In 2016, 45 percent of the pregnancies in the U.S. were unintended, and while it varies significantly by state and age — and has steadily decreased in the last 20 years — that means nearly half of the women who end up pregnant had that “Fuck, I’m pregnant” moment. There are obviously various methods of contraception that greatly reduce the chances of pregnancy in advance of such a moment — e.g., condoms, birth control and IUDs. But for those times when a condom breaks, a birth control pill is missed or you threw caution to the wind and went raw, there’s still one last chance to not become parents: the morning after pill.
Although emergency contraception was pioneered in the 1920s and was used on animals by owners who didn’t want them to breed, it didn’t reach humans until the 1960s when it was was used on a 13-year-old rape victim in Sweden. It was used to prevent pregnancies caused by sexual assaults thereafter, but still wouldn’t become available in the U.S. for women who wanted to stop any other potential pregnancies until 1998 — nearly 40 years after the first woman took it. (Imagine how many of us wouldn’t be here!) Initially, it required women have a consultation with a gynecologist before a script for it could be written. But finally, in 2006, it was approved for purchase over-the-counter — provided you were older than 17 — without the involvement of a physician. (The cost is anywhere between $15 and $60; it should be noted, though, that unlike condoms, oral birth control and IUDs, which are typically 99.9 percent effective, emergency contraceptive pills only prevent a pregnancy 75 to 89 percent of the time.)
You’ll notice that there isn’t much mention of men above. That’s because even though it takes at least two participants to create a baby, women tend to bare the responsibility of getting the morning after pill. And so, more often than not, she’s the one who has to go to the pharmacy, request the pill — thus admitting “yes, mistakes were made last night” — and then pay for it.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Instead of making her deal with the mishap all by herself, you can take the lead — and responsibility — for preventing a potential inadvertent pregnancy. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is — and how much it will mean to her. That, I promise.
When do you need it?
There are a few different circumstances during which it would behoove you and your partner to get the morning after pill. The common denominator in each would be to avoid pregnancy. If you had unprotected sex and she isn’t on birth control, you run the risk of making a baby (and contracting a whole host of STDs, but that’s another conversation) and will want to get emergency contraceptive.
Broken condom? Or maybe it slipped off during the act? This seems pretty self-explanatory, but for the sake of fulfilling this guide, Plan A was the condom, so that makes the morning after pill Plan B.
Bottomline: If there’s any chance, regardless of precaution, that a sperm may have an opportunity to link with an egg and embed itself inside her uterus — and that’s not what either of you intended — it’s time to consider emergency contraceptive.
Are there different kinds of emergency contraceptive?
There are two types oral emergency contraceptive (aka morning after pills). They’re differentiated by substance and effectiveness. The more effective one is made with ulipristal acetate and prevents a pregnancy from occuring 85 percent of the time. This requires a consultation with a doctor and prescription. There’s only one brand that makes it, ella, and it usually cost $50 at the drugstore and $67 online. A woman can take ella up to five days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex, and it’s just as effective then as it is during the first few hours.
The other morning after pill is made with levonorgestrel. This is probably the one you recognize. It’s available over-the-counter, and there are a bunch of different name brand and generic types — Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, AfterPill, and Take Action — that can run anywhere from $15 to $60. Generally believed to only be effective in the 72 hours following unprotected sex; however, unlike ella, the effectiveness decreases as time passes and is also affected by where the woman is in her cycle. But because you don’t a medical consultation to get it, you can literally run straight to the store after sex and buy it for her.
How does it work?
Conveniently, women don’t get pregnant the second sperm enters their body. It’s only once she’s ovulating and the body releases an egg that she can get knocked up. However, since sperm have one purpose in life, they’re able to stay alive within a woman’s body for up to six days trying to fulfill their purpose and find an egg to be with. This is where the emergency contraceptive comes in and shuts that shit down by hitting the pause button on ovulation, stopping the body from releasing an egg and leaving the sperm to die alone.
What’s the difference between an emergency contraceptive pill and the abortion pill?
Emergency contraceptive must be taken within three to five days following unprotected sex to prevent an unwanted pregnancy from occuring. The abortion pill terminates an existing pregnancy.
What else do I need to know?
Albeit minor, both morning after pills can have side effects. It’s not abnormal for her next period to be different — heavier, lighter, shorter, longer or at a different time of the month than normal — due to the increased level of hormones she’s taking with the morning after pill. The pill also can cause nausea. If she vomits within a few hours of taking it, you’ll want to assume it’s ineffective and get another dose.
Repeatedly taking the morning after pill won’t decrease future chances of getting pregnant. That is, there isn’t any effect on later fertility. However, it shouldn’t be used as a form of birth control because you’ll spend significantly more money than using condoms or her being on birth control. Plus, it’s less effective than other methods of contraception. So there’s no point in spending more money on a Hail Mary when you can consistently be covered otherwise.
As for multiple mistakes in a 24-hour period, you’ll still need only one morning after pill. Because remember, the pill stops the egg from releasing, and you only need that to happen once per cycle.
What can I do?
Again, it’s super easy. You go to your local pharmacy and ask for the morning after pill. They’ll probably ask whether you’d like generic or name brand. There’s no difference other than price. At the very least, you should offer to split the costs. But my recommendation is to pay for it entirely. There’s no reason she should bare the financial burden of this individually as it didn’t result from a solo sex act and the baby that could potentially result would be half yours. Also, if you want to be extra prepared, order them online and have it at your place.
With, of course, condoms, too. Because a second-line of defense isn’t necessary if you have the first covered.