EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION

Emergency contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts.

EFFECTIVENESS
The ParaGard IUD is extremely effective as EC, and EC pills are somewhat effective. They’re good, but not as good as many other birth control methods you can use before or during sex.
SIDE-EFFECTS
With the ParaGard IUD, you may have increased blood flow or cramping. The EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
COST
Anywhere from $0 to $850.
WHERE TO GET THEM
Pills for ella and the Yuzpe Regimen require a prescription. ParaGard must be inserted by a health care provider. Plan B One-Step is available without a prescription. The generic levonorgestrel-based pills are available without prescription.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS
EC can reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to five days after sex.
OTHER NOTES
It's a good idea to keep a box of EC on hand... just in case.

Emergency contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. Just so we’re on the same page, EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill and they don’t cause an abortion. There are four types of EC to choose from, and they all work up to five days, or 120 hours, after unprotected sex. But use one sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant.

ParaGard IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within five days of a mishap and lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%.

ella

The newest form of EC in the U.S. is a one-pill formula available by prescription only. It blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive and works up to five days after unprotected sex. Unlike other EC pills, it doesn’t decrease in effectiveness during those five days.

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice ONE DOSE, My Way, After Pill or Levonorgestrel

These EC pills are available over the counter or online without a prescription. They’re similar to birth control pills, but they come with a much higher dose of the hormone levonorgestrel. They can work up to five days after unprotected sex, but their effectiveness decreases each day that goes by without using them.

Yuzpe Regimen

You can use certain birth control pills as EC if you follow the Yuzpe Regimen guidelines, though they’re not as effective as other EC options. It works best in the three days following unprotected sex. After that, it’s much less effective.

Swept up in the moment.

Maybe it was due to the influence of alcohol. Maybe you thought you could go without birth control just this once. Maybe you didn’t think about it at all. No matter the reason, if you didn’t use any birth control protection during sex and aren’t hoping to get pregnant, EC might be for you—as long as it’s been fewer than five days since that unprotected encounter.

You had a “whoops” moment with your contraception.

If the condom broke or you forgot to take your pill, insert your ring, apply your patch or your diaphragm slipped—anything like that—you may want to take EC.

Withdrawal gone wrong.

If you’re not sure he pulled out in time, that’s another reason you might think about using EC.

For scary situations.

Rape is a horrible thing, but it happens. If you’ve been raped, or if you had sex with someone who refused to use another form of contraception, consider EC.

Keep some on hand.

The sooner you take EC, the more effective it is. So it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of EC around, just in case you need it.

Emergency contraception isn’t a method you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you have unprotected sex, it’s the quickest and easiest after-the-fact option out there. Here’s how you use each of the different types:

Paraguard IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the ParaGard IUD inserted within five days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You’ll need to make an appointment with a health care provider to have this procedure.

ella

You need a prescription to pick up ella at a local pharmacy. In some states, you can order it from an online pharmacy without getting a prescription first, a procedure they’ll handle for you on their website. There’s no age limit for accessing ella. Take the one-pill formula within five days after unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel-based pills

Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are available off the shelf at pharmacies and grocery stores to anyone with no age restrictions. That means you should be able to buy Plan B One-Step or generic options like ONE DOSE, My Way and Levonorgestrel without a prescription or your ID. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like birth control pills, but they come with a much higher dose of the hormone and can only be used temporarily. They are best used as soon as possible, though they can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex.

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice ONE DOSE and My Way

Consist of just one pill to take as soon as possible after unprotected sex. (The original Plan B consisted of two pills but is no longer being sold.)

Levonorgestrel

This is a pill formula. The instructions say to take one pill right away and the second 12 hours later, but research shows you can take both pills at the same time.

The Yuzpe Regimen

Some everyday birth control pills can be used as EC. If you go that route, which is called the Yuzpe Regimen, you have to take the pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. It only works with certain brands of birth control pills. Here’s an article to help you understand how to use the Yuzpe regimen.

 

Remember: Use EC as soon as possible after you’ve had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better—within 24 hours or three days is ideal. But EC will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to five days after sex. The instructions for Plan B One-Step say to take them within 72 hours after sex, but studies show that Plan B One-Step, and Levonorgestrel can be taken up to five days after sex and still be effective—just not as effective.

 

EC Pills: $0–$60. The cost for EC can vary a lot depending on where you get it, whether at a pharmacy or health center, and which type you decide to use. Keep in mind that if you buy over-the-counter EC, it won’t necessarily be covered by health insurance.

ParaGard IUD: $0–$754. You’ll need to schedule an appointment (right away!) with your healthcare provider.

 

There are positive and negative things to say about each and every birth control method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friends experience.

The Positive and the Negative

Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they’ll probably go away after 24 hours.

ParaGard IUD:

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • The most effective EC option
  • Provides long-term coverage: up to 10-12 years!
  • May cause cramping
  • Might lead to heavier or longer periods
  • Need to make an appointment for insertion

ella:

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • Doesn’t decrease in effectiveness during the five-day window after unprotected sex
  • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Can cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness and headaches
  • Requires a prescription

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice ONE DOSE or Levonorgestrel:

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • Whatever age or gender you are, you can buy these types of EC over the counter at a pharmacy without a prescription
  • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Can cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness and headaches

Yuzpe Regimen:

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • Can use the pills you already have on hand
  • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Can cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness and headaches
  • Women tend to have more side effects, particularly nausea, following the Yuzpe Regimen than when using  other EC pills
  • Least effective EC option

Don’t take our word for it. Check out these videos to hear women and men talk about their experiences with emergency contraception. And be sure to ask your health care provider which method is best for you.

 

Expert dirt: Emergency Contraception isn’t a method you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you’re in a situation and you have sex without another method, it’s the only “after-the-fact” contraceptive out there.