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The girl’s guide to getting emergency contraception

We bought three kinds of emergency contraception so you don’t have to. (Unless you do, and then you’ll have all the details.)

By Connor Davies.

Bedsider has covered emergency contraception (EC) pretty darn thoroughly over the years, from the basics, to where to find it, to dispelling myths about it. But when it comes down to it, reading about EC is a lot different from actually going out and buying it. In addition to dealing with the standard fear of the unknown that comes with doing something for the first time, people who need EC often have to figure out how to buy it in a moment of anxiety or, more aptly, during that oh sh*t moment.

To help make the process a little less unknown, Bedsider sent me on a mission to buy EC pills in three different ways and write an easy step-by-step guide based on my experiences.

Getting ella

ella is currently the only EC pill that requires a prescription. When first contemplating buying ella, I thought I’d need to make a doctor’s appointment, go to the pharmacy, and then pick it up. Doable, and this is one way to get it, but it turns out ella is also available through a special online pharmacy.

Step 1: Go to ella’s official online pharmacy and create an account. This part is pretty simple—name, phone number, email address, and a password—then you read through pages and pages of Terms and Conditions. You will also be asked for your gender, height, weight, birthday, and shipping destination state.

Step 2: Fill out a medical questionnaire. This was the most tedious part of the process for me, lasting around 15-20 minutes. The questions start simply with yes or no questions like, "Are you pregnant?," "Do you think you might be pregnant?," "Do you have a menstrual cycle?" and so on. Then the questions start to get a bit more personal, asking why you feel you need to buy emergency contraception and the specifics of any unprotected sex you may have had. The final set of questions focuses on why you're choosing ella over other forms of emergency contraception and why you're choosing to buy it online as opposed to going to a pharmacy or a doctor.

Step 3: Complete the shipping and billing information. ella costs $67, which at first glance was a bit of a shock since my mind instantly calculated how much more it would be with shipping. But to my pleasant surprise shipping was included.

Step 4: Answer the confirmation call. I have to say, I wasn’t ready for this one. I didn’t read the confirmation email closely enough and thought that after giving them my billing and shipping information all was said and done. Not so much. So after a scramble to call back and get transferred to the correct person, I was asked a few more questions. Starting with, "When did you have the unprotected sex?" I told the operator that I was buying ella to have on hand just in case, worried that since it was a prescription medication they wouldn’t prescribe it to me in a non-emergency. Fortunately I didn’t need to worry—the operator told me my application would be sent to their pharmacist for approval and I should look out for another email with the final confirmation. The operator also informed me that because ella is a prescription medication, someone would need to be available to sign for it when it arrived. If that wasn't possible, ella could also be shipped to a local post office.

Step 5: Wait—but not for long. ella was delivered to my front door in less than 24 hours. (In a huge box, in which was a smaller box, in which was an envelope, in which was a smaller box, in which was the pill.)

Bonus Step: Getting ella covered by your insurance. Because ella is a prescription medication, it’s covered under many insurance plans. I called up my insurance benefits hotline and found that ella was indeed covered under my plan and that all I had to do to get reimbursement was make a claim through my insurance provider’s website.

The Takeaway

Ordering ella from an online pharmacy was a simple but slightly tedious process. Still, ella is a good option if you don’t live close to a store that sells EC or don’t want to buy EC in person, or if you want an EC pill that doesn’t decrease in effectiveness within the five days after unprotected sex. (Levonorgestrel-based EC pills like AfterPill and Plan B One-Step get less and less effective the longer you wait to take them.) BTW, ella is also more effective than levonorgestrel-based EC pills for women over 165 lbs. And the fact that it’s usually covered by insurance could be another selling point.

Getting AfterPill

AfterPill is a generic form of Plan B One-Step. Like ella, AfterPill can be ordered online and sent right to your front door. Unlike ella, it doesn't require a prescription, can’t be bought in a pharmacy, and doesn’t offer overnight shipping. And the ordering process was night and day from my experience with ella...

Step 1: Go to afterpill.com. The homepage, while nice aesthetically, is confusing. Unlike ella’s online pharmacy with its large "ORDER NOW" button in the middle of the page, afterpill.com has no immediately obvious place to find info on pricing or how to order. (Good news! This has recently been fixed. You will now see a prominent 'Order Now' banner on AfterPill's landing page.)

