The pill, only when you get lucky

Imagine: things get hot and heavy, you pop a pill, and bam—you're covered against pregnancy.

What if there was a birth control pill you didn’t need to take every. single. day? If you like the sound of a pill that works to prevent pregnancy when taken within a few hours of sex, you’re not alone. Researchers call this a “pericoital pill"—with "peri” meaning around and “coital” meaning sex. In one study of women in reproductive health clinics, ages 15 and up, 58% said they would be interested in this kind of pill. Specifically, they liked the idea of not having to remember a daily birth control pill (65%) and of taking hormones only when needed (59%). Women who found it difficult to get prescription birth control or who had recently had unprotected sex were even more interested in an “only when you get lucky” (or OWYGL, our new and totally unscientific nickname for it) version of the pill.

Is an OWYGL pill just a fantasy?

Maybe not. There’s research showing that the same ingredient in emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs)—a hormone called levonorgestrel—can be used at a lower dose around the time of sex for effective birth control. How effective? This OWYGL pill would be less effective than the combined hormonal “every single day” pill but may be more effective than condoms.* It would cause some changes in bleeding, but would have less frequent side effects than ECPs overall. An OWYGL pill could definitely become a reality, but more research will be needed first.

Would an OWYGL pill actually get used when needed?

Another recent study by the same research team showed that one in four women underestimated the risk of pregnancy from repeated unprotected sex in a big way—especially those who had only completed high school. And that study isn’t the first to show that women often misunderstand the connection between unprotected sex and their risk of pregnancy—possibly because they’ve had unprotected sex before and not gotten pregnant (as many folks have). Hopefully a pill that’s meant to be taken every time a woman has sex would eliminate the calculations women do to figure out whether they’re in an “emergency” situation before taking an ECP. The calculation would be very simple: time to get it on = time to take your pill.

Here’s to more options—and to more of us taking advantage of them.

*NOTE: This is referring to pregnancy prevention—condoms are still the only show in town when it comes to protecting from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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