Emergency Contraception

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Emergency Contraception (EC) can keep you from getting pregnant if your condom broke or if you didn't use any birth control during sex. Learn more about EC:

What is it?

Emergency Contraception (EC) comes in two forms: either a pill you can take or a copper IUD you can get inserted if you’ve had unprotected sex.

EC, in pill form, is a hormone pill (there are several different brands of EC) that prevents the release of an egg. It does not cause abortion. If you are already pregnant, EC won't end the pregnancy.

If you decide to use the copper IUD for emergency contraception (known as the ParaGard IUD), it can be used as emergency contraception if inserted by a health care provider after unprotected intercourse.

Both forms of EC can be used up to 5 days after you have had unprotected sex, but if you are taking the pill, the sooner you take it, the more effective it is. On the other hand, if you decide to get the ParaGard IUD, it is 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy even on the fifth day after unprotected sex and can be left in as long-acting birth control for up to 12 years. If you are already pregnant, the EC pill does not change anything or hurt the pregnancy in any way.

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  • Easy to get— you can buy some brands of emergency contraception pills over the counter, without any age or sex restrictions, at most drugs stores. You can also get EC, including the ParaGard IUD, at a family planning clinic like Planned Parenthood.

  • It will not harm a pregnancy if you are already pregnant.


  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs, sometimes called STDs) or HIV.
  • The pill can cause nausea and the IUD may cause cramps and heavier periods for some people.

  • If your weight is 165 pounds or more, some forms of the EC pill will not be as effective as others. You should get a prescription for the ella© pill which works better for heavier persons, and in general works longer to prevent pregnancy for anyone who takes it. The copper IUD works just as well no matter what your weight is!

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Who uses emergency contraception?

People use EC when they have had unprotected sex or their regular form of birth control has failed. It is best to take EC as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but EC pills or a copper IUD can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.  The copper IUD and the EC pill, ulipristal acetate or ella©, actually work the best if you need to wait more than one or two days to start emergency contraception.

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How do you use emergency contraception?

EC can be taken after unprotected sex or if your regular BC method failed: broken/slipped condom, slipped diaphragm, etc. In pill form, EC is best to take as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but can be taken up to 5 days afterwards. Because EC pills work better the sooner you take them, it’s a good idea to keep a prescription at home for emergencies.

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Where do you get emergency contraception?

Luckily most brands of emergency contraception are available in the pharmacy, over the counter (without a prescription), and without parental consent. You can buy most brands of EC over the counter at any age, if you are a female or a male. A few brands of EC, however, require a prescription if you are 16 or younger, and the EC pill ella© is available only with a prescription.  You can also get EC from your healthcare provider or at a family planning clinic like Planned Parenthood. If you are getting the ParaGard IUD as EC, you must get it inserted by a health care professional.

EC in pill form is around 88% effective at preventing a pregnancy after unprotected sex. It works best if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but still works (although less effectively) up to 5 days after unprotected sex.  The chances of becoming pregnant increase with each day you wait. The copper IUD is 99.9% effective at preventing a pregnancy after unprotected sex, even on the fifth day after sex. 

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Remember, EC is a great option in case of emergencies, but there are more reliable ways to prevent pregnancy. Learn more about birth control options.