This article is part of an ongoing series on facts about contraception and contraceptive use provided in partnership with Planned Parenthood of New York City.
It’s happened to a lot of women: The condom breaks. Or you’re just not as careful as you should be. Or you realize you’ve forgotten to take your birth control pill for the second day in a row. Or, anything really, we’re all human and mistakes happen. Hopefully you get and take emergency contraception before panic sets in about whether or not you might be facing an unplanned pregnancy.
The first time this happens, you might feel relief. But if it happens again? Or a third time? Or a fourth? You may start to wonder, as we often hear from our patients, is it really okay for me to take emergency contraception over and over again? The short answer is yes. And no. But not for the reasons you might at first think.
First, what is emergency contraception?
In order to understand the effects of something on our body, we should first understand what it is. Emergency contraception is a pill made of one of the hormones found in birth control pills — progestin – that can be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex. It works by preventing ovulation; thickening your cervical mucus, which can block sperm from connecting with an egg; and by thinning the lining of the uterus, preventing a fertilized egg from attaching. Emergency contraception is not the same thing as RU-486, the pill that causes a medical abortion. If you are 17 or older, emergency contraception can be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy. If you are under 17, it can be obtained from the pharmacy with a prescription.
So, is it harmful to keep taking emergency contraception?
From a medical perspective, no. There are no medical consequences to taking emergency contraception more than once. The hormone contained in the pill is the same as ones found in the birth control pill – and that naturally occur in your body. It will not have a long-term effect on your reproductive health. You may notice irregular bleeding patterns and your period may be early or late, but emergency contraception will not affect your fertility, or become less effective over time. In fact it will not even harm a pregnancy if you’ve already become pregnant.
However, if you find yourself continuously having to take emergency contraception, it may be time to reexamine your method of birth control. Emergency contraception works well as a safety net, it’s true. But it’s still far less effective at preventing pregnancy than most other methods of birth control. That means that the more often you take it, the more likely you are statistically to hit upon that one time it doesn’t work. And that’s regardless of the fact that emergency contraception in no way prevents transmission of HIV or Sexually Transmitted Infections.
So, if you find yourself in a position where you’re wondering if you should take emergency contraception, by all means take it. The only consequence you’ll be facing afterwards is the increased likelihood that you won’t have an unplanned pregnancy. But if you find yourself in that position over and over again, then it might be time to come to terms with the fact that your method of birth control isn’t working for you. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – one of the great by-products of having so many options available is that we all can find the one that truly works best for us.
Keep in mind, this column is purely informative and should not stand in for medical advice. Making good decisions about sexual health and birth control is vastly different for each person. That means that no matter how much what we have to say rings true, you should always discuss these topics with your health care provider to figure out what works best for your health, body, and lifestyle.