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Emergency contraception

Condoms burst, pills get missed or we have unprotected sex and regret it later. Luckily, it's possible to get emergency contraception that will work to stop pregnancy after you've had sex. However, emergency contraception should never be used as an alternative to normal contraception.

There are two types of emergency contraception:

  • Emergency hormonal contraceptives (some times known as 'the morning after pill')
  • An intrauterine device (IUD)

Remember, these do not protect you from STIs, so it's still a good idea to get checked.

Emergency hormonal contraceptives

There are two emergency oral pills (sometimes known as 'the morning-after pill') available from doctors, community pharmacies and sexual health centres

  • Levonelle must be taken within 72 hours (three days) of having unprotected sex
  • ellaOne can be taken within 120 hours (five days) of having unprotected sex

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, plastic and copper device that can be fitted into your womb. It can be fitted up to five days after having unprotected sex.

Again, both types of emergency contraception (pill or IUD) offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections.

How long do they last?

Emergency hormonal contraceptives (‘morning-after pills’) should not be used as a regular method of contraception – that’s why they are called ‘emergency’. If you have taken the morning-after pill and you are not using any other contraception, now is a good time to think about what contraception might be best for you to use on a more regular basis.

However, you can keep the IUD in as your regular method of contraception. If you don’t want to do this for some reason then a healthcare professional can remove it during or after your next period.

How effective are they?

Emergency hormonal contraceptive pills are more effective the sooner they are taken. If used correctly and taken within 24 hours of having unprotected sex, they are effective in preventing around 95% of pregnancies.

An IUD is the most effective type of emergency contraception and prevents up to 99% of pregnancies if used correctly.

Where can I get emergency contraception?

Levonelle is available free of charge without a prescription. You can get it from most pharmacies and also from your GP or sexual health clinic.

ellaOne is free of charge, but you will need a prescription from your GP or sexual health clinic.

IUD’s need to be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse and this can be done at your GP’s, local GUM or Sexual Health Clinic. You can read more about IUDs here.

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For more information call  0800 22 44 88 or use our sexual health service finder to look for help in your area.