Skip to page content

Emergency Contraception Fact Sheet

How do I use it?

Emergency contraception is birth control that you use after you have had unprotected sex—if you did not use birth control or your birth control failed. It can be used up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. There are two main types of emergency contraception:


  1. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs): Depending on the type of ECPs, you can use them within three days or within five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy
  2. The copper T IUD can be used to prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex.

How effective is it?

Emergency Contraceptive Pills:

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, My Way and Levonorgestrel Tablets: 7 out of 8 women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant after taking these pills.

ella: 6 or 7 out of every 100 women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant after taking ella.

IUD:

The copper T IUD is the most effect emergency contraceptive method. Out of one thousand (1000) women who use this method, only one will get pregnant.

Advantages of emergency contraception

  • Does not require the consent of the female's partner

  • Is safe and effective in preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex

  • Some are available over-the-counter

Download pdf, (156 kb)


 



Quick Facts

Effectiveness in Preventing Pregnancy

Emergency Contraceptive Pills:

  • Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, My Way and Levonorgestrel Tablets: 7 out of 8 women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant after taking these pills.
  • ella: 6 or 7 out of every 100 women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant after taking ella.

IUD:

  • The copper T IUD is the most effect emergency contraceptive method. Out of one thousand (1000) women who use this method, only one will get pregnant.

STI Protection

  • No

Clinic Visit Required

  • Many emergency contraceptive pills are available on drugstore shelves (over the counter). A clinic visit is required to obtain a prescription for ella or if seeking a Copper T IUD as emergency contraception

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is birth control that you use after you have had unprotected sex—if you didn’t use birth control or your regular birth control failed. Depending on the type of emergency contraception, you can use emergency contraception within 3 days or within 5 days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

There are two types of emergency contraception (EC):

  1. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs)
    1. Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way consist of one pill that the instructions state must be taken with 3 days (72 hours).
    2. Levonorgestrel Tablets consist of two pills. Although the instructions state that the first one must be taken within 3 days (72 hours) and another must be taken 12 hours later, both pills can be taken at the same time within four days (96 hours) after unprotected sex.
    3. ella consists of one pill that must be taken within 5 days (120 hours).
    Research has shown that the pills in a and b above are equally effective when taken on the first-fourth days after unprotected sex and are ineffective thereafter. ella is equally effective when taken on the first-fifth days.
  2. Emergency insertion of a copper T intrauterine device (IUD) within 5 days (120 hours)

 

How do I get emergency contraception?

ECPs are available at some pharmacies. Women and men of all ages can get emergency contraceptive pills besides ella without a prescription. You may want to check that your local pharmacy carries ECPs before making a trip there.

Women of all ages need a prescription for ella. Contact your health care provider to get a prescription.

Many family planning clinics dispense emergency contraceptive pills and offer IUDs as a birth control option. Check the clinic locator on OPA’s home page for a clinic near you.

Drawbacks of emergency contraception

  • Not as effective as some other types of birth control
  • Require a clinic visit and a prescription in some cases
  • Do not work if you are already pregnant
  • May cause side effects like nausea (anti-nausea medication might help with this), vomiting, stomach pain and headaches
  • Do not protect against sexually transmitted infections

 

Sources

U. S. Food and Drug Administration

Office on Women's Health

The Emergency Contraception Website

Robert A. Hatcher, et.al., Contraceptive Technology, 20th revised edition, Ardent Media, Inc., 2011 http://ec.princeton.edu/

Cleland K, Zhu H, Goldstuck N, Cheng L, Trussell J. The efficacy of intrauterine devices for emergency contraception: a systematic review of 35 years of experience. Hum Reprod. 2012 Jul 27(7):1994-2000.