If you have had unprotected sex, such as a broken or slipped condom during intercourse, missed taking your regular birth control pills, or were raped, you may need emergency contraception. You may have heard that in some states in the United States, abortion may be illegal – but don’t worry, emergency contraception is not abortion; emergency contraception is legal in all 50 states.
The difference between emergency contraception and abortion:
- Abortion is the termination of pregnancy for a woman who is already pregnant.
- Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy.
In fact, if you are already pregnant, the “morning-after pill” we will discuss below will not work: they will not cause you to have an abortion. Therefore, emergency contraception should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex to be effective.
There are three main methods of emergency contraception:
- Hormonal non-prescription emergency contraception, commonly known as “morning-after pills”. They contain a hormone called levonorgestrel, which can delay the release of an egg from the ovary or fertilization of the egg by sperm, thus preventing pregnancy. These pills should be taken within 72 hours (3 days) after sexual intercourse, and the earlier it is taken, the higher the success rate of contraception.
- Prescription drug Ella. This is a non-hormonal pill containing ulipristal, which can block the hormones necessary for fertilization. It should be taken within 120 hours (5 days) after sexual intercourse, and the earlier it is taken, the higher the success rate of contraception.
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs), which need to be inserted within 5 days after sexual intercourse and are usually done by a doctor or nurse. After insertion, it can also serve as a long-term contraceptive measure.
The most common “morning-after pill” is Plan B One-Step (PBOS). In 2009, the FDA approved PBOS for non-prescription sales to women aged 17 and above, and those under 17 needed a prescription. In 2013, the FDA removed the age limit, and PBOS can be purchased without a prescription at any age [note]. Other brands may still require women under 17 to have a prescription to purchase. These drugs are sold in clinics, universities, pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens, chain supermarkets such as Walmart and Target, and also on Amazon.
1. What is the success rate of morning-after pills?
The way Plan B One-Step works is by delaying ovulation or preventing fertilization. It should be taken as soon as possible after sexual intercourse – especially if you are in the ovulation period, waiting too long may be too late. The manufacturer recommends taking it within 72 hours (3 days) after sexual intercourse, and the earlier, the better. If taken within 24 hours, the success rate of contraception is up to 95%[note]. Taking it on the 4th or 5th day may still work, but the success rate is considered very low.
2. Are morning-after pills a good option for me?
The contraceptive effect of levonorgestrel may decrease for women with a large body. If your weight exceeds 165 pounds, it is not recommended to take levonorgestrel – please contact your doctor to consider other emergency contraceptive methods, such as an intrauterine device.
3. Is it ok if I’m taking other medications or dietary supplements?
Some medications and health supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of emergency contraception, such as the epilepsy medication Dilantin, certain antibiotics, and St. John’s Wort. If you are taking medication or dietary supplements, please inform your doctor or pharmacist and follow their advice.
4. Are morning-after pills safe?
Emergency contraception is generally safe, and most people will not experience side effects. Some people may experience symptoms such as nausea, mild stomach pain, headaches, etc. Your menstrual cycle may also be affected.
5. Do I need to take it again if I vomit?
Plan B One-Step takes about 2 hours to be absorbed by your body. If you feel nauseous and vomit within 2 hours of taking the medication, please consult your doctor or pharmacist – you may need to take it again. If vomiting occurs more than 2 hours after taking the medication, it should not affect its effectiveness since the drug has already been absorbed by your body.
6. Can I take morning-after pills if I’m pregnant?
Do not take Plan B One-Step if you are already pregnant – it will not work.
7. Can I have sex after I take morning-after pills?
Plan B One-Step may delay ovulation. If you have unprotected sex again after taking it, you may still become pregnant — in fact, if the unprotected sex happens during the ovulation, the risk of pregnancy will increase. If you plan to have sex again after taking Plan B One-Step, you should use regular contraceptive measures such as using a condom.
8. Can I take morning-after pills multiple times?
Plan B One-Step can be taken multiple times. It will not affect your ability to have children in the future.
However, morning-after pills are not a regular contraceptive method and should only be used in an “emergency” — as suggested by the name “emergency contraception.” If possible, you should use regular contraceptive methods such as using a condom. The most common latex condoms are easy to use, have a high success rate, and have no side effects (non-latex / latex-free condoms are available for people allergic to latex), and can also prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
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