Being clued up on emergency contraception (EC) is a must for anybody wanting to enjoy worry-free sex. However, it can often be difficult to separate certain facts from unhelpful fiction. Here, we bust some common EC myths for good.
1. There is only one method of EC available
WRONG. There are actually two forms of emergency contraception that can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. These are the emergency IUD (AKA the emergency coil) and the morning after pill. Pharmacist Deborah Evans explains:
“You should speak to a healthcare professional about the various options available and the differences in effectiveness to ensure you are able to make an informed decision based on what is most suitable for you. We are there to help you at what can be a very anxious time.”
2. EC can only be use the morning after unprotected sex
The term ‘morning after pill’ is actually very deceiving, as you’re supposed to use emergency contraception as soon as possible after having unprotected sex.
However, the timescale does vary depending on what sort of EC you take. Levonorgestrel pills can be taken within three days (72 hours) of unprotected sex, while ulipristal acetate pills (such as ellaOne) can be used within five days (120 hours). The emergency IUD can also be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex. Deborah says:
“Both pills work by preventing or delaying ovulation and must therefore be taken as soon as possible as they are not effective if ovulation has already taken place, so the sooner the better. The emergency IUD… Isn’t always the most practical [choice], as it must be fitted by a trained health care professional.”
3. The morning after pill affects your fertility
There is no evidence that taking the morning after pill, even multiple times, will affect your fertility or reduce your chances of falling pregnant in the future. It also does not work by causing an abortion or an ’emergency period’. Deborah explains:
“The morning after pill works by delaying or inhibiting egg release. This means that the sperm waiting in the fallopian tubes will be unable to meet an egg and fertilise it. This is similar to regular contraceptive pills, which also work by preventing egg release.”
“EC will not protect you from possible pregnancy if you have unprotected sex again several days after taking it. If you want to have sex after using the morning after pill, use a barrier method (like a condom) until your next period even if you use regular contraception. If you do not have a regular contraception method in place, then have a conversation about the options available with your healthcare professional.”
4. EC comes with lots of side effects
All medicine comes with potential side effects, but that doesn’t mean everyone will experience them in exactly the same way.
“The most common side effects are headaches, nausea, tummy pain and painful periods. Women sometimes experience delayed periods and if this happens, you should take a pregnancy test or speak to a healthcare professional. If you become ill (and vomit) within the first three hours after taking the morning after pill, you will need to go back to the pharmacy and take another one immediately.”
5. The morning after pill is difficult to get
There are all sorts of channels through which you can access emergency contraception, including direct from the pharmacy (without a prescription), a sexual health clinic, your GP or a walk-in centre. It is also possible to order the morning after pill online, although research suggests that only 7% of women are aware of this. All you have to do is complete a selection of health-related questions on the pharmacy website to ensure the medication is appropriate for you. Deborah comments:
“[Ordering] the emergency contraceptive pill in advance allows you to have a provision to hand in your medicine cabinet. This means you can take it as soon as possible should you ever need to in the future, however if anything has changed in your general health or you are taking any new medicines, then do ask for some advice from your pharmacist before taking it.”
If you require emergency contraception after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, bear in mind that it is more effective the sooner it is taken. For this reason it is important that you choose a service that will ensure you can get emergency contraception as quickly as possible.