Information for women

Contraceptive choices: beyond the morning after | Sexual Health Week 2014

Your contraceptive choices

Hands up who's heard of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC)? You may not have heard this term before - but you've probably heard of at least one of the LARC methods:

  • the implant (also known as the rod)
  • the contraceptive injection (often called by the brand name Depo)
  • the IUD (often called the coil)
  • the IUS (often called by the brand name Mirena).

So what are LARC methods? They're highly effective methods of contraception that you don't have to think about every day or every time you have sex - they last from 8 weeks up to 10 years!

The obvious advantage of these methods is that once they're in place, you can't forget to take them or use them.

However, they don't help protect you against sexually transmitted infections so it's always sensible to use condoms as well.

Find out more about LARC here >>

Emergency contraception

Most of us know a bit about emergency contraception (EC) and many of us have used it after unprotected sex, or when our usual method of contraception has failed.

But our sexual health week survey revealed that there is a lot of misinformation out there and that often we aren't aware of the different choices we have to help prevent unwanted sperm reaching an egg!

Sperm swimming towards egg

Your Guide to Emergency Contraception is a great place to start to find out the facts about the three different methods.

Below, we're looking at some of the common myths and misconceptions we hear. Click on the myth to reveal the facts!

The phrase “morning after pill” is really unhelpful and inaccurate – not only because there are three different methods of emergency contraception and only two of them are pills, but none of them have to be used within 24 hours, or by the “morning after” to be effective.

The emergency pill Levonelle is effective up to three days after unprotected sex (but is more effective the earlier it is taken). The emergency pill ellaOne and the emergency IUD are effective up to five days after unprotected sex.

There are three methods of emergency contraception:

Levonelle, a pill which can be taken up to three days (72 hours) after unprotected sex.

ellaOne, a pill which can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.

Emergency IUD, a small plastic and copper device that can be fitted in your uterus (womb) up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex, and which you can choose to keep as your usual method of contraception for up to five or 10 years, depending on the type.

If you're under 16, you can get emergency contraception, as well as other methods of contraception, without the doctor, nurse or pharmacist having to tell you parents or carer, as long as you are mature enough to understand the advice and any decisions made about giving you contraception.

In some areas there are special schemes to provide emergency contraception for free to young people – but even if the person you ask for emergency contraception can’t provide it, they should tell you the nearest place that can.

You can get emergency contraception from lots of different places, for example:

  • any general practice that provides contraceptive services
  • any contraception clinic
  • any young person’s service or Brook clinic for under 25s
  • any sexual health clinic
  • some GUM clinics.

You can also get Levonelle free from most NHS walk-in centres (England only), most NHS minor injuries units, and some hospital A&E departments.

You can buy Levonelle from most pharmacies (and ellaOne from some pharmacies) if you are 16 years old or over.

If one of these services can’t provide emergency contraception for any reason, they should tell you the nearest place that can.

Search for your nearest clinic here or try NHS Choices to find your nearest pharmacy.

If you're feeling worried or embarrassed about going to a pharmacy for emergency contraception be reassured by Mr Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. He says:

“Community pharmacies are the largest single provider of emergency contraception and we talk to women about it on a daily basis, so there’s no need to be embarrassed.  You don’t need an appointment and nearly all pharmacies now have a private consultation area where you won’t be overheard by anyone else.  Just ask to speak to the pharmacist in private to get the help and advice you need about emergency contraception and any other sexual health issues.”

Completely untrue. But emergency contraception is not as effective as using other methods of contraception regularly, so it's best to think about which of the 15 contraceptive methods available in the UK might be most suitable for you at this point in your life.

No it is not. Medical research and legal judgement are very clear – emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy; an abortion ends a pregnancy.

The emergency contraceptive pill Levonelle is widely available to buy over the counter from pharmacies around the UK without a prescription, and ellaOne is available to buy in some pharmacies.

An emergency IUD has to be fitted by a specially trained doctor or nurse.

There are lots of reasons women might need to get emergency contraception, including a condom splitting or slipping off, or a missed pill.

No method of contraception is 100% effective so there will always be times when women need to prevent a pregnancy after sex. And this is the real world; of course mistakes are going to happen.

Nobody should judge you for getting emergency contraception, and there is no need to feel embarrassed. Acting to prevent an unwanted pregnancy is a responsible action.

It’s a common misconception that women reach an age when their fertility suddenly disappears, and they don’t need to worry about pregnancy any more. It's not true. Fertility declines gradually and it’s important to continue using contraception until menopause if you don't want to risk an unplanned pregnancy.

Some women think they can’t get pregnant during most of their menstrual cycle. It’s important to remember that sperm can live in the body for up to seven days, during which time they can fertilise an egg when it is released. Not all women have regular cycles and it can be hard to know for sure when you are ovulating, so it is important to still use contraception if you want to avoid pregnancy.

Try reading our info on your body and reproduction for more information on how it all works.

You can take Levonelle as many times as you need in the same cycle.

ellaOne should not be used more than once in the same cycle, or in the same cycle as taking Levonelle.

Emergency contraception is not as effective as using other methods of contraception regularly, so it's best to think about which of the 15 contraceptive methods available in the UK might be most suitable for you at this point in your life.

It is safe to use the emergency contraceptive pill Levonelle while breastfeeding.

It is advised to avoid breastfeeding for one week after taking the emergency contraceptive pill ellaOne.

There are 15 methods of contraception availablein the UK – two that can be used by men and 13 that can be used by women. While the male condom and the combined pill are the most well known, they aren’t necessarily the most suitable methods for everyone. To find out more about what might work for you, try My Contraception Tool.

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