Every year, 3 million women in the U.S. have unintended pregnancies either because they skipped contraception or used it improperly.
If you dread having to make the difficult, life-altering decisions that come with an unplanned pregnancy, it’s not too late—there are “morning after” and now even “week after” emergency contraceptives.
Here are seven things to consider after having unprotected sex, including your options in terms of emergency contraception.
One thing you shouldn’t do after unprotected sex is to try douching.
“Douching will not increase the risk of pregnancy, but it may increase the risk of pelvic infections,” says Lisa Perriera, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, in Cleveland. “Douching in general is a bad idea.”
Why? It alters the normal balance of yeast and bacteria in the reproductive tract, which could lead to an infection.
Plan B was the first hormonal product approved in the U.S. specifically for emergency contraception. It can prevent ovulation and fertilization if taken within three days (the sooner the better) of having unprotected sex.
Anyone can buy Plan B and its generic counterpart over the counter, meaning you don't need a prescription (although you may have to ask the pharmacist). Plan B costs between $10 and $70, according to Planned Parenthood.
Christopher Estes, MD, an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, recommends keeping it on hand in case of emergency.
Side effects can include nausea, tiredness, headache, and breast tenderness.
Ella (or ellaOne) is an emergency contraceptive approved by the FDA in 2010. It works in generally the same way as Plan B except that it’s effective if taken as many as five days after unprotected sex; it doesn’t seem to lose its effectiveness over that time span.
(Plan B contains the hormone progestin while Ella is ulipristal acetate, which has some progestin-like qualities.)
So far, Ella appears to be safe. Still, says Dr. Estes, it doesn’t have the same length of follow-up as Plan B, which has been on the market for more than a decade.
Side effects are similar to Plan B, and include nausea, tiredness, headache, and dizziness.