but studies show that Plan B, Next Choice, and other pills sold to use as emergency contraception can be taken up to 5 days after sex.)
There are positive and negative things to say
about each and every method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.
Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.
- Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
- Safe to use—women have been using it for 30 years
- Some EC options don’t have the same potential side effects as the pill, because you don’t take it continuously
- Even women who can’t usually use hormonal methods for medical reasons can use EC once in a while
Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they’ll probably go away after 24 hours.
- Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
- Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
- Frequent use can lead to irregular periods
- Using birth control pills as EC (known as the Yuzpe Method) increases the likelihood of side effects (especially nausea)
*For a very small number of women there are risks of serious side effects.
Emergency contraception should not be used as
a primary method of birth control. If you’re having trouble using your primary method consistently, you may want to switch to a low-maintenance method like the IUD or the implant.
I heard emergency contraception works the same way as the abortion pill.
No. No. No. If you’re already pregnant (even if you don’t know it yet), EC won’t work. EC can only prevent a pregnancy from starting; it can’t stop one that already has. And if you accidentally take EC before you know you’re pregnant, it won’t hurt you or the pregnancy.
My local pharmacy doesn’t stock/runs out of emergency contraception.
EC should be available at most pharmacies and health centers, but it’s probably worth looking into where it’s available in your area before going to get it. That said, we highly recommend always keeping EC on hand “just in case.” The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. And it’s a lot less stressful than running around town looking for some after the fact.
I’ve heard that EC might be less effective for me because I am using an enzyme inducer (such as Dilantin the antibiotics rifampicin or griseofulvin, or St. John’s Wort).
Medications and herbal supplements that may make regular birth control pills less effective may also reduce the effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills. So if you are using an enzyme inducer, it probably makes sense to increase the dose of EC. You should talk to your doctor about how much to increase the dose.
EC makes me really nauseous.
To prevent nausea and vomiting, you can take the non-prescription anti-nausea medicine meclizine (also sold under the brand names Dramamine II or Bonine) an hour before taking the first dose of EC. Note that this might make you drowsy. If you end up vomiting within an hour of taking a dose of EC, you may want to take that dose again in case your body didn’t absorb the hormones yet.
Real Stories (English)
“I’m on the ring, but as back up, I use the emergency pill.” Cindia uses the ring as her main form of birth control. But when she has sex after putting her ring in late, she uses emergency contraception as a back-up method. Cindia likes to keep an extra pack of emergency contraception in the bathroom. That way, it’s right on hand if she needs it. (We hope she’ll start using our ring reminders and need it a little less, but it’s good to know emergency contraception is there to save the day when “whoops moments” occur.)