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Various packages containing emergency contraceptive pills

Illustration by Marta Pucci

Sex

What it’s like to use the morning-after pill

Readers share their emergency contraception stories

by Jen Bell, Writer
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The emergency contraceptive Pill (ECP) is also known as the morning-after pill, but it’s not just for the morning after.

ECPs are most effective when taken soon after unprotected sex, but can still have some effect for up to 4-5 days (96-120 hours) depending on where you are in your cycle and which pill(s) you take.

We asked for your experiences. Here’s what you said.

“I asked for the pill and got it.”

I decided to take the morning-after pill five months ago, after I had a feeling that the condom broke. I went to a pharmacy. I asked for the pill and got it. It was a normal experience. After taking it I had some mood swings. —Anonymous, heterosexual, female, 21, Mumbai, India

“I felt like I had to fight to be allowed to take it.”

I took the ECP six years ago. I was very unwell which had made my periods weird and I was worried the medication I was taking had interfered with my birth control. I went to see my GP — I felt like I had to fight to be allowed to take it, and was made to feel like I was being paranoid and overreacting. It was embarrassing. After taking it I felt guilty. It would have been easier for me if I’d had a more open and understanding GP that didn’t invalidate my concerns or health anxiety. —Anonymous, bisexual, female, 24, England

“There needs to be more information about side effects and possible complications.”

I took the ECP five months ago, in November 2018. The condom broke and we noticed when he withdrew, and I was in my fertility window. I decided to go to the pharmacy. They offered me all the options that they had. It was an easy experience. After taking it, I felt calm, with a bit of dizziness, nausea and pelvic pain like a menstrual cramp.

It's good to have these pills, but there needs to be more information about side effects and possible complications. Many girls use them as a contraceptive method. —Gabbs, heterosexual, female, 38, México City, México

A note from Clue: Emergency contraception is for emergencies

Emergency contraception doesn't work as well as oral contraceptives and most other forms of birth control. Out of every 100 women relying on levonorgestrel-containing emergency contraception as their primary form of birth control, between 11 and 20 of them will become pregnant in one year (1).

“I had recently given birth to my first child.”

When I took the morning-after pill I must have been around 27. It was 2013. I had recently given birth to my first child, had not resumed a regular cycle yet, and had unprotected sex. I was not keen to repeat the experience of pregnancy so soon. I went to the pharmacy at the mall. I had to fill out and sign a questionnaire that required me to confirm that I knew the effects of taking the pills (two of them), and the risks. That was the only difference to any other over the counter medication I've ever requested.

Emotionally, I think I felt fine. It was a while ago, but I imagine I would have felt somewhat matter-of-fact about not wanting to be pregnant, and having taken steps to prevent that. Physically, there was some cramping and bleeding, but I was otherwise fine.

I think my relatively high exposure to online information and communities that discuss pregnancy prevention and termination options factually made a big difference in how I approached the situation at the time. I knew it was available to me and that it was a perfectly valid option to pursue. —Anonymous, bisexual, female, 33, Cape Town, South Africa

“The pharmacist was really good—no questions asked.”

I have taken ECPs 3-4 times. The most recent time was last month. My partner and I had a condom slip when we had sex, right around the time I was ovulating, and I was concerned his semen had made it into my vagina. I went to the pharmacy in the health center at the university where I work. The pharmacist was really good—no questions asked (except to confirm my status with the university). [There was] no apparent judgment. After taking the ECP, I felt fine. Previously, I've had bleeding (like a light period) starting a day or so after I took the ECP, but nothing this most recent time. This was one of the easiest, least expensive experiences I've had accessing ECP. —Anonymous, female, 32, New Haven, US

“I called the pharmacy and they delivered it to my house.”

I took the ECP about a year ago, because I’d had unprotected sex. In my country (Dominican Republic) a prescription is not needed. I called the pharmacy and they delivered it to my house. After taking the ECP I felt normal. It just messed up the next 3 [menstrual] cycles for me. —Anonymous, queer, female, 28, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

“I felt relieved to be doing something about the situation, and grateful I had this option readily available.”

I took the morning-after pill a couple of months ago. The condom broke midway and I am paranoid about this stuff and wanted to be safe—especially looking at where I was in my cycle (right in the middle of my ovulation window).

