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The Sex Files #8: Emergency Contraception is Better than Pregnancy Panic

Welcome to the Sexual Health blog, run by BCSSH!  Here’s the simple version of who we are: we’re a group of students who think that condoms are important.  For the longer version, see our website!

OK, so something went wrong.  The condom broke.  You didn’t use a condom.  You dropped your birth control on the floor and didn’t take it… for five days in a row (or you forgot it at school when you went home for Thanksgiving break, which may or may not have happened to one of us).  We’ve all been there at some point – remember, there’s no judgment at The Sex Files.  So what do you do now?

The good news is that you have up to five days to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.  Win!  How, you ask?  With Emergency Contraception, or EC if you’re nasty (old school Janet Jackson reference, anyone?).  You may be more familiar with some of its brand names, like Plan B or ella, or its common nickname, “the morning after pill.”

Here’s some nitty-gritty science about how EC works.  EC contains a hormone called progestin, which is one of the hormones in birth control.  If taken within five days of sex, it can prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs.  Without eggs, the sperm has nothing to fertilize.  In other words:  no egg = no pregnancy.  Win again!

(Soapbox caveat:  EC does NOT cause an abortion, no matter what other people may tell you.  EC prevents fertilization from happening in the first place, so there cannot be an abortion.  By preventing a pregnancy before it happens, EC actually prevents abortions.  Plus, it has no effect on an existing pregnancy.)

If you’re 17 and older – and we’re guessing you are since you’re reading this blog – you can purchase EC at your local drugstore, including the CVS in Cleveland Circle (which, though some may have you believe otherwise, will not provide a pap smear, btdubs).  (Plan B One-Step® is available over-the-counter and is recommended to be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex or contraception failure.  ella® requires a prescription.)  You can also go to a health provider like Planned Parenthood (which will, but that’s another story).  Here in Boston, EC tends to cost between $30 and $40 at a drugstore.  If you’re already on birth control pills, it’s possible, depending on your brand, to take them in a way that would produce the same effect as EC; check this chart to see how.  EC is more effective the sooner it is taken, so wherever you decide to get it, make sure to go as soon as possible.

EC is a safe and effective method of preventing an unwanted pregnancy.  Don’t worry if, after taking EC, you experience side effects such as nausea, headache, or breast tenderness.  These are normal and will likely pass soon (of course, as with any medication, consult a health professional if they don’t or if you experience any side effects more severe than the warnings included on the packaging).

Here are a few recommendations for keeping yourself safe in the future:

  • Always wear a condom.  We at BCSSH can’t stress this enough.  While abstinence is the most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STIs, if you choose to be sexually active, you should always use condoms.  They prevent the spread of STIs, they prevent pregnancy, and they come in fun colors and shapes.  Compelling enough for you?  
  • Use another birth control method (we’ll get to that in a minute) correctly and consistently as prescribed.
  • Finally, we – and lots of other sexual health gurus (yes, we’re gurus) – also suggest buying a pack of EC to have on you just in case a problem like this ever does come up.  It’s always good to be prepared, and since EC is more effective the sooner you take it, having it available to back up your birth control as soon as you need it is definitely a good idea.

But, a word of advice:  remember that the E in EC stands for “emergency,” and the most common brand name version is “Plan B.”  EC is not supposed to be a primary birth control method.  If you find yourself needing to use EC frequently, it may be time to reevaluate your sexual practices or look into other birth control methods such as the pill, an IUD, etc.  There are plenty of options that you can discuss with a medical professional at Planned Parenthood or another health care provider.

So, friends, remember:  your body is a wonderland (hey, someone should write a song about that), and your lady bits are special; if you want to keep them baby-free, always remember EC!  (Did you see that?  We rhymed.)

Peace, love, and lube,

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