Can I Prevent a Pregnancy After Sex?

Sometimes condoms break. Sometimes couples don’t use birth control (definitely not our recommendation, but we get it, it happens). And unfortunately, sometimes sex is forced on another. In all of these cases, emergency contraception (EC) may be a solution. But to be clear, EC does not stop pregnancy. It prevents it.

Here are the facts: EC can help prevent pregnancy if it is taken within five days of unprotected sex, and the sooner you take it, the more effective it is. There’s been a lot of debate—especially from abortion opponents—around the idea of “morning-after pills” stopping an in-progress pregnancy. But multiple studies, including a review published in the New York Times revealed that that EC actually prevents ovulation and therefore prevents pregnancy from occurring at all, versus blocking the implantation of an already-fertilized egg. If a pregnancy has already occurred, EC isn’t going to do anything, good or bad.

So, if you’ve had unprotected sex and are worried about becoming pregnant, you do have some options. There are actually four different forms of emergency contraception: Plan B/Next Choice and Ella (both of these are pills), the Yuzpe method (using traditional birth control pills as EC) and inserting a ParaGard IUD after unprotected sex. You can learn all about these options at Beforeplay.org. And since Plan B is now available over-the-counter and at many clinics and health centers, you may want to consider having one on hand just in case. This will ensure you can take it almost immediately after unprotected sex to get the maximum effectiveness in pregnancy prevention. Your health insurance plan, including Medicaid, may even cover the cost.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We’d be reckless, remiss and downright irresponsible if we didn’t mention that while EC can be a very safe, helpful resource for rare occasions, it should not be used as your primary method of birth control. There are lots of highly effective, super convenient forms of birth control, like the pill, patch, ring, implant or an IUD that can help you avoid “Oh no!” moments altogether. Condoms (both male and female) are also a great choice because they do double duty: protecting against unintended pregnancy and STDs.