“The condom slipped…”
“It was my first time ever having sex, and I wanted to be responsible...”
“I woke up naked and covered in glitter…”
“He was about to be deployed and we weren’t ready for a baby…”
“I was still nursing, the idea of another child terrified me…”
“I didn’t realize antibiotics would affect the pill….”
There are many reasons that one might turn to an Emergency Contraception Pill (ECP) like Plan B - and there are just as many confusing misconceptions swirling around it. Because we want you to be safe, informed, and in control of your body (and your fertility), we’re breaking Plan B down.
Misconception One: Plan B is an Abortion Pill.
First and foremost, Emergency Contraception Pill (ECP) like Plan B is not the same as an abortion pill.
Ani, a registered nurse in Portland, hears this misconception all the time - from both patients and in pop culture. “I think there was a Walking Dead episode during the time I worked at Planned Parenthood where someone took a handful of plan B or some other oral contraceptive thinking it would work the same as Mifeprex and I was INFURIATED.” So, for Ani’s sake - and yours - here’s how ECPs differ from the abortion pill.
After heterosexual sex, sperm hangs around in the fallopian tubes waiting for an egg to appear. If you don’t ovulate, the sperm eventually peaces out. Simply put, an ECP makes sure the egg and sperm never meet up by delaying ovulation.
“Emergency contraception pills are completely different from medical abortion pills,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure. Unlike a medical abortion, an ECP like Plan B will not affect an existing pregnancy - they simply stop a pregnancy from occurring.
Misconception Two: Plan B will impact your future fertility.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists using an emergency contraception pill won’t impact your future fertility at all.
Michelle took Plan B as an 18-year-old - she felt she was far too young then to have a child, but she knew she’d want one eventually. Both her doctor and her pharmacist assured her that Plan B would not affect her fertility. When she and her husband started to plan their family some years later, she was glad she had asked her doctor and pharmacist about this in the past. (And, even after using Plan B, she can point to her two sons as the proverbial proof in the pudding for her fertility. Even during their struggles to conceive, which included two miscarriages, she knew her Plan B usage was unrelated.)
Taking the morning after pill (aka emergency contraception) will not make you less fertile in the long run.
Misconception Three: ECPs aren’t safe.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists assures you that using an ECP is safe.
Stefanie found that taking Plan B in college impacted her next two cycles a negligible amount - but was quick to point out that a pregnancy would have affected her cycle far more! It’s true that a morning-after pill can cause nausea - but it’s still safer than an unplanned pregnancy. For Stefanie, nausea wasn’t an issue, in fact, her experience was no worse than a hangover.
The morning-after pill is safe; the side effects are usually mild. You may find yourself slightly nauseous or even a bit dizzy. If you throw up within 2 hours of taking the pill, it won't work and you’ll need to take it again. The side effects can even be less than those seen with traditional hormonal birth control pills, particularly because the hormones found in an ECP do not stay in your body as long as they do with a continuous hormonal birth control pill. There have been no reports of serious problems out of the millions of people who’ve taken it.
When you take an ECP you can expect your next period to differ from your usual cycle: don’t be surprised if it’s early, late, heavier, lighter … or normal.
Misconception Four: It’s hard to get Plan B.
It used to be much harder to get Plan B or any ECP. Prior to 2009, Plan B was only available with a prescription. C. was a college student when she found herself searching for ECP. She marched herself into the ER of a Catholic hospital and felt no shame asking for Plan B. She was turned away by the ER because of the hospital’s stance on ECPs - a moment that has stuck with her. Now it’s possible to purchase an ECP at a pharmacy without a prescription, although Catholic hospitals can still deny someone an ECP.
There are a few things to know about procuring an ECP. First, keep in mind that there are more than two dozen types of ECPs available in the United States. The most common ECP is Plan B, which is a the levonorgestrel-only pill — generic versions include Next Choice One Dose, My Way, and Take Action. Plan B, One-Step, and generic levonorgestrel-only ECPs are now available in pharmacies, in stores, and online without a prescription in every state. Generic ECPs were, at one time, only available to those who were 17 or older. This was changed in 2016, but you might still come across packaging that reflects this language - but you do not need to show an ID to prove your age to purchase these generic ECPs now. Ella is available only by prescription within the United States; it is available without one in Europe.
Anyone -regardless of age - can buy Plan B or the generic version of Plan B over-the-counter and without a prescription everywhere in the United States. It is also available for purchase online.
Misconception Five: You need to take Plan B within 24 hours - and it protects for the next 24 hours.
“The morning after pill does not literally need to be taken the morning after in order for it to work,” says Jen Landa, M.D., an ob-gyn and hormone specialist. A levonorgestrel morning-after pill like Plan B One Step, Take Action, My Way, and AfterPill can lower your chance of getting pregnant by 75-89% if you take it within 3 days after unprotected sex. You can take Plan B, My Way, and other levonorgestrel morning-after pills up to 5 days after unprotected sex. But the longer you wait to take it, the less effective it is.
Because Plan B is most effective when taken immediately, it’s not a bad idea to have some on hand. As of now, you can still order Plan B online.
That being said, taking an ECP doesn’t mean that you can have risk-free unprotected sex that evening. ECP protects you after you have sex, but not before. And, keep in mind that taking ECP doesn’t protect you from STDs. So be safe - and informed - out there.
Misconception Six: Using Plan B more than once is bad for you.
Medically, using an emergency contraception pill more than once - or even often - is fine. You won’t run into any medical consequences; you can use an ECP when it is necessary without a worry. That being said, an ECP should not be your go-to birth control option. It can be a pricey option, as well as not the most effective form of birth control.
We’re big fans of having the information you need to stay healthy - this means understanding contraception as well as understanding fertility. Modern Fertility can help you make decisions about your body and your future. We can give you information about your fertility, so when it’s time to have kids, you’ll know what you need to know.