Here’s a Quick Guide to Understanding Emergency Contraception and Your Options

Mar 16, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: IAN HOOTON/SPL/Getty Images

Sometimes accidents happen. Maybe you forgot to use protection when you had sex, maybe you were having issues with your birth control pills or maybe the condom broke. Regardless of the reason, if you are worried about becoming pregnant, you still have options to prevent it.

The options come in the form of emergency contraception. Each method comes with different instructions, costs, effectiveness and side effects. It is important that before you buy, you read everything on the back of the container to determine whether it is the best method for you. The most important instruction to remember is to take the medicine as soon as possible after having unprotected sex.

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The method that is probably going to be most easily accessible to you is progestin-only pills. These are what you may have heard referred to as the “morning-after pills.” Plan B is the brand that you are most likely to find, but it also comes in generic forms called Take ActionNext Choice and My Way, which will be less expensive. You can buy these pills over the counter at your local drugstore without a prescription.

The progestin-only pills contain the same hormone found in birth control pills, called levonorgestrel. They vary from containing one or two pills that you take as soon as possible after having unprotected sex. Research shows that it can be effective if taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex, but the sooner you take it, the better. It is estimated that this treatment reduces your risk of pregnancy by 88 percent.

Another type of emergency contraception that you might find is Ella, which contains ulipristal acetate. Ella is more effective than the progestin-only pills, especially as you move further away from the time you had sex, but it requires a prescription. Other options include a combination of estrogen and progestin which reduces your risk by 75 percent, while another option is a copper IUD which reduces risk by 99.9 percent.

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It is extremely important to note that emergency contraception does not induce abortion. After sex, the egg and the sperm do not immediately meet. Emergency contraception works to prevent the woman’s ovary from releasing the egg for longer than usual. This means there is no egg to meet the sperm, thus conception never occurs. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Plan B or Ella work after the egg has been fertilized.

While it’s nice to know that you have emergency contraception there for you if something goes wrong, it is no substitute for birth control that is used before and during sex. You should be sure to check out the different forms of birth control to figure out which is best for you. Additionally, emergency contraception does not protect against STIs, so condoms should always be used as well.

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By Karissa Hand

Originally published on HelloFlo.