Should I Take Plan B?

What to do if you are avoiding pregnancy after unprotected sex.

Oops! You had unprotected penis-in-vagina sex and now you’re worried about getting pregnant. What should you do? Most forms of birth control, like the pill, an IUD, or the implant, need to be in place before you have sex. However, emergency contraception are forms of birth control you can take after having unprotected p-in-v sex to significantly lower your chances of becoming pregnant.

Before jumping in, it’s worth noting that emergency contraceptives, also known as emergency birth control, do not protect against STIs or HIV. If you’ve had unprotected vaginal or anal sex with a partner who has HIV, look into PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) which can stop you from contracting HIV after being exposed to the virus. If you are unsure whether your partner has an STI, you can ask them if they’ve ever been tested for STIs and when. If they are unsure of their STI status and you are worried that you may have contracted an STI, you can always go get yourself tested at a doctor’s office or community clinic.

Additionally, emergency contraceptives are not abortion methods. They cannot stop a pregnancy if you are already pregnant. Typically, they prevent pregnancy by delaying ovulation so that there is no receptive egg ready to be fertilized by the sperm released into your body during unprotected sex.

Emergency Contraception 101

Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Over-the-Counter emergency contraceptive pills are ones that you can buy without needing a prescription. There are about a dozen brands of these pills and they are typically available at your local pharmacy and health clinic, such as Planned Parenthood. The cost is around $35 for generic brands and between $50 and $70 for name brands like Plan-B One Step and ella®.

Plan B
Plan B One-step is one of the most common brands of emergency contraceptive pills, and it has two generic forms called My Way®, and Take Action™. These pills are between 75-89% effective at preventing pregnancy and are more effective the sooner you take them after having unprotected sex. You should try to take them within three days of having unprotected sex, but you can take them up to five days after. There are few side effects associated with these pills, including nausea.

ella®
ella® is another common brand of emergency contraceptive pills. It is 85% effective at preventing pregnancy, and you can take it up to five days after having unprotected sex. You need a medical consultation to get ella®, but you can do this online through the ella® website. Once you’ve done your consult, ella® can be shipped to you overnight via mail without a shipping fee. Some drawbacks to ella® are that it can interfere with hormonal forms of birth control (pills or IUDs). You should use a condom when having penis-in-vagina sex for two weeks after using ella®. Aside from that, there typically aren’t significant side effects when taking ella®.

Paragard®: The Emergency Contraceptive Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Though there are several types of IUDs that can be used for long term birth control, Paragard®, a copper IUD, is the only one that can be used for emergency birth control. You will need to arrange an appointment with a doctor or a community clinic to get it inserted within five days of having unprotected sex. Paragard® costs between $500-$739. Some people may be able to get Paragard® free or for a low cost through their medical insurance. If prescribed, Paragard® will help you check if you are eligible to have the IUD completely or partially covered by checking your benefits for you.

Paragard® is a copper IUD that is available by prescription as both a general form of birth control and as an emergency contraceptive. It is the most effective form of emergency contraception; it has more than a 99.9% effectiveness rate when inserted within five days of having unprotected sex. Adding to its appeal is that once inserted, the Paragard® IUD can stay in your uterus preventing pregnancy for up to ten years! Paragard® is also great for people who have a higher BMI because Plan B One-Step and ella® are not as effective for heavier individuals. Some drawbacks to Paragard® are that side effects include heavier, longer periods, increased cramping, and potential spotting between periods, particularly in the first months of having the IUD inserted.

I’m scared… How will emergency contraception affect my body?

Emergency contraception does not have any known impact on your fertility or your body. The one change some people may experience is that their period may come at a different time than expected after taking emergency contraception or they may experience bleeding or spotting in the month after taking EC. This is normal.

We all have moments where things don’t go as planned. Having a good feel for all your options beforehand will help you feel more calm and prepared if you find yourself needing to respond to an unexpected pregnancy scare.

 Header image illustrated by Marcy Gooberman

Louise is an associate marriage and family therapist who writes about sex and relationships. Want more juicy facts about sex from a feminist, research-based, perspective? Check out more of her writing and follow her on Instagram @swoon.sex.ed.