Get those facts straight once and for all…
You know what it’s for, but do you know how the morning after pill actually works?
A new survey launched by ellaOne, the most effective* morning after pill, revealed that 59% of 1,027 18- to 35-year-olds did not know that the morning after pill works by delaying ovulation; 51% believed that you should not take it more than once in the same cycle (untrue); and 40% believed that it always causes side effects (also untrue).
Getting in a tangle with the facts stops you from making informed choices about emergency contraception, which could increase your risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
So, no more whispered questions and guessed answers – we quizzed pharmacist and sexual health expert Deborah Evans to help put things straight…
Myth 1: Morning after pills are all the same
There are two emergency contraception pills you can choose: ulipristal acetate and levonorgestrel, and they both work by delaying the surge of hormones that triggers ovulation. If ovulation is delayed, then no egg is available to fertilise, so pregnancy can be avoided.
But not all morning after pills are the same. Ulipristal acetate (the active ingredient in ellaOne) is more effective when taken within the first 24 hours compared with levonorgestrel, and can be taken up to five days after unprotected or failed contraception sex.
“If ulipristal acetate is taken within 24 hours after unprotected sex, it’s estimated that only nine women in 1,000 might get pregnant,” states Deborah.
The most effective form of emergency contraceptive is the copper IUD (copper coil); if it’s inserted within five days of unprotected penetrative sex, fewer than 1% of women get pregnant. But you’d need to head to your GP or sexual health clinic for it to be inserted in time (Deborah recommends that you still take the morning after pill in the meantime, if you can’t get an appointment for a while). The upside, however, is that once it’s in, it will give you ongoing contraception, hormone-free.
Myth 2: You have to take it in the morning
“You can take ulipristal acetate up to five days after unprotected penetrative sex and levonorgestrel up to three days after, but the effectiveness of both decreases the longer you leave it,” warns Deborah.
If you do nothing at all after unprotected sex, your risk of getting pregnant is 5.5%; if you take the levonorgestrel morning after pill, your risk of getting pregnant is 2.3%; and if you take ulipristal acetate, it’s 0.9%.
Myth 3: The morning after pill always causes side effects
This myth has probably come from an association with the oral contraceptive pill – where there is recognition of side effects.
“It’s not very likely that the morning after pill itself will make you sick,” Deborah says reassuringly. “In fact, only one in 10 women reports feeling sick after taking ulipristal acetate.”
“If for any reason you do end up vomiting within three hours of taking the morning after pill, it may not have been absorbed and it’s advised to take another dose,” she adds.
Myth 4: You can only use it three times in your lifetime
You can use the morning after pill as many times as you like, according to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health guidance – and there’s no evidence to suggest that multiple usage will affect future fertility.
Deborah is absolutely firm on this one: the hormones in the morning after pill will not affect your ability to conceive later on. “There is no evidence that taking emergency hormonal contraception affects your future fertility, however often you have to take it,” she says.
“We would always advise a woman to have a regular form of contraception rather than rely on emergency contraception.”
Myth 5: The morning after pill causes an abortion
Pregnancy can only occur when viable sperm meets an egg. The morning after pill delays ovulation by inhibiting the hormone rush that releases the egg long enough for the sperm that may already be present to die. Sperm can stay alive in the reproductive tract for up to five days, so if ovulation is halted, then there’s no egg to meet the sperm.
“If ovulation has just occurred before you had unprotected sex or you’re currently ovulating, then the morning after pill will not stop a pregnancy, because it cannot stop an already fertilised egg implanting or affect a pregnancy that’s already occurred. So the abortion connection is not valid. The pregnancy will still occur,” says Deborah.