What is it?
Contraception you can use to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex or when you think you might get pregnant. There are two types:
- The emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the morning-after pill).
- The IUD (intrauterine device).
Where can I get it?
You can get the emergency pill and the IUD free from:
- a GP surgery that provides contraception
- a contraception clinic
- a sexual health clinic
- some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- a young person's clinic.
You can also get the emergency pill free from:
- some pharmacies
- most NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units
- some Accident and Emergency departments.
You can buy the emergency pill from most pharmacies if you're aged 16 or over, and some private clinics but you may need to pay for this.
How does it work?
- The emergency contraceptive pill needs to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It is more effective the sooner it is taken. It contains progestogen and works by delaying or preventing ovulation.
- The IUD can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex, or up to five days after the earliest time you could have ovulated. It may prevent an egg being fertilised or may prevent an egg implanting in your womb (see Useful links).
How effective is it?
If taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, the emergency pill will prevent up to 95% of pregnancies that could be expected to occur if no emergency contraception was used. This drops to 58% if you take it 49-72 hours after unprotected sex. The IUD will prevent 99% of pregnancies expected to occur.
If you use the IUD as emergency contraception, you can also use it as an ongoing contraceptive method.
There are no serious side effects from using the emergency pill, but it could make you feel sick, dizzy or tired, or give you a headache, tender breasts or abdominal pain. It could also make your next period earlier or later than usual.
Contraception for the future
You can get help and advice on contraception from a community contraception clinic, a general practice (if they offer contraceptive services), a sexual health clinic, young people's services and some GUM clinics. They can offer advice on future contraception so that you do not have to worry about getting pregnant if you do not want a baby yet or to protect yourself from catching STIs.