Unprotected Sex: Emergency Contraception

emergency-contraceptionEmergency contraception is used as a safe and effective means to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. Emergency contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy and can be used up to five days after unprotected sex. After five days, the effectiveness of emergency contraception is not guaranteed. Emergency contraception is a type of birth control used to prevent pregnancy and is not the same as the “abortion pill”.

One form of emergency contraception is the pill, most often known as “the morning-after” pill or “plan-b.” There are three kinds of pills: combined emergency contraception pills that contain estrogen and progestin, progestin-only emergency contraception pills, and emergency contraception pills containing an antiprogestin. In recent years, progestin-only pills are most commonly found in drugstores, as they are more effective and fewer side effects in comparison to the other pills. As defined by the U.S. Library of Medicine (MedLine Plus), estrogen is known as the primary sex hormones. During puberty, the ovaries release the estrogen hormone. The hormone levels will rise, resulting in the release of an egg, and then the hormone levels will decrease. Progestin works by preventing the release of eggs from the ovaries in addition to changing the cervical mucus and the lining of the uterus. Both hormones are produced in birth control pills.

The other form of emergency contraception is the copper intrauterine device (IUD). They are normally inserted up to five days after ovulation; however, since ovulation is difficult to accurately track, the copper IUD can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex. Some stipulations to the copper IUD are the following: It is not recommended for women who have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as implantation could lead to pelvic infection, and IUDS are personal preferences.

Common side effects occur with the use of emergency contraception. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, breast tenderness, headache, dizziness, and fatigue. Most side effects resolve within 24 hours while some can take at most a few days. Emergency contraception is very safe overall. No deaths or serious complications have been reported, and the side effects are minimal.

While emergency contraception works up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex, the sooner you use it, the better. While copper IUDs require the aide of health practitioners, emergency contraception pills are now available over-the-counter without any age restrictions, allowing for easier and better accessibility.

To read more about emergency contraception and to determine which kind of emergency contraception fits best for you, please check out the following resources: The Office of Population Research at Princeton University and Planned Parenthood.

Buying emergency contraception can be an overwhelming, emotional, and difficult process; too often, people are stigmatized and judged from buying and using emergency contraception. But it’s important to cover your bases, and it’s important to protect yourself against unintended, unwanted consequences.


Planned Parenthood
US Library of Medicine – MedLine Plus #1
US Library of Medicine – MedLine Plus #2

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About This Blogger

Grace Kim

Grace Kim is currently a student at Arizona State University studying Biology with a concentration in Biology and Society. She is primarily interested in women’s health and hopes to pursue a career in science policy and/or science communications after graduate school. She enjoys learning about history, astronomy, and microbiology, and besides writing, she likes to bake, sew, and read in her spare time.