Emergency contraception

Emergency contraceptive

Emergency contraceptive (EC) is used to reduce the risk of pregnancy after having unprotected sex.

There are 3 methods of EC available:

  • EC pill (with the hormone levonogestrel) - this can be used up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected sex.
  • EC pill (containing ulipristal acetate) - this can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.
  • Copper intrauterine device (IUD) - this can be inserted by a health professional up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

The EC pill is sometimes called the 'morning after pill' but this is not a very accurate name. EC is ore effective the sooner you use it and can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex (not just the morning after). EC is the most effective if used within 24 hours of unprotected sex.

You can get the EC pill from the chemist, your doctor or a sexual health clinic. The cost can vary from place to place but is usually around $20. The chemist will need to ask you a few personal questions (about when you last had sex and when your last period was) and they may ask you to fill in a form. This is just to help decide the best method of EC for you. They should offer you a private place to do this. If they don't, you can ask, 'Is there somewhere private I can answer these questions?'

morning after pill

The EC IUD needs to be fitted by a trained health professional. You can book an appointment at SHQ or other sexual health clinics. Be sure to let them know that you need it for emergency contraception reasons, so they book you in as soon as possible. This kind of IUD will then protect you from unintended pregnancy for up to 10 years (but can be taken out at any time by a health professional). 

Emergency contraception can be taken if:

  • you didn't use any contraception.
  • you forgot to take the contraceptive pill
  • you had vomiting or diarrhoea or had to go on particular antibiotics, which can make the pill ineffective
  • you didn't use a condom
  • the condom broke or came off
  • you have been sexually assaulted.

The hormones in the EC pill help to prevent fertilisation of a female's egg, by delaying ovulation or preventing a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb.

The hormones may make you feel sick on the day, but after that there are no long-term effects on your body. If you vomit after taking the pill, see a doctor or health care worker straight away.

There is a 1 - 3% risk of becoming pregnant after taking emergency contraception.

It is most likely to fail if any of the following situations occur:

  • you are already pregnant
  • you vomit within 2 hours of taking the pill
  • you have unprotected sex after taking the pill.

It's highly recommended that you see your doctor or sexual health clinic 3 weeks after taking the pill to make sure that it has worked properly.

EC does not protect against sexually transmissible infections (STIs). If you have unprotected sex, you and your partner may need to have an STI test.

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