Info Center

Emergency Contraception: What You Need to Know

By , 16, Staff Writer Originally Published: January 7, 2005 Revised: December 10, 2013

Seventeen-year-old Tara had unprotected sex with her boyfriend “without really thinking,” she says.

“I talked to my friend about it and told her the whole story,” says Tara, who lives in Ontario, Canada. “She convinced me that I had no other choice but to get the emergency contraception pills.”

So she did, avoiding a possible unplanned pregnancy.

Let’s face it. We sometimes do risky things in the heat of the moment. Or, even if we’re careful, our birth control can fail. Even worse, some girls are sexually assaulted and need to prevent pregnancy after the fact.

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) is a type of birth control that gives girls another chance to avoid pregnancy.

Emergency contraception comes in the form of pills (commonly known as the “morning-after pill,” even though you can take it up to five days after). The pills are sold under the brand name Plan B, Next Choice and ella.

EC pills are basically high dosages of the birth control pill. They do not cause an abortion. They work by preventing ovulation (an egg being released from the ovary), if there isn’t an egg to be fertilized then a pregnancy can’t happen.

EC will not work if you are already pregnant, and it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Although studies show that emergency contraception can be taken up to five days after intercourse, with Plan B, the sooner you use it, the better your chances of not getting pregnant. That means if you take the pills within one day of unprotected intercourse, there will be a better chance of avoiding pregnancy than if you wait until after the fourth day. With Ella, another brand of emergency contraception, it is just as effective the fifth day as it is the first.

Plan B One-Step emergency contraception is not effective at preventing pregnancy in people over 176 pounds. If you weigh over 176 pounds and need emergency contraception, you should speak to a health care provider about possibly using another emergency contraceptive pill or a copper IUD.

Emergency contraception is not a method of birth control; it is for emergencies only.

What Are the Side Effects?

Some girls experience side effects when they take EC pills. The most common are abdominal pain, fatigue, irregular bleeding, headaches, and breast tenderness. Like most medications, though, reactions vary from person to person. Tara says she “ended up vomiting for a good two hours,” while Amy, 18, of Boulder, CO, experienced no side effects at all.

How Do I Get It?

“The process of getting EC was pretty easy, actually,” Tara says.

This is usually true. People of any age can buy Plan B One-Step without a prescription over the counter at a local pharmacy.

Other brands of EC such as Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, My Way and Levonorgestrel are approved for sale without a prescription to those who are 17 and older from a pharmacist. If you are 16 or younger, you will need a prescription for Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, My Way and Levonorgestrel. The EC pill ella is only available with a prescription regardless of age.  You can get a prescription for EC at a local clinic or from a doctor.

Going to a clinic is just like a regular visit to the doctor, only you do not need your parents’ permission. First, you’ll fill out some paperwork and then wait to see a health care provider. He or she will ask you a few questions about what happened and why you are there.

The health care provider will usually either supply you with the pills or write a prescription so you can obtain them. Also, you can get a prescription for EC before an emergency happens, so you’ll have them on hand, just in case. Emergency contraception is inexpensive. It usually costs between $10 and $45. Most clinics will charge only what you can afford to pay and some health insurance companies will cover the cost.

You may also need to pay for a clinic visit, too, but this may also be what you can afford to pay (i.e., a sliding-scale fee). Make sure you ask the clinic about cost before you go.

Can You Use EC as Birth Control?

Emergency contraception is not a method of birth control; it is for emergencies only.

The best way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is to abstain from all sex—oral, vaginal, and anal. If you decide to have vaginal intercourse, you should use both a condom and a hormonal form of birth control (like the Pill) to protect against pregnancy and most STDs.

Plus, Plan B is only 89-percent effective when taken within three days. Birth control pills are 99-percent effective when taken regularly and correctly.

“Take precautions while you’re having sex, and if something happens, then go get EC,” Tara says. “Don’t use EC as an excuse [not to use birth control]. Take it only if you absolutely need it.”

Please login to comment on this story

Chat software by BoldChat