Emergency contraception is backup contraception. You can use emergency contraception to avoid an unplanned pregnancy if you have had sex without using contraception, or if your method of contraception has failed (for example, the condom slipped or you missed a pill).
While emergency contraception has been available in Ireland for a number of years, there are still many myths around about this pill. It’s important to understand the facts on emergency contraception so that you can make the right choice for you if you ever need to take it.
Myth: The emergency contraceptive pill can only be taken the “morning after” unprotected sex.
Fact: The emergency contraceptive pill can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but is more effective the sooner it is taken. Efficacy is 95% if taken within the first 24 hours, 85% if taken between 25 and 48 hours and 58% if taken between 49 and 72 hours.
Myth: The emergency contraceptive pill can only be taken three times over a person’s lifetime.
Fact: This is one of the most common myths about the emergency contraceptive pill and it is simply not true. The emergency contraceptive pill is made out of the same hormone as regular contraception and is gone from the body within 72 hours. Frequent use of the emergency contraceptive pill is not recommended, because it is not as effective as regular contraception, but repeated use poses no health risk and has no effect on future fertility.
Myth: The emergency contraceptive pill causes an abortion.
Fact: The emergency contraceptive pill cannot cause an abortion; it prevents pregnancy. The emergency contraceptive pill works by preventing or delaying ovulation and has no effect on pregnancy if a person is already pregnant when it is taken.
Myth: Only teenagers use the emergency contraceptive pill.
Fact: People of all ages use the emergency contraceptive pill as a safe and effective way of preventing an unwanted pregnancy when a regular method fails (e.g. condom burst, missed pill or late start to a new cycle of pills), when no contraception was used or in cases of rape.
Myth: The emergency contraceptive pill encourages people to have unprotected sex and to stop using regular methods of contraception.
Fact: Research studies from around the world have consistently found that increased access to emergency contraception does not result in an increase in unprotected sex or a decrease in regular contraceptive use.
Protecting your sexual health when using contraception
There are many great options to help protect your sexual health, but none of them are 100% effective. Even if you use condoms every time you have penetrative sex, you are still at risk of getting genital warts and herpes, as these can be passed through skin-to-skin contact. Going for an STI check or taking a home STI testing kit with a partner before having sex, can be a great way of protecting yourself and those you have sex with against STIs and HIV. However, not all STI checks check for all STIs, so it is important to speak to your healthcare provider and ask them what are being tested for as part of your screening.
Discussing with your sexual partners the type of contraception or protection options available to you, and agreeing on a type that works for everyone involved can help to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Looking out for sores or symptoms on a partner’s genitals before having sex with them, can help to identify STIs that they may not be aware of. If you do see any signs that someone may have an STI, do not have sex with them until you know for certain it is safe to do so. Asking someone about their sexual health history is the responsible thing to do before having sex, and it should not be taken as an insult if someone asks you about yours.
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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.