Step 2: Click on "Products." On the "Products" page you will find two options, a single box of AfterPill for $20 plus $5 shipping, or three boxes for $60 and $5 shipping.

Step 3: Add AfterPill to shopping cart and complete checkout process. For real, that was it. All I had to do was fill out my name, email address, shipping, and billing information and AfterPill was on its way.

Step 4: Wait for 5 to 7 business days. Since AfterPill markets itself as an option you can buy ahead of time to have on hand (instead of as an option for that oh sh*t moment), they only offer 5-7 day shipping.

Step 5: Open the box. Just make sure to be careful! The outside of the AfterPill package is almost completely unmarked. When AfterPill arrived I thought it was a different package and I tore it in half. This resulted in me also tearing in half some of the instructions that are printed on the inside of the box...Not my finest moment, but I was really excited about that new yarn. (I like to crochet, don’t hate!)

The Takeaway

Ordering AfterPill online is easy and affordable. Just remember that they don’t offer one-day shipping, so it’s best bought as a precautionary measure before-the-fact.

Getting Plan B One-Step

Plan B One-Step and other levonorgestrel-based EC pills can bebought over-the-counter in pharmacies and stores across the U.S. This means that buying EC should be similar to buying aspirin or ibuprofen. To shake things up a bit I had my ever-suffering boyfriend (because yes, guys can buy EC) experience buying it while I observed.

Step 1: Find a local pharmacy that sells EC. For my boyfriend and me this was our local Target.

Step 2: Find the sexual health area of the pharmacy. Oh jeeze. For some reason this was very difficult for my boyfriend. His first attempt ended with him being distracted by Star Wars gummy vitamins (which now reside in our medicine cabinet). After wandering around aimlessly for a while, he had a quiet epiphany whispering "Sex Stuff!" under his breath and hurried over to the condoms and lube. (BTW, feminine products might be another place to look if you don't see EC in the "sex stuff" section.)

Step 3: Pick your pill. It is likely that there will be two or more generic brands of EC pills. My boyfriend found Plan B One-Step and Next Choice available, both priced at $59.95.

Step 4: Check out. My boyfriend was not shy about this—he twirled the package in his hands on the way to the counter and didn’t try to hide it when we were in line. And even though I pretty much live for sexual health, I found myself starting to feel anxious. When I talked to my boyfriend about it afterwards and asked if he felt strange about buying EC he responded, "I didn’t feel anything at all. If we really did need it, buying EC would have been the responsible thing to do. I mean it’s 10000X better than doing nothing at all." All I have to say about that is, I chose a good one!

The Takeaway

Buying Plan B One-Step is as easy as walk in, pick it out, check out, and walk out the door. The biggest barriers against buying EC from a pharmacy are the price and potential personal discomfort.

The Big Takeaway

There are positives and negatives to each way of buying EC. Whichever way you choose, it might be worth it to buy some to keep on hand in case you ever need it. And yeah, I know, buying EC before anything happens can feel like buying insurance. You hope you’ll never have to use it and having it almost feels like you are somehow admitting that you are going to screw up in the future. But if there comes a time that you need it, you’re going to be glad it’s there.

And in case you didn’t know, the most effective EC option isn’t any of the methods I’ve mentioned so far—it’s the copper IUD, a.k.a. ParaGard. ParaGard is actually 99% effective if you get one inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex! BTW, it’s also good to know that a study found that levonorgestrel-based pills may be less effective for women who weigh more than 165 lbs—and ella may be less effective for women who weigh more than 195 lbs. ParaGard is the only EC option that’s equally effective regardless of weight.

No matter which EC you go for, doesn't it feel good to have options? You got this.


Connor Davies was an intern with Bedsider and a Senior at the University of Maryland School of Public Health when she wrote this. She is now Assistant Coordinator of the Bedsider U College Rep program. Before joining the Bedsider team, Connor worked as a Sexual Health and Reproductive Education Peer Educator at the University of Maryland Health Center and lead the Bedsider UMD In the Wild representatives. She loves to cook and crochet and hopes that her passion for sexual health can balance out her old lady tendencies.

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