The morning after pill myths

Separating Fact from Fiction


Accidents happen. No matter what you do, sometimes broken condoms and unprotected sex do happen but try not to panic. The morning-after pill, as the name suggests, is designed to be taken after unprotected sex or when other contraception fails In this article, we tackle the common myths associated with the morning after pill.

1. There is only one form of emergency contraception

Most people have only heard of the morning-after pill, but there are actually two types of emergency contraception available to help prevent pregnancy.

  • The morning after pill - Ella (Ulipristal acetate) or Plan B (Levonorgestrel)
  • The emergency coil (IUD)

The morning-after pill is an oral tablet that should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. It works by preventing the fertilization of the egg.

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The emergency coil, also known as the intrauterine device (IUD), is a small T-shaped device. This is inserted into the uterus by a medical professional. This also should be done as soon as possible after unprotected sex. This method works by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus. The IUD has the added benefit of being a long-term method of contraception, lasting at least 3 years, so you don’t have to worry about unplanned pregnancy during this time.

2. Emergency contraception can only be used up to 24 hours after having unprotected sex

It was found that ? of women believed that emergency contraception can only be used up to 24 hours after unprotected sex. This is not so surprising when you consider that the name - ‘the morning after pill’ - does suggest it should be taken the next morning. However, emergency contraception is more effective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, but it can work up to 3-5 days after unprotected sex. The timeframe in which the morning after pill can be effective depends upon which type of pill you use. 

Plan B (Levonorgestrel) and Ella (Ulipristal acetate) have different windows of effectiveness, but they are both more effective the earlier you take them. Plan B can prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but Ella has been found to be more effective than Plan B during the first three days and it can be effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex. 

3. Taking emergency contraception is the same as having an abortion 

Abortion is completely different to using emergency contraception. Depending upon the type used, emergency contraception either prevents the egg from being fertilized or it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Therefore, the morning after pill intervenes before pregnancy occurs. If you are pregnant, taking the morning-after pill will not terminate your pregnancy. This is why it is advised that you take the morning after pill as soon as possible, to reduce the chances that the egg will already be fertilized or implanted. 

On the other hand, abortion ends a pregnancy that has already started. The fertilized egg would have already been implanted in the uterus and would be developing as a fetus. Abortions can be done medically (by taking a pill) or surgically.  If you feel you may need an abortion, you should speak to your doctor or a local family planning clinic. They can discuss the various options with you. 

4. Taking emergency contraception can cause infertility

Emergency contraception does not have a long term effect on fertility. Instead, it temporarily helps you avoid pregnancy by preventing an egg from being fertilized or implanting in the uterus. If you have taken the morning-after pill,  it will not protect you from any future unprotected sex, only the recent unprotected sex that occurred before you took the pill. If you have another episode of unprotected sex, you would need to take another morning-after pill. However, due to the high levels of hormones in the morning after pill, it is not recommended for use on a regular basis. If you find yourself using emergency contraception regularly, you should speak to your doctor about alternative contraceptive options. 

5. It is very difficult to get a hold of emergency contraception

As of March 2014, the morning after pill has been available in US pharmacies. You don’t need a prescription to access certain Levonorgestrel (Plan B) emergency contraception and many pharmacies will provide this morning-after pill without asking any further questions or requiring ID. However, Ulipristal acetate morning-after pills, such as Ella do require a prescription. You can speak to a doctor, or place an order through an online pharmacy such as Medzino. Although, if you need the morning after pill immediately, you will need to speak to a doctor face-to-face. 

The coil (IUD) is another form of emergency contraception. This must be inserted into the vagina by a medical professional, and therefore this is only available through a doctor.

6. Emergency contraception causes nausea

When taking an emergency contraception pill, some women might experience nausea. However, this does not happen to everybody. FDA investigations found that 14% of Levonorgestrel users and 12% of Ulipristal acetate users felt nauseous after taking the morning-after pill. 

There are other side effects associated with taking the emergency contraception pill. Side effects include:

  • Heavier periods
  • Pain in the lower part of the abdomen 
  • Fatigue 
  • Headache 
  • Dizziness 

These side effects usually vanish on its own after a couple of hours. If you experience nausea resulting in vomiting within 2 hours of taking Levonorgestrel, you should call your doctor immediately. 

7. I can safely have unprotected sex after taking emergency contraception 

This is untrue. Emergency contraception only works and protects against pregnancy from unprotected sex that has already occurred. This does not protect against future unprotected sex.  

If you think taking emergency contraception means it’s safe to proceed to have unprotected sex, this is not the case as you might have missed the most effective time window for the medication to work. 

If you prefer to have unprotected sex, it might be time to consider taking regular birth control. There are many different types of birth control available so take to your local healthcare provider to get more information about what type is best suited for you. 

If you decide to start taking birth control straight after taking emergency contraception, there are a few things to take note of. It is completely safe to take hormonal birth control straight after taking levonorgestrel. However, it is not the same when taking Ulipristal acetate. Doctors recommend only starting hormonal birth control after 5 days of taking Ulipristal acetate. 

Now that you know more about emergency contraception, I hope you feel well equipped and confident to get emergency contraception when needed. Accidents do happen and there are options out there to help you if you ever find yourself in this situation. 


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