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I just had unprotected sex. What is emergency contraception? Is it the same as the “morning-after pill”?

It depends on what you mean by “just,” and it depends on what you mean by “sex.” If a girl had unprotected vaginal sex with a guy in the last five days, she can take emergency contraception (EC). EC can be taken up to 120 hours (five days) after having unprotected vaginal-penile sex. EC should be taken as soon as possible though, as this may increase the chance that it will prevent pregnancy. The sooner a girl takes EC, the better. It can reduce the chance of a pregnancy by up to 89 percent.

Emergency contraception (EC) is basically a high dose of certain types of birth control pills. The current brand names for EC in the U.S. are Plan B One-Step, ella and Next Choice. Plan B One Step and ella require that you take one pill. Next Choice requires you to take two pills, 12 hours apart. Read the instructions on the package to be sure you are taking the medication properly. 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.

EC is not an abortion; it works by preventing pregnancy before it happens. EC will not end a pregnancy that has already started. This is why it’s so important to take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Unprotected sex includes not using any method of birth control or condoms, being a survivor of rape or sexual assault or having a method fail (like a condom breaking).

You can get Plan B One Step without a prescription over-the-counter at a local pharmacy. Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose and Levonorgestrel are other kinds of EC that are approved for sale without a prescription to men and women 17 and older directly from a pharmacist. If you are 16 or younger, you will need a prescription for these. ella is only available with a prescription regardless of age.

If you need a prescription for EC, you can find a health care provider near you, as well as answers to your questions about EC, at NOT-2-LATE.com, the Emergency Contraception website.

As with any birth control pills, there are some possible side effects to taking EC. Some girls may experience side effects, but many don’t experience any at all. The most common side effects are nausea, pain in the lower abdomen, changes in the menstrual cycle, headache, fatigue and dizziness.

EC provides no protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And if a couple had unprotected sex, either or both partners could be at risk for an STD. Anyone who has unprotected sex should get tested for STDs.

Find a clinic that provides EC, STD testing and other sexual health services.

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