What you need to know about emergency contraceptives

Emergency contraceptives are readily available here to assuage your fertile fears.

Pregnancy is terrifying. As a college student, the thought of having to carry another human being in my uterus for nine months then care for, support and pay for it for the rest of my life is unfathomable. I am in no place in my life to be responsible or financially stable enough to have a baby. Thankfully, I have access to birth control and barrier methods to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

But what should a college-aged individual do if the condom breaks, someone didn't pull out in time, or a birth control pill is forgotten? Luckily, emergency contraceptives are readily available here to assuage your fertile fears.

Emergency contraceptives (colloquially known as the morning after pill or ECs) are a form of birth control that works by delaying or prohibiting ovulation. This delay prevents fertilization and restricts the ability of an egg to attach to the uterus. Pills are made from large doses of estrogen and progesterone.

Taking emergency contraceptives may reduce one's risk of pregnancy by up to 95 percent, though it depends on which form of the pill you take. This does not mean that five percent of people who take the pill will get pregnant — it means that emergency contraception prevents 95 percent of the pregnancies that would be expected to happen when a person engages in unprotected sex without taking the pill.

This being said, the longer you wait to take emergency contraceptives, the less effective it becomes. ECs must be taken within 72 hours of ejaculation in order to be most effective. After this time, the effectiveness reduces dramatically. For example, Plan B’s effectiveness drops from 95 percent if taken within 24 hours to 25 percent if taken after 72 hours. Taking more than one pill does not make it more effective so it's important to take one pill within this 72 hour period for maximum effectiveness.

Between 2013 and 2015, 22 percent of people with vaginas, who engage in penetrative sex reported that they have used emergency contraception pills at least once in their lives. Those ages 15 to 24 were most likely to use EC pills with 32 percent of this population having used them at least once. The use of ECs has been on the rise as it becomes much more popularly accepted to engage in sex and these pills become much more readily available.

Unfortunately, many people who take emergency contraceptives exhibit side effects. The most common side effects are nausea, dizziness, cramping, headaches, vomiting and breast tenderness. If you vomit within two hours of taking the pill, it’s recommended you call a trusted medical provider and ask them if you should take another pill.

Emergency contraceptives are not meant to be used as a primary form of birth control. Most other forms of contraceptives are more effective than ECs at preventing pregnancy. EC pills have not been tested by the Food and Drug Administration for use as regular birth control. So, it is unknown what the sheer amount of hormones ECs contain actually does to your body with repetitive use. Plus, emergency contraceptives are expensive. I know I don’t want to have to drop $50 every time I have sex.

There are currently two types of ECs approved by the FDA. The first and most popular is the pill. There are two types of pill available on the market — ella and Plan B (and its generic brands). Ella is a by prescription only combination pill that is more effective than Plan B at preventing unwanted pregnancies. Plan B is the most popular type of EC as it is readily available over the counter at most drug stores in America.

The second type of EC is a copper intrauterine device. When inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex, copper IUDs reduce the risk of pregnancy by 99 percent. Copper IUDs can be left in for up to ten years and are one of the most effective forms of birth control available on the market. They are available by prescription only, and they must be inserted by a licensed medical practitioner.

Emergency contraceptive pills are not the same thing as the abortion pill. ECs work by preventing ovulation and making fertilization of an egg improbable, while Mifeprex works by blocking the hormones necessary for pregnancy to continue. No form of emergency contraceptive will terminate an existing pregnancy. If you are in need of an abortion, it is advised to visit a licensed medical practitioner or your local Planned Parenthood as soon as possible.

Emergency contraceptives do not protect against any form of sexually transmitted infections. Barrier methods (external or internal condoms, finger cots, orals dams, etc.) are the only form of contraceptives that help prevent the spread of STIs. If you are engaging in sex, especially with multiple partners, it is vital that you properly and consistently use barrier methods.

One common misconception about emergency contraceptives is that their heightened availability directly increases the amount of risky sexual behavior individuals engage in. One study done by the University of Georgia found that there is no correlation between the amount of unprotected sex or how many partners individuals are having and EC availability.

Over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills are available at most local drug stores and department stores. You can also get EC pills from the Student Health Center. If you would like a by-prescription-only EC, you need to see a trusted doctor including at the Student Health Center and discuss your options with them.

The morning-after pill is a lifesaver for those who are not ready to start a family. These pills have helped millions of people with vaginas, (an estimated 5.8 million to be precise), to prevent unwanted pregnancies and take authority over their bodies. So, if a pregnancy scare ever comes along to ruin your day, have no fear because emergency contraceptives are here.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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