Sex Talk

What is emergency contraception?

Q from a Female, First Year student from Boston University wants to know.... What is emergency contraception and is it pretty easy to buy?

Dr. Caron's Response: Emergency contraception is commonly sold under the name Plan B. It is a method of birth control one uses after unprotected intercourse (hence, the nickname "The After Sex Pill"). It is sold as two white pills with instructions to take one as soon as possible and the other 12 hours later - however, new research says you should take both pills together as soon as you get the prescription. Emergency contraception should not be confused with another drug that became available in the U.S. around the same time: RU-486 is commonly referred to as the "abortion pill" and is used once a woman discovers she is pregnant. Instead, emergency contraception is taken before one is pregnant - it prevents ovulation, fertilization and implantation - and therefore the woman never becomes pregnant. For a long time, emergency contraception was known as "America's best kept secret" - it is a repackaging of the birth control pills we all are familiar with - simply given in higher doses. It has been!

used in hospital emergency rooms for decades - most commonly given to rape survivors to prevent a pregnancy. We have known about it for year's - but avoided giving the information out to the general public until now. Meanwhile, it has been used widely for years and years in other countries. For example, The Netherlands has claimed it has reduced 90% of unplanned pregnancies.

Although it is commonly known as "the morning after pill," this is an inaccurate description of its use. It can actually be taken up to five days after unprotected intercourse, although most instructions will say to use it within 72 hours (3 days) of the unprotected sex. It is most effective when used as soon after unprotected sex as possible.

Emergency contraception is available over-the-counter by talking to a pharmacist in six states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Washington State) and plans are underway to make it available over-the-counter nationally. Right now one can get it through most family plannings, Planned Parenthoods, and college health centers. You can also call 1-800-887-4029 to talk with a trained medical provider who can fax in a prescription to your local pharmacy. Probably the best website on emergency contraception is ( ). It offers the latest news and political discussions, it also allows you to search for the nearest provider by entering either your zip code, area code, or town. There is also an on-line service at which will take your request for emergency contraception and fax a prescription to your local pharmacy if it is deemed appropriate. The cost is $24.95 for this service.

Lots of people find themselves in situations where they might need emergency contraception - either because the birth control method they used failed (e.g., the condom slipped or broke) or there was no contraception used. By making emergency contraception widely available, we will be able to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, and in turn reduce the number of abortions in this country. Let's hope politics does not get in the way of good health practice.

© 2009, Sandra L. Caron

*    *    *

It is not sex that gives the pleasure, but the lover. - Marge Piercy

American teens have the worst of all worlds...Our children are bombarded and confronted with sexual messages, sexual exploitation, and all manner of sexual criticism. But our society is by and large sexually illiterate. Faye Westheimer

Dr. Sandra L. Caron is a professor of human sexuality at the University of Maine. To submit a question to Dr. Caron or chat with your peers visit Got a question for Dr. Caron? Visit and ask away! Get a guaranteed personal and confidential response to your question: or E-Mail

Contact Us | Disclaimer | Privacy Statement
Menstuff® Directory
Menstuff® is a registered trademark of Gordon Clay
©1996-2019, Gordon Clay