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Emergency Contraception: Here's What to Know

Emergency Contraception: Here's What to Know

By Jessica Neupane, MPH | November 15, 2023
Marketing & Communications Coordinator, ETR

In honor of Thanks, Birth Control Day, ETR wants to show support for the birth control access movement and contraceptive education. At ETR, we believe everyone deserves access to and education about birth control methods that work best for their body, their life, and their goals.

That’s why we cover this topic in many of our evidence-based and evidence-informed health education curricula and supplemental education brochures.

Most sexual health educators feel well-equipped to handle discussions around birth control methods, but emergency contraception is frequently left out of the conversation as a safe and valid option to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

As a result, we often see stigma around using emergency contraception, as well as general misconceptions about the method itself. Without proper education and honest conversations, these feelings around emergency contraceptives can be perpetuated. 

Emergency contraception is a pregnancy prevention method used after unprotected sexual intercourse, when a primary form of contraception is unavailable, or if the method fails. 

Below, we’ve highlighted key tips on navigating how to talk about emergency contraception with young people!

What is Emergency Contraception (EC)?

Emergency Contraception is an oral medication used to prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex. It does not terminate existing pregnancies. The sooner EC is taken, the higher likelihood there is to prevent a pregnancy. EC works by delaying the ovulation phase during a menstrual cycle and thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm cells from fertilizing an egg cell. 

When Should People Use Emergency Contraception? 

Emergency contraception should be used if:

  • Birth control was not used prior to or during vaginal intercourse 
  • Birth control was used incorrectly during vaginal intercourse (ex: the condom breaking during intercourse, a missed pill, forgetting to change the patch or the ring, or not getting the shot on time)
  • If they were forced to have unprotected sex

How Should I Talk About Emergency Contraception with Young People?

  • Emphasize the facts. Explain that emergency contraception works by delaying ovulation and preventing fertilization of the egg with a sperm cell. It does NOT harm existing pregnancies, nor does it affect fertility in the future. 
  • It is the most effective at preventing a pregnancy when taken as soon as possible. This is a photo in a light teal frame. In the photo is an adult teaching a group of young people in a classroom setting.
  • EC is not an abortion pill - it does not cause a termination of pregnancy. 
  • Explain that EC should not be used as a primary form of birth control, mostly because it is not nearly as effective and is much more expensive! 
  • Emphasize that EC does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Be affirming and explain that accidents happen! There is nothing wrong with needing to take an emergency contraceptive method if the goal is to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
  • Integrate it into your lesson about contraceptive methods. 
  • Provide them with the necessary information regarding cost and accessibility. More on that below! 

What Types of Emergency Contraception Are on the Market?

There are many different forms of emergency contraception that work with different bodies and needs. The two main types of EC pills contain the hormones levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate. A copper IUD can also be placed as a form of emergency contraception.

Levonorgestrel Emergency Contraception 

Common Levonorgestrel emergency contraception brands include: Plan-B One Step, MyWay, Option2, My Choice, and more. These are the types of emergency contraception people usually think about.

  •  It is taken in pill format and can be found at the drug store without a prescription. 
  • The brand of EC or how much it costs does not affect how the pill works. The active ingredient, levonorgestrel, being present is what matters most to prevent a pregnancy.
  • Depending on the brand, the cost of a levonorgestrel pill can currently range between $10-50. 
  • Follow the instructions on the box on how to take it because each pill may be different. This type of EC can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex but is most effective when taken as soon as possible, preferably within three days.
  • This type of pill is less effective if the person taking it weighs more than 165 pounds. If that is the case, there are other options. 

Ulipristal Acetate Emergency Contraception 

The brand name version of this emergency contraception is called ella.

  • This type of EC requires a prescription from a healthcare provider.
  • Without insurance, it currently costs around $50. Depending on the type of health insurance, this type of emergency contraception may be fully or partially covered. 
  • It can be taken within a five-day period after unprotected vaginal sex.This is a photo in a light teal frame. In the photo is examples of emergency contraceptive methods, like the birth control pill, and an Intrauterine device (IUD).
  • It works best for individuals that weigh between 165-195 pounds. 

Copper IUD

Getting an Intrauterine device (IUD) within five days of having unprotected sex works as a form of emergency contraception and is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. 

  • The Copper IUD works by repelling sperm cells and is a non-hormonal form of birth control. 
  • Getting an IUD requires a doctor’s visit, so it may be less accessible, but calling different healthcare providers and explaining this method is for emergency contraception may speed things along. 
  • This method can be used by anyone of any weight.
  • Without insurance, the IUD can cost up to $1000. Depending on the type of health insurance, this type of emergency contraception may be fully or partially covered.
  • It is recommended to take a pregnancy test three weeks after taking any form of emergency contraception. While emergency contraception is 85%-99% effective, depending on when it was taken, it does not guarantee pregnancy prevention. 
Download Our Free Emergency Contraceptives Tip Sheet Here!


Additional Sources from ETR 

ETR is here to support your work in improving adolescent health. Check out more of our offerings below! 

Sexual Health Curricula – View and purchase our evidence-based and evidence-informed sexual health programs offered through ETR. 

Educator Training – Check out available trainings for educators and other youth-serving professionals on implementing sexual health programs. 

Birth Control and Pregnancy Prevention Resources – Check out our offerings on educational birth control content! 

Check out our new tip sheet on talking about over-the-counter birth control with teens. 

3-In-30 Events: Take a deeper dive into our free on-demand video resources that feature discussions on topics to further adolescent health in 30 minutes or less!

Jessica Neupane, MPH (she/her), is a Marketing & Communications Coordinator at ETR, focusing on content around sexual health, HIV, and youth engagement. She can be reached at 

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