- Birth control
- Emergency contraception
What is emergency contraception?
Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) There are four types of EC to choose from and they all work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant.
Paragard as EC is extremely effective; EC pills are somewhat effective (not as good as lots of methods you can use before or during sex).
Perfect use: 85 - almost 100% effective
Typical use: 85 - almost 100% effective
What does perfect vs typical use mean?
With Paragard you might have increased blood flow, cramping; EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
With Paragard, it’s inserted once and lasts for years; the number and dose of pills depends on the brand.
Easy to get
ella and Yuzpe require a prescription; Paragard must be inserted by provider; Plan B One-Step is available without a prescription; generic levonorgestrel-based pills are available without prescription. Search for EC.
Anywhere from $0-$932. Read about why we give you a range of costs.
Types of emergency contraception
This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within 5 days of a misstep and lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%.
The newest form of EC in the U.S. is a one-pill formula available by prescription. Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, doesn’t decrease in effectiveness during those 5 days.
Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, EContra One-Step, My Way, After Pill and Levonorgestrel. Available over the counter or online without a prescription. Similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. Can work up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day.
It might be for you if…
You had a “whoops” moment with your contraception
Withdrawal gone wrong
If you’re not sure your partner pulled out in time, that’s another reason you might think about using EC.
You got swept up in the moment
Maybe it was due to the influence of alcohol. Maybe you thought you could go without birth control just this once. Maybe you didn’t think about it at all. No matter the reason, if you didn’t use any protection during sex and don’t want to get pregnant, EC might be for you—as long as it’s been less than five days since that unprotected encounter.
For scary situations
Keep some on hand
The EC that keeps going
If find yourself in need of EC and want a longer-lasting solution, the Paragard IUD is the most effective EC option by far and can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The best part? You’ll have an easy and super-effective birth control method for up to 12 years.
Don’t take our word for it. Check out the videos above to hear people talk about their experiences with emergency contraception. And be sure to ask your health care provider which method is best for you.
How do you use it?
Emergency Contraception isn’t a method you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you have unprotected sex, it’s the quickest and easiest “after-the-fact” option out there. Here are the different types you can choose from.
This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the Paragard IUD inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You’ll need to make an appointment with a health care provider to have this procedure.
You need a prescription to pick up ella at a local pharmacy. In some states, you can order it from an online pharmacy without getting a prescription first (they handle that for you on their website). There’s no age limit to access ella. Take the one-pill formula within 5 days after unprotected sex.
Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are available off the shelf at pharmacies and grocery stores to anyone with no age restrictions. That means you should be able to buy Plan B One-Step or generic options like Next Choice One Dose, My Way, and Levonorgestrel without having a prescription or showing your ID. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like birth control pills, but at a much higher dose and taken temporarily. Best used as soon as possible, though they can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.
Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way consist of just one pill that’s to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. (The original Plan B consisted of two pills and is no longer being sold.)
Next Choice and Levonorgestrel are both two-pill formulas. The instructions say to take one pill right away and the second 12 hours later, but research shows you can also take both pills at the same time.
Remember: Use EC as soon as possible after you’ve had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better—within 24-hours to three days is ideal. But EC will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to 5 days. (The instructions for Plan B and Next Choice say to take it within 72 hours after sex, but studies show that Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Levonorgestrel can be taken up to 5 days after sex.)
How much does it cost?
The price of EC can vary a lot depending on where you get it (pharmacy vs. health center) and which type you decide to use. Keep in mind that if you buy over-the-counter EC, it won’t necessarily be covered by health insurance.
Prices for Paragard*
- This method may be free or low-cost for you
- With Medicaid: Free
- With insurance: Free under most plans
- Without insurance: Depending on your income, you may be able to go to a low-cost clinic to get Paragard at reduced cost.
The full price of Paragard can range from $500 - $932. To see how this translates over a year, here’s what it would cost to pay for Paragard month-to-month at full price.
- Cost per month over one year: $41 - $77
- Cost per month over five years: $8 - $15
Cost per month over 10 years: $4 - $7
Payment assistance: If you don’t have insurance, the manufacturer offers payment plans where you can make 4 or 12 monthly payments. Contact the manufacturer at Paragard.com or 1-877-727-2427 to find out more. Also, check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low-cost IUDs (many do).
Prices for ella:*
- With Medicaid: Free
- With insurance: Free under most plans, though if you order it online or get it at the pharmacy you may need to claim it with your insurance company to get it covered.
- Without insurance: ella is available online through an online health care prescription service, Kwikmed and through PRJKT RUBY for a flat rate of $67.00 including next-day delivery.
- Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low cost EC (most do).
Prices for Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel-based EC pills:*
- With Medicaid: Free
- With insurance: Free if you can get a prescription (otherwise see the “without insurance” section).
- Without insurance: $35 - $49.99 in stores and pharmacies; $21.00 - $49.99 online.
Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are sold without a prescription at CVS, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and many other stores and pharmacies. Prices can range from $25 - $39.99.
Tip: If it’s not an emergency and you just want to have some EC on hand, you can get EC from AfterPill.com for $25 including standard shipping.
We found Plan B One-Step and some of its generic forms including AfterPill, Take Action, Next Choice, My Way, and EContra EZ for sale through a bunch of different websites:
Plan B One-Step
Amazon.com: $31.60 - $38.50
Amazon.com: $23.35 - $30.00
- PRJKTRUBY.com: $25.00
- Drugstore.com: $39.99
Note: These prices are averaged—including taxes and standard shipping costs—from a survey of select online vendors as of June 2016. Prices may change over time.
- Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low cost EC (most do). Also, manufacturers will sometimes offer money-saving coupons on their websites.
What are the side effects and benefits?
There are positive and negative things to say about each and every method. And everyone’s different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.
Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.
Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they’ll probably go away after 24 hours.