Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About...
When to Use Emergency Contraception
When might I need to use emergency contraception?
You can use emergency contraception (also called "morning after pills" or "day after pills") any time you need a second chance to prevent pregnancy after sex. Here are some of the most common reasons women give for needing to use emergency contraceptive pills:
- The condom broke.
- I started my pack of birth control pills a week late.
- We’re usually so careful, but this time we just got carried away.
- We had so much to drink, we didn't even think about contraception.
- I talked myself into thinking it was okay not to use birth control this one time.
- I barely knew him. I told him I didn't want to sleep with him, but he forced me to have sex anyway.
Even though you have many kinds of birth control to choose from today, no contraceptive method can prevent pregnancy 100% of the time. And people aren’t perfect, either. You might have sex when you didn’t expect to or want to. Young people, in particular, are often unprepared the first time they have sex, and it is far more common than you might think for women to be forced to have sex.
Whatever the reason you might need it, emergency contraception can significantly reduce your chances of getting pregnant. And even though emergency contraceptive pills are often called “morning after pills” or “day after pills,” they can be taken right away, and may be effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex.
EC should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Sperm can live in a woman's body for 5 days after sex. Research shows that ulipristal acetate (ella) can be taken up to 5 days without a decline in effectiveness, and progestin-only EC (like Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice or Levonorgestrel Tablets) may be effective only through the 4th day after sex. However, keep in mind that ella is effective closer to the time of ovulation than progestin-only EC (but neither pill works after ovulation has occurred). You may not know exactly how close you are to ovulating; therefore, it is important to take EC as soon as possible no matter which pill you use. Plan B One-Step is now available directly on the shelf for men and women of any age, but not all pharmacies carry it. It may take time to get a prescription and fill it, or find a pharmacy that carries EC, so call your doctor or pharmacy as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Another option if you are want to use ella is to order it through this online prescription service for $42, including next-day shipping.
If you already have emergency contraceptive pills in your medicine cabinet, you can start using them right away – without having to go to your health care provider to get to the pharmacy to buy the pills. For these reasons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – the leading professional association of doctors who specialize in women’s health – recommends getting emergency contraceptive pills before they are needed.