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If your birth control method failed or if you had intercourse without protection, emergency contraception could help to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Some methods of emergency contraception are available over-the-counter, and some may need to be prescribed by your gynecologist . Here are the facts you need to know.

An image of Plan B written on it

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is contraception that is used to prevent pregnancy after intercourse has already occurred, as opposed to other birth control methods that are used before intercourse. The amount of time a woman has to take emergency contraception after intercourse varies depending on the method chosen. It is important to note that emergency contraception is not the same thing as the abortion pill. It will not end or harm an existing pregnancy. Instead, it makes it difficult for a pregnancy to occur.

What types of emergency contraception are available?

Most emergency contraception comes in pill form. Plan B, One-Step, and Next Choice are all pills that contain the hormone levonorgestrel. Anyone over the age of 17 can get these pills without a prescription. Younger women need a prescription in most states. Ella is another emergency contraceptive pill. It contains ulipristal acetate and must be prescribed by a gynecologist. Copper IUDs can also be used as emergency contraception and must be placed by a gynecologist. In some cases, taking a higher dose of birth control pills can work as an emergency contraceptive, but always do so under the guidance of your gynecologist.

When should I take an emergency contraceptive?

Take an emergency contraceptive as soon as you can after unprotected sex. It is possible for the contraceptives to work for up to five days after intercourse, but the longer you wait, the less effective they become. Keep in mind that emergency contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Talk to your gynecologist about STD testing if you have had unprotected sex.

Washington Surgi-Clinic can help you navigate decisions about emergency contraception and STD testing after unprotected intercourse. To make an appointment to find out more about birth control methods in Washington, D.C., please call (202) 659-9403.