There are plenty of reasons why you may need emergency contraception, but what isn’t clear to some women are the facts about how it actually works at preventing pregnancy. There are plenty of fallacies when it comes to emergency contraception that circulate the rumor mill – from horrendous side effects to infertility – that just aren’t true. If used correctly, emergency contraception is a safe way to decrease the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
Holly Bullock, MD, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who sees patients at Banner - University Medical Center Tucson, clears up three myths about emergency contraception (EC) and shares the truth behind them.
Myth #1: The morning-after pill is my only option
Not true, Dr. Bullock says. There are actually three options you can choose from:
1. Plan B One-Step and its generic versions is the most commonly used oral pill form of EC, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG). This progesterone-only EC is available over-the-counter or behind-the-counter without age restrictions to men and women, but it isn’t your only option as a form of EC.
2. Another oral contraceptive pill is Ella, or ulipristal acetate, which requires a prescription. “Ella is more effective than Plan B or generics at delaying ovulation,” Dr. Bullock says. “and a prescription in advance should be offered to people before they need it. If your health care provider doesn’t offer it, be sure to ask for it!”
3. Copper intrauterine devices, like the Paragard in the US, can be inserted by a health care provider up to five days after unprotected sex, contraceptive failure, or after sexual assault. According to ACOG, the copper IUD is the most effective method of EC.
“Sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for up to 6 days and the egg is available for fertilization for 24 hours,” Dr. Bullock says. “The copper kills the sperm and the oral ECs work to delay ovulation, so the sperm dies before the egg is released.”
The great thing about copper IUDs, Dr. Bullock adds, is that they can be continued as a longer-term form of contraceptive beyond EC. “It can be used as long as you like for up to 12 years.”
Myth #2: I can’t use EC more than once
Years of research and experience have shown there are no dangers to the women or if a pregnancy does occur when EC is taken more than once. But Dr. Bullock says to not make this your regular form of birth control either.
“The oral EC methods, because they delay ovulation, are not recommended to be used more than once a cycle, and any sex thereafter should be protected,” Dr. Bullock says. “The copper IUD can continue to be used as a long-acting reversible contraceptive beyond its placement for EC.”
There are other reasons why EC shouldn’t become a habit.
- Other methods are more effective at preventing pregnancy.
- It can get costly and add up quickly. Even the generic form of Plan B can cost about $50 a dose.
- There are some side effects. Although not harmful, you could experience symptoms such as irregular periods, breast tenderness, nausea and vomiting.
Myth #3: Taking EC can harm my fertility
There’s no evidence to suggest that EC has an adverse effect on your ability to get pregnant in the future. “Plan B and Ella both target the progesterone receptors and bind to them for a short while. Progesterone is a hormone found in birth control pills as well,” Dr. Bullock says. “There’s no harm done to your fertility or future plans to have children.”
However, these ECs do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and HIV, which can affect pregnancy. Condoms are the only form of birth control that will protect you from STDs.
Now that you know the facts about EC, you can begin to determine the correct path for yourself. To speak with a health care provider about your contraceptive options, visit bannerhealth.com.