What Are Your Options for Emergency Contraception?

There’s no getting around it; contraception is vital to your sexual health. Without birth control, you are putting your wellbeing at a high risk of unwanted pregnancies. Without a barrier method of contraception, your wellness may also be affected by a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If you don’t want to get pregnant it’s good to think in advance about what contraception you will use. You might want to use more than one in case one method proves ineffective, or if your primary method doesn’t protect against STIs. That said, in emergency situations where you don’t use birth control or your contraceptive lets you down, there is a solution: emergency contraception.


There are many reasons why you might need to use emergency contraception; your condom bursts or rips, you forget to take your Pill or you have unprotected sex and regret it later. While emergency contraception should never be used as an alternative to normal contraception – and I can’t stress this point strongly enough – it is possible to get emergency contraception that will work to stop pregnancy after you’ve had sex. These emergency contraceptives can be broken down into two types. First, you have emergency hormonal contraceptives (sometimes known as ‘the morning-after pill’). Or, there’s the intrauterine device (IUD). It’s important to note that neither kind of emergency contraception (pill or IUD) offer protection against sexually transmitted infections.


Let’s take a look at both of these kinds of emergency contraception in a little more detail:


1. Emergency hormonal contraceptives: This kind of emergency contraception breaks down into two emergency oral pills; Levonelle and ellaOne. Sometimes known as “the morning-after pill”, both of these varieties are available from doctors, community pharmacies and sexual health centres. If you have unprotected sex, you need to take Levonelle within 72 hours (three days) or else it won’t work. The ellaOne pill, on the other hand, can be taken within 120 hours (five days) of having unprotected sex. You can get the Levonelle pill for free without a prescription from most pharmacies, your GP or local sexual health clinic. The ellaOne is also free of charge, but you will need a prescription from your GP or sexual health clinic.


2. Intrauterine device (IUD): The IUD is a small, plastic and copper device that can be fitted into your womb by a medical health professional. Just like the ellaOne pill, you can use an IUD up to five days after having unprotected sex. IUD’s need to be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse and this can be done at your GP’s, local GUM or Sexual Health Clinic.


You should never use emergency hormonal contraceptives (“morning-after pills”) as your regular method of contraception – really, the clue is in the word “emergency”. If you do need to take the morning-after pill, it should serve as a wake-up call and cause you to re-evaluate your approach to contraception. Now is a good time to think about what contraception might be best for you to use on a more regular basis. If you go the IUD route for emergency contraception, on the other hand, you can keep the IUD in as your regular method of contraception. However, if, for some reason, you do not want to do this, a healthcare professional can remove it during or after your next period.


While you can take an emergency hormonal contraceptive pill within three to five days of having unprotected sex – depending on which pill you use – they are more effective the sooner they are taken. If used correctly and taken within 24 hours of having unprotected sex, emergency hormonal contraceptive pills prevent around 95% of pregnancies. However, the IUD is the most effective type of emergency contraception and prevents up to 99% of pregnancies if used correctly.

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