Since 1998, when the Food and Drug Administration first approved the morning-after pill, there have been controversies about its sale and use. Initially, age restrictions were enforced to regulate its sale, and some hospitals and pharmacies refused to provide it to their patients. After considerable pressure from public and medical groups, emergency contraception (EC) is available for sale to anyone at their local pharmacy, with the exception of ella and the copper IUD, both of which require prescriptions.
Emergency contraception is widely available, easy to use, and safe!
And yet, after almost 20 years of remarkably safe use, there are still myths regarding its safety, actions and use. Let’s look at some of those myths right now!
First, there are misunderstandings regarding EC’s availability:
Myth: EC is hard to get and you need a prescription.
Since 2013, most ECs are available to buy in pharmacies over the counter to anyone, regardless of age or gender. There are two exceptions: If you need ella, another morning-after pill, you do need a prescription, and the copper IUD requires placement by a health care provider.
Myth: There is only one type of EC available.
There are several different pills available, such as Plan B One-Step or generic equivalents. These all contain levonorgestrol, a progesterone hormone that is also in many other contraceptives. Ella contains ulipristal acetate and works effectively and evenly up to five days after unprotected sex. Ella is dispensed with a prescription. The copper IUD also needs a prescription but is the most effective EC when placed within five days of unprotected sex. It is recommended for obese women or women who have had several episodes of unprotected sex, and its contraceptive effect lasts 10 years.
There are also myths regarding EC’s safety and effect on health:
Myth: EC has terrible side effects.
Most side effects of over-the-counter ECs are mild and related mainly to stomach upset and possibly vomiting. These side effects are similar and often milder than most birth control pills.
Myth: ECs are unsafe to use.
After decades of use, ECs have been shown to be quite safe. There does not seem to be an increased risk of stroke or blood clots. And women who are not able to take regular hormonal birth control pills are able to use ECs when needed. Actually, pregnancy itself is a greater health risk for a woman than taking the morning-after pill. You can even take Plan B if you are breastfeeding.
Alcohol and tobacco use does not seem to change the effectiveness of ECs, but keep in mind that ECs do not provide protection against any possible exposure to STDs.
Myth: EC can decrease your fertility if you use it too many times.
There is no evidence to show this. But if you use ECs as your only birth control method, you do have a greater chance of becoming pregnant. Using a regular birth control method, such as the Pill, is more effective — and more cost effective. Over-the-counter ECs can cost anywhere from $35 to $50 for one dose.
Myth: EC can increase your chance of an ectopic pregnancy.
There is no evidence to support this either.
Myth: You can’t take EC more than once.
There is no limit to the number of times you can take EC in your life. While ella should not be used more than once per menstrual cycle, because safety studies on repeated use haven’t been performed yet, progestin-only ECs like Plan B One-Step and Next Choice can be taken more than once per cycle — after each act of unprotected vaginal intercourse.
Myth: Using EC today will cover my unprotected sex tomorrow.
EC use is recommended after every act of unprotected sex. Most ECs are about 85 percent effective within the first 12 hours, even though they can work up to five days. However if you add more sperm, which can live inside a woman’s body for several days, you have a much greater chance of getting pregnant.
Myth: ECs cause abortion or harm the fetus if you are pregnant.
Levonorgestrol ECs work mainly by delaying ovulation and blocking fertilization (preventing the egg and sperm from uniting), especially if taken before ovulation. ECs, especially ella or the copper IUD, may also be involved in prohibiting implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall. Most medical professionals do not recognize a pregnancy until the fertilized egg implants itself on the uterine wall. If you are already pregnant, ECs will have no effect on the pregnancy or cause the pregnancy to terminate.
You might have even seen some myths flying around on social media:
Myth: Using ECs can lead to promiscuity.
There is no evidence of this. In fact, a recent study showed there was no difference in the number of sexual encounters, age of first sexual encounter, or rate of STDs among teens who were educated about how and when to use ECs. The World Health Organization states that though ECs are easy to use, poor education about fertility, contraception, and pregnancy risk contributes to fears about its use worldwide. Providing accurate sex education improves a woman’s ability to make good choices about her health and family planning.
Emergency contraceptives are another option for people at risk for pregnancy who are concerned their regular birth control may have failed, or who have had an act of unprotected vaginal intercourse. They are available in most local pharmacies, easy to use, and safe. If you need more information about contraceptives, contact your local Planned Parenthood health center for an appointment.
Click here to check out other installments of “Let’s Talk Contraception”!