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Emergency Contraception

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts; that means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill. EC will not stop an established pregnancy. There are three types of EC to choose from and they all work up to five days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant.


Types of emergency contraception


Copper IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within five days of a misstep and lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%.




The newest form of EC in the U.S. is a one-pill formula available by prescription. Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Works up to five days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, doesn't decrease in effectiveness during those five days.



Levonorgestrel-based pills

These EC pills, also known as Plan B®, are available over the counter or without a prescription. These are similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. They can work up to five days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day.

Quick Facts

EC provides the possibility of prevention after unprotected intercourse. 
    Easy to Get imageEffectiveness
    • The copper IUD is the most effective EC method.
    • EC pills are somewhat less effective than the copper IUD.
    side effects imageSide effects
    • With the copper IUD you might have increased blood flow, and cramping.
    • EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
    • With the copper IUD, it’s inserted once and lasts for up to 12 years.
    • The number and dose of EC pills depends on the brand.


    Easy to GetEasy to get
    • The Copper IUD must be inserted by a provider.
    • Hormonal EC pills are often available without a prescription.
    Cost ImageCost
     The price of EC can vary depending on where you get it and which type you decide to use. Find more information on insurance coverage for contraception from the Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS).

It might be for you if…

You had a “whoops” moment with your contraception

If the condom broke, or you forgot to take your pill, insert your ring, apply your patch, or if your diaphragm slipped—anything like that—you may want to use EC.

Withdrawal gone wrong

If you’re not sure your partner pulled out in time, that’s another reason you might think about using EC.

You got swept up in the moment

Maybe it was due to the influence of alcohol. Maybe you thought you could go without birth control just this once. Maybe you didn’t think about it at all. No matter the reason, if you didn’t use any protection during sex and don’t want to get pregnant, EC might be for you—as long as it’s been less than five days since that unprotected encounter.

For scary situations

Rape is a horrible thing, but it happens. If you’ve been raped, or if you had sex with someone who refused to use another form of contraception, consider EC.

Keep some on hand

The sooner you take EC, the more effective it is. So it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of one of the EC pill varieties on hand, just in case you need it.

The EC that keeps going

If find yourself in need of EC and want a longer-lasting solution, the Paragard IUD is the most effective EC option by far and can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The best part? You’ll have an easy and super-effective birth control method for up to 12 years.

Don’t take our word for it. Check out the videos above to hear people talk about their experiences with emergency contraception. And be sure to ask your health care provider which method is best for you.

How do you use it?

Emergency contraception isn’t a method you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you have unprotected sex, it’s the quickest and easiest “after-the-fact” option out there. Here are the different types you can choose from.

Copper IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the IUD inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You’ll need to make an appointment with a health care provider to have this procedure.


You need a prescription to pick up ella at a local pharmacy. In some states, you can order it from an online pharmacy without getting a prescription first. There’s no age limit to access ella. Take the one-pill formula within five days after unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel-based pills

Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are available off the shelf at pharmacies and grocery stores to anyone with no age restrictions. That means you should be able to buy these, including Plan B®,  without having a prescription or showing your ID. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like birth control pills, but at a much higher dose and taken temporarily. Best if used as soon as possible, though they can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. Make sure to follow the instructions closely.

 What are the side effects and benefits?

There are positive and negative things to say about each and every method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.

The Positive

Positive “side effects?” You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.


The Negative

Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they’ll probably go away after 24 hours.