I immediately wanted to get the ECP, and my boyfriend also asked if I was gonna. I went to a pharmacy at the station in the morning (9-10 hours later), with no issues. Only thing was its price: 19-ish euros for one Ella pill. But, I am more than willing to pay that, if it means I’m highly increasing my chances of not getting pregnant.

After taking it, I felt a bit sleepy but not much out of the ordinary, actually. I felt relieved to be doing something about the situation, and grateful I had this option readily available. Later in the day I got a lot more tired, but I don’t remember getting cramps or nausea or anything. —Anonymous, asexual panromantic, genderfluid, 23, Leiden, Netherlands

“I didn’t know which pill to take. I was at the mercy of the pharmacist.”

I took the morning-after pill one month ago, after I had a one night stand on vacation. I was in Iceland and I went to a pharmacy there. The pharmacist pulled me to the side, told me to read the pamphlet, asked if I had any questions, and then let me on my way. Afterwards I felt fine! No symptoms. One issue that I did have, is that I didn’t know which pill to take, I was at the mercy of the pharmacist and I wasn’t sure if I got the “right” one.   —Anonymous, bi, female, 23, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

A tip from Clue: How to choose the best emergency contraception

Depending on how long after sex you're going to get ECP, there may be a better choice. ECPs that contain ulipristal acetate are effective if taken up to 120 hours after sex. ECPs with levonorgestrel are effective up to 72-96 hours after sex (1). Read more about the effectiveness of different emergency contraceptives.

“Afterwards I felt slightly fatigued, but there were no major side effects.”

I took the ECP in August 2017. I decided I wanted to take it after using the withdrawal method. I went to my local pharmacy and didn’t have any problems with the staff. Afterwards I felt slightly fatigued, but there were no major side effects. The whole experience was okay given the situation. —Anonymous, heterosexual, female, 21, Malé, Maldives

“[The pharmacist] was in training and wasn't so reassuring, saying things like "this is ONLY 99% effective."

I took the morning-after pill a year and a half ago (twice within a month), when the condom broke and we didn't realise until after he pulled out. I decided to take it and went to the pharmacy. I've actually had to take it on two occasions.

The first time I had no judgement from the pharmacist at all and I was able to tell her where in my cycle I was. She was quite informative. The second time was still fine but she was in training and wasn't so reassuring, saying things like "this is ONLY 99% effective" which would have made me feel very uneasy if it were my first experience. After taking the ECP the first time I felt nauseous and dizzy. The second time to a lesser degree. —Michelle, pansexual, 22, Aberdeen, United Kingdom

A note from Clue: Effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills varies

Researchers don't know exactly how well ECPs work at preventing pregnancy during use in a single menstrual cycle. Estimates are between 47-100% in different studies, and the effectiveness can depend on the type of ECP (1).

“I wish businesses were more proactive in taking a position and advertising that they offer ECPs.”

I took the ECP five years ago. When I disposed of the condom wrapper after sex I noticed the condom we'd used had expired. I decided the ECP was the best course of action as our previous prevention method might have been compromised.

I went to a local Lawtons (pharmacy chain) and asked for the emergency pill. I believe there might have been a glance or two from one of the senior staff members but the clerk who was serving me did a great job. Around this time I had been pursuing tubal ligation, so fighting for my rights was something I was accustomed to.

After taking the ECP, I believe I had slight nausea and cramping, but overall it was fine. However, having a feminist or sex positive facility to approach would have made the experience better for me. If we'd had a local Planned Parenthood or clinic that was vocal about their politics I wouldn't have been as worried about potentially having to fight for access. Having worked within support shelters I knew youth, women, trans and genderqueer people have faced discrimination in my area in accessing what should be legally and readily available.

Pharmacies should have ECPs readily available, and I wish businesses were more proactive in taking a position and advertising that they offer ECPs. When I needed it, I didn't want to waste time searching for friendly pharmacists or phoning my network of friends to see which pharmacies were supportive and helpful, and which would randomly refuse services. —Amanda, queer/pansexual, female, 31, Halifax, Canada

Did you know that the copper IUD can also be inserted as a form of emergency contraception?  Read more about emergency contraception and when it’s most effective, how birth control works, different types of birth control, and STIs.

Download Clue to track your cycle. If you have a longer cycle after taking an ECP, here’s how to enter that in Clue.