Emergency Contraception (EC) is a wonderful thing in the reproductive health world that is here to help you when you need it. In this article, you will find information about the pill and IUD forms of EC. There are herbs and tinctures that women & menstruators have used for forever to help them not get pregnant, but I don’t know much about those (hopefully in the future I will), so this is just about pharmaceuticals.
What is EC?
EC is either a pill or IUD you can take in an emergency situation to prevent you from getting pregnant. It either stops ovulation from happening (pills) or kills sperm / prevents implantation (copper IUD). You need to ovulate to get pregnant naturally, and the fertilized egg needs to implant for pregnancy - EC stop those from happening.
When should you take EC?
You had penis-vagina sex without a condom and the person had pre-cum or came(ejaculated sperm) inside your vagina & you are not on hormonal birth control
You had penis-vagina sex without a condom and the person had pre-cum or came(ejaculated sperm) inside your vagina & track your cycle and know you were in your ovulatory window, or don’t know where you were in your cycle
If you had penis-vagina sex, or are pretty sure you did, and don’t remember if they ejaculated inside of you and you are not on hormonal birth control or aren’t taking it as prescribed.
You missed your hormonal birth control pill and had penis-vagina sex
You aren’t taking your hormonal birth control as prescribed (depo-shot, nuva-ring, etc) and had penis-vagina sex
The condom broke, fell off, had a hole in it, or was put on wrong during penis-vagina sex
You were raped or sexually assaulted (penis-vagina)
You want to be extremely cautious
When do you not need to take EC?
You are already on hormonal birth control and take it as prescribed
You gave a blowjob (oral sex) and they ejaculated in your mouth
You can’t get pregnant from blowjobs even if you swallow it
You had sex with someone who is the same sex as you (vagina-vagina)
You can only get pregnant from sperm which can only come from a penis
You were fingered (fingers in the vagina or on the vulva)
make sure to ask your partner to wash their hands before they finger you
You dry-humped, or did sexual things with someone WITH clothes on and there was no semen that got near your vagina
Someone went down on you (gave you oral sex to your vagina)
You can’t get pregnant from this
If a penis did not go near or inside your vagina
There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking EC. If you are freaking out, take a deep breathe and remember you have options. Tell a trusted friend, your partner, or family member if you need support during this time.
How to use EC:
EC is a pill that can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex to avoid pregnancy Make sure to read your package for specific details.
Try to take EC as soon as possible after unprotected sex if you don't want to be pregnant. The longer you wait the less effective it can be. You can take EC even if you don't know when you ovulate. It will not cause harm to you and will not cause harm if you do become pregnant.
You can get this at drug stores, stores with a pharmacy section & online. There are so many places online, so just google “where to buy emergency contraception online" and see what ships to you. You can open a private browser and or delete your search history if you need to keep this private. You can order this and keep it with you even if you don’t need it right now. You can use it later (check the expiration date) or help a friend.
If the store has a pharmacist they can help you answer any questions you have. That is what they are there for, so don’t feel bad asking! If they make you feel judged (which sucks) remember that you are doing this for yourself and it's not their problem. You’re doing the right thing by asking questions.
EC works by stopping ovulation - if you haven't ovulated yet. The main ingredient in EC is called Levonorgestrel. This is a high dose of a synthetic form of progesterone (a natural hormone your body creates after you ovulate). Levonorgestrel is used in most birth control pills, along with other synthetic hormones. When it's used in EC, Levonorgestrel tells your body NOT to ovulate. It will not do anything if you have already ovulated.
If you know you’ve already ovulated and are worried, you can take a pregnancy test if you don’t get your period when it’s supposed to come, or on cycle day 35. I know it can feel extremely agonizing and anxiety-provoking to wait, so do what you need to for your mental health and let a trusted friend or family member know.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is when one of your eggs leaves the fallopian tube (which is attached to your uterus). It happens around the middle of your cycle, but if you do not track your cycle using a fertility awareness method it can be hard to know when you’re in your ovulatory window.
If you have penis-vagina sex with someone & you are ovulating & they *ejaculate inside of you, the sperm can meet the egg and make a baby. This is called fertilization.
*ejaculate: when a man or person with a penis orgasm & sperm comes out of their penis in a white liquid. Common names for this are “finish, come/cum or nut”
Different forms of EC
You’ve probably heard of Plan B. It’s the most common name-brand form of EC. However, there are many other types of EC, and unfortunately, some lose their effectiveness with weight. You can also find generic versions of these in the same aisle that cost way less than Plan B and have the same active ingredient Levonorgestrel. Make sure to read the package thoroughly to understand what can happen and if there are weight restrictions. NOTE: there are NOT weight restrictions for abortion pills if you or a friend needs one.
The Copper IUD
The copper IUD works by killing sperm. No EC or hormonal birth control or copper IUD kills eggs. Copper is like poison to sperm and once it’s inserted it can
1.) Kill any sperm that’s inside you that are swimming to the egg (stops fertilization)
2.) prevent implantation: if fertilization has already happened it can prevent the process of the fertilized egg implanting into the uterine lining because the copper IUD is already there and it changes the lining of the uterus.
The copper IUD is used as an EC because it works immediately & can be left in for up to 12 years to work as birth control. Studies show there are no lasting effects of using a copper IUD. When you take it out your body should adjust back to its normal uterine lining and cervical mucus. Like all forms of hormonal birth control & copper IUD, there can be side effects and complications so make sure to ask your doctor about them to help you decide if that’s the right choice for you.
Is EC the same as Abortion?
No, EC is not the same as an abortion. It works by altering your menstrual cycle in the ovulatory phase by using synthetic hormones. This is also how most hormonal birth control works. It stops ovulation so that a baby can’t be made.
An abortion is when you are already pregnant and take medication or have a medical procedure to end the pregnancy. Both of these are normal things that we need for our reproductive health as women and menstruators.
How often can you take EC?
There are no studies that show negative effects of taking EC, but it’s not meant to be used often. It is NOT meant to be used as birth control. If you find yourself panicking and taking EC very often I encourage you to either go on hormonal birth control or work with someone to learn how to track your cycle. See my story highlight “Plan B Stuff” on my @periodwellness Instagram to see who takes clients for cycle tracking. I don’t recommend trying to learn on your own or with an app.
Experiences with EC
I have taken EC three times. Each time my period came a few days to one week later. I was in my ovulatory phase each time and after my Plan B bleed (which wasn’t really my period) I got my period again a few weeks later when my actual period was supposed to come.
My body is sensitive to medications. Each time I took it, my period symptoms worsened during that cycle. I had super tender breasts - like couldn’t even jog, and was very irritable, and it took me a bit to feel back to my normal self. After I ovulated again in my cycle after Plan B, I started to feel back to normal and my cycle worked itself back to normal again.
Your experience may be different, and prepare to have a period sometime after you take it as well as some period symptoms. Some people feel nothing, or like me, felt a lot of change. Eventually, my body came back to normal. I get the feeling of not wanting to take it, but also needing to.
As the US continues to limit our access to safe reproductive health care, we must continue fighting to keep each other safe. Help a friend who needs EC, offer to help pay for it for your friend or partner if you financially can, have it on hand for your partner, and donate it to places that need it, like shelters. Continue to organize and advocate for all women everywhere.
You're not alone.