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Emergency contraception

If you have sex without protection, here's what to do to prevent pregnancy.

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Emergency contraception is something that can prevent pregnancy when you’ve had sex, without using protection. This might happen if you've forgotten to use protection, if something goes wrong with your protection or if you were sexually assaulted.

Remember emergency contraception does NOT protect against sexually transmitted infections and its effectiveness really does depend on how soon after the unprotected sex it is taken.

What do you need to know?

There are two types of emergency contraception: an emergency pill and the coil or IUD. Emergency pills are usually called the morning after pill. You can take some pills up to five days days (120 hours) after sex and some pills (72 hours) after sex, but the sooner you take it the better. The morning after pill prevents unwanted pregnancy in 95% of women who take it correctly and as close to the time of the unprotected sex as possible.

If more than 72 hours have passed since the unprotected sex, then the IUD can be used. The IUD is a small device fitted inside a woman's womb by a doctor. You must have it inserted within five days of sex and it must be worn until your next period.

When should you take emergency contraception?

  • If you had sex without contraception.
  • If you were forced to have sex or don’t remember what happened the night before.
  • If your condom split or something stopped your contraceptive working.
  • If you missed your birth control pills for two days before having sex or were vomiting in the last few days.

Where do you get it?

The morning after pill is available from doctors or pharmacies. Phone and check with the doctor in advance, as not all doctors will prescribe emergency contraception. NorLevo is available over the counter from pharmacists and can be taken up to three days (72 hours) after unprotected sex.

EllaOne is now available over the counter from pharmacists, and can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. EllaOne is available without a prescription, following a consultation with registered pharmacists. However EllaOne can still be prescribed by a GP and is free of charge with the medical card. It's most effective if taken as soon as possible after having unprotected sex and has a pregnancy rate of 0.9% if taken on day 1 post  unprotected sex. Ask a pharmacist for a private consultation or talk to a GP or Family Planning Clinic about the best option for you.

The cost of Emergency contraception varies depending on what is suitable for you, and whether you have a medical card. Talk to your GP, pharmacist or local family planning clinic to get an accurate cost. If you're worried about emergency contraception being out of your price range, don't feel ashamed to call around different pharmacies to check the cost. It can cost anywhere from €20 to €70, so if cost is a factor, it's worth finding the most affordable option.

What are the effects?

You might feel sick or dizzy after taking the emergency pill. This is normal, but if you feel sick for more than two hours speak to your doctor. The IUD can cause heavy periods or some blood spotting.

Your periods may be irregular or come earlier or later than normal for three months after taking the morning after pill.

Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.

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Published February 4th, 2013
Last updated April 27th, 2017
Tags contraception safer sex sexual health
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