The morning after the sex before.

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From time to time girls need to use emergency contraception. With any form of emergency contraception it’s best to act quickly as it will be more likely to be effective. There are three types which are available; you may need them if you’ve had sex without using contraception or there was a mistake with the contraception, like you forgot to take your pill or the condom has split. 

Understanding the different types of emergency contraception means that if you need it you’ll know the best option for you. These shouldn’t be used as your main form of contraception. You should treat them as a backup rather than as part of your routine.

morning after pill


Recently the emergency contraceptive pill ellaOne (it contains ulipristal acetate) has been introduced. It can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.  But you should still try to take it as soon after unprotected sex as possible.  As it’s so new, experts don’t know exactly how it works, but say that it’s thought to stop your ovaries releasing an egg.

After taking it you normal contraceptive pill may not be as effective so you should use condoms with the patch, the ring or the combined pill for 14 days and with the progesterone only pill for 9 days.

After taking emergency contraception you should get your period at about the normal time, if it is more than 7 days late there is a chance that you are pregnant.  When taking any kind of oral emergency contraceptive if you throw up within three hours of taking it you should contact your doctor.  You might need to take it again or you may consider having the coil fitted.


Taking any form of emergency contraception will not cause an abortion; it stops you from becoming pregnant and so will not work if you are already pregnant.  Taking emergency contraception does not have any known effects on your fertility.

No form of contraception, emergency or otherwise is 100% effective. But, it is more effective to use other contraceptive methods and only use emergency contraception as a backup.

The availability of the morning after pill means it’s possible for a more casual attitude to sex to be adopted.  Becoming reliant on the morning after pill, however, can be dangerous as it puts you at more risk of getting sexually transmitted infections if you do not use a form of barrier method of contraception.  

Sometimes it pays to pay

Sometimes it can be exciting when life surprises you, but sometimes the consequences can be, well, a bit scary. If you think you need emergency contraception and can get to the clinic then no worries - if you can't you can always get a private prescription online. Consultations from The Online Clinic start at £29.95 and the prescription arrives the next day.


Even though it’s known as ‘the morning after pill’ the emergency contraceptive pill (Levonelle) can be taken up to 72 hours (3days) after unprotected sex.  If taken within the first 24 hours it is 95% effective in preventing pregnancy. Between 25 and 48 hours it’s 85% effective and between 49 and 72 hours, it’s 58% effective.

You can get the emergency contraceptive pill from GPs, sexual health and GUM clinics and family planning services (Brook, FPA).  Here you can get the pill for free even if you’re under 16.  If you’re over 16 you can buy Levonelle over the counter from a pharmacy and it will cost around £25.

It isn’t fully understood how it works but most likely it’s by preventing / delaying ovulation or stopping the fertilisation of an egg.  It may also be by changing the lining of the womb, depending on the point of the menstrual cycle you’re at, to prevent the implantation of an egg. It contains a synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel, which is also used in some birth control pills - the emergency contraceptive uses it in higher doses.

If you’ve to take Levonelle because you made a mistake with your contraceptive pill you should use condoms for seven days if you use the patch, the ring or the combined pill or for two days if you use the progesterone only pill.

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We usually just think about the ‘morning after pill’ when we’re thinking about emergency contraception so the intrauterine device or IUD can be overlooked.  It’s sometimes known as the coil and is a small t-shaped device made from copper and plastic that’s inserted into the uterus.  It works by stopping an egg from being fertilised or implanting into the uterus.  The IUD needs to be inserted by a health professional within 5 days of having unprotected sex.

It takes up to 20 minutes and can be uncomfortable to get fitted.  After you’ve got it, you can choose to leave the IUD in and it will provide contraception from 5 to 10 years.  You can get it taken out at any point and your fertility levels will return to normal.  If it’s made of more copper it’s more than 99% effective.  It works as soon as it’s fitted and releases copper which changes the fluid in the uterus and fallopian tubes making it a hostile environment for sperm, it may also stop fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb.

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