I had unprotected sex a few days ago and now I am starting to worry. What do I do? Can I still take emergency contraception?
Great question! Emergency contraception (EC) is always most effective when it’s taken right away. However, there are some methods that maintain their effectiveness up to five days after sex. Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy by delaying ovulation or fertilization, and it will not terminate a pregnancy if you’re already pregnant. Even if it’s been a few days since you had sex, you still have options to prevent pregnancy! Call your medical provider right away to figure out what’s right for you. Keep in mind that mixing these methods may reduce their effectiveness—only use one!
The most common form of EC, Plan B One-Step, contains a hormone called progestin, which works to delay ovulation or disrupt fertilization. Plan B is available over the counter without age restrictions. That means you can walk right into a pharmacy and request it–and it’s illegal for the pharmacist to give you any trouble. Even though it can sometimes feel a little awkward, you should feel proud that you’re taking charge of your sexual health! Plan B is more effective the earlier you take it, but it can be taken up to 72 hours (or three days) after sex. Plan B is available in a generic version, and usually costs between $35 and $60 over the counter. Cost can be a serious barrier, so talk to your doctor about your options for affording Plan B. Sometimes, the pill can be cheaper if you get it through your insurance, and there are coupons available online as well. Plan B is also available for free at many clinics, including Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center!
If it’s been more than three days, ella, a prescription-only method of emergency contraception, is your best bet. Ella is more effective than progestin-only emergency contraception like Plan B, especially on the fourth or fifth day after unprotected sex. Ella can be more difficult to obtain than Plan B because it requires a prescription from your medical provider, but it is worth seeking out. If it’s been three to five days since you’ve had sex, call your medical provider right away to discuss this option.
Another awesome method of emergency contraception is the copper Paragard IUD. Many people know that the Paragard is a super-effective non-hormonal form of long-term contraception. However, the Paragard is also the most effective form of emergency contraception, and can be inserted up to five days after sex to prevent pregnancy. Once inserted, the Paragard will continue to protect you from pregnancy for up to 12 years! In order to use the Paragard as emergency contraception, you’ll need to find a provider who can insert it right away, so call your doctor to check in about your options. It’s a perfect choice if you’re looking for a form of EC that will prevent emergencies for many years to come!
It’s best to take emergency contraception ASAP, but it can sometimes be challenging to access right away. Next time you see your doctor, ask about keeping an extra stash handy just in case–you never know when you (or a friend!) might need it. There’s a common myth that EC is harmful for your body if you take it too frequently, but this isn’t true. However, emergency contraception does not protect against STIs, and it’s not meant to be a primary method of birth control. Ask your health care provider about STI testing, and if you’re finding yourself in a birth-control bind regularly, check in with your doctor about finding a more reliable Plan A!
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides all these services confidentially and for free for those aged 10-22. If you live outside NYC or are too old to come to the Center, Planned Parenthood is a great resource for any of these emergency contraception options, plus STI testing and counseling on future birth control options. They’ll also charge you on a sliding scale, so you can afford whichever services you decide are best for you!
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