What is it?
Emergency contraception (EC for short) is a birth control method that can be used after unprotected vaginal (penis-in-vagina) sex to prevent pregnancy. EC is sometimes called the morning after pill or Plan B. It can be used up to five days after unprotected sex, but recommended in the first 72 hours.
EC is not the abortion pill. It prevents pregnancy before it happens and can’t end a pregnancy that has already started.
EC is never a good first choice for birth control. It can’t protect you against STDs and it must be used right after unprotected sex happens. You’ve only got three to five days (depending on what kind you use) to use it.
The EC Pill
The EC pill is similar to birth control pills, but in a much higher dose. It is often called “the morning after pill” or “Plan B”. EC pills work by blocking the hormones that your body needs to become pregnant. The pill is most effective in the first 72 hours after unprotected sex or failed birth control but can be taken it up to 5 days after sex.
The newest and most effective EC pill, called Ella, is available only from a healthcare provider. It contains a special combination of hormones and is very effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex.
Most EC pills are available over-the-counter (OTC) at a pharmacy or drug store and don’t require a prescription. You can also get these non-prescription or OTC pills from a healthcare provider. No EC pill protects against STDs. If you had unprotected sex, you should get tested for STDs.
The Copper IUD
The copper IUD is an extremely effective form of emergency contraception if inserted within five to seven days of unprotected intercourse. (Note: Hormonal IUDs cannot be used as an emergency contraceptive method).
The copper IUD prevents pregnancy by making the uterus unwelcoming to sperm. When a female has not yet ovulated (pre-ovulation), the IUD prevents fertilization (the copper acts as an effective spermicide, destroying sperm). If a female has already ovulated (post-ovulation), the IUD prevents implantation due to the uterine lining’s disturbance at insertion.
A benefit of the Copper IUD as EC is that once you have it, it will work to prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years. It does not protect against STDs. If you had unprotected sex, you should get tested for STDs.
When and why do you use it?
EC can be used after unprotected sex, failure of birth control (condom broke) or improper use of birth control method (forgot to take pill on time). EC is also often used after a person who is at risk for pregnancy experiences sexual assault.
It is always best to have a plan to protect yourself against pregnancy before sex, but if you have had unprotected sex and are worried you might get pregnant, you can use EC.
Remember that most types of EC work better the sooner you use it (most effective in the first 72 hours but can be taken up to 5 days after sex). EC doesn’t provide any protection against STDs, so if you had unprotected sex, you should get tested for STDs.
Where and how do you get it?
There are different kinds of ECs. The most common one is the EC pill and many are available without a prescription. Only one type of pill requires a prescription and visit to a healthcare provider. The copper IUD is also a very effective form of EC. The copper IUD also requires a trip to healthcare provider.