Ten Myths About Emergency Contraception

Eileen Bailey Jun 13th, 2013 (updated Oct 9th, 2014)
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Although emergency contraception (EC) pills, often referred to as "the morning after pill," is available in many countries around the world and is accessible, without a prescription, for women over 17 years old, in the U.S. there is still a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding of how this works. In some states, the age is even lower.

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Myth: Emergency Contraception is Like Having an Abortion
Myth: Emergency Contraception is Like Having an Abortion

If you are currently pregnant, taking an EC will not affect your pregnancy. These pills work by stopping an egg from being released from the ovary, stopping fertilization of the egg or stopping a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus. They do not make you abort a fetus if you are already pregnant and do not cause birth defects to a developing fetus.

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Myth: Emergency Contraception is Not Safe
Myth: Emergency Contraception is Not Safe

EC's work like monthly birth control because they contain the same types of ingredients. These types of medication have been studied for many years and found to be safe. As we discuss in a later myth, some women experience side effects but there are no long-term effects on you. 

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Myth: Emergency Contraception Can Only Be Taken for 24 Hours After Unprotected Sex
Myth: Emergency Contraception Can Only Be Taken for 24 Hours After Unprotected Sex

You may take an EC pill for up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex. Pregnancy does not occur immediately after having sex; it takes time for the egg to release, be fertilized and to attach to the uterus wall. Using EC's correctly, according to directions, within 72 hours, will decrease your chance of becoming pregnant by almost 90 percent. 

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Myth: Emergency Contraception Pills Will Make Me Sick
Myth: Emergency Contraception Pills Will Make Me Sick

Many women use EC's without ever experiencing any side effects. For some, the symptoms are similar to severe PMS and a few women may experience nausea and vomiting. Additional side effects may include headache, dizziness or abdominal pain. If you experience any side effects, they should disappear within 1 to 2 days.

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Myth: Emergency Contraception Can Help Prevent STDs
Myth: Emergency Contraception Can Help Prevent STDs

EC's do not prevent the spread of STDs or HIV/AIDS. It is important to use a condom, even if other forms of birth control are used, to help reduce your risk of contracting an STD or HIV/AIDS. If you have had unprotected sex, you may want to ask your doctor about being tested for STDs or HIV/AIDS. 

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Myth: You Can Only Use Emergency Contraception Once or Twice a Year
Myth: You Can Only Use Emergency Contraception Once or Twice a Year

There is no reason why you can't use EC's more often. There has not been any evidence to show there is any harm associated with using them on a regular basis. However, if you are having unprotected sex on a regular basis, it would be a good idea to talk with your doctor about a regular birth control method. 

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Myth: Taking an Emergency Contraceptive Will Keep Me Protected Until After I Get My Next Period
Myth: Taking an Emergency Contraceptive Will Keep Me Protected Until After I Get My Next Period

EC's work immediately, for 120 hours after unprotected sex. If you have sex again, after taking the EC, you can get pregnant. If you do not want to get pregnant, it would be a good idea to use a condom or talk with your doctor about different birth control methods. 

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Myth: Taking Emergency Birth Control May Stop Me From Becoming Pregnant Later, When I Want to Become Pregnant
Myth: Taking Emergency Birth Control May Stop Me From Becoming Pregnant Later, When I Want to Become Pregnant

EC's stop a pregnancy from happening for 120 hours after you have had unprotected sex. They will not stop you from becoming pregnant at a later time. Thirty to sixty days after taking an EC, your body should be back to normal.

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Myth: If I Plan to Have Unprotected Sex Later, I Can Take a Pill Now and it Will Prevent Pregnancy
Myth: If I Plan to Have Unprotected Sex Later, I Can Take a Pill Now and it Will Prevent Pregnancy

There is not enough information to support taking an EC before sex to prevent pregnancy. Directions for the medication indicate it should be taken immediately after or up to 120 hours after unprotected sex.

 

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Myth: I Can Only Buy Emergency Contraception Pills if it is Truly an Emergency
Myth: I Can Only Buy Emergency Contraception Pills if it is Truly an Emergency

You do not need to wait until after you have had unprotected sex. You can purchase these pills from your local pharmacy and hold on to them to make sure you are prepared should you have unprotected sex. If you are a minor, you will need to make an appointment with your doctor and request a prescription. You can do this prior to unprotected sex, as a precaution.