The Sex Talk: Your emergency birth control options if you’ve had unprotected sex
Editor's Note: We believe that virginity, birth control, and sex are still opaque topics here in the Philippines. A discussion about these things with our parents mostly involves them telling us never to have intercourse or get pregnant until we're married. However, that is hardly a deterrent for women to make unwise choices. At Project Vanity, our ultimate goal is to empower women by providing them information about their own bodies so they feel more confident navigating their world.
In The Sex Talk, a new section here at PV, we aim to consult with doctors and experts about common questions we feel should be answered by women, for women.
Ready for a dose of cold, hard reality? Accidents happen. No judgment here. And it’s not always the scenario you’d expect, either. Yes, incidences of unprotected sex can be caused by the heat of the moment but it can also result from a failed primary birth control option like a broken condom, or even something as severe as sexual assault. Whatever the case, it’s important to know that you have options readily available to you in that time of need. Yes, even though the deed has been done without protection, there is still a way to lower or remove your risk of getting pregnant.
Emergency birth control is something that's not common knowledge here in the the Philippines, so we had a chat with Dr. Rowena Rivera, an OB-GYN at The Medical City and instructor at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health to tell us more about it. After helping us navigate the hymen, she’s back to talk about last-minute options for preventing an unplanned pregnancy.
The long and short of it
Emergency birth control? Morning-after pill? What’s the difference? They are often used interchangeably, because the morning-after pill is a form of emergency birth control. Do note that these measures are designed to prevent pregnancy even before it happens, which also means that there is only a small time frame in which it can be effective.
What are your options?
If you’re familiar with American pop culture, you’ve probably heard of Plan B. It’s just one of the emergency contraceptive options available in the US, along with ella and Next Choice. Unfortunately, none of these morning after pills are available in the PH but you still have two options.
“What’s available in the country and what’s most effective is the IUD,” says Dr. Rivera. Though the intrauterine device is primarily as a long-acting, reversible artificial contraceptive, it’s also effective as an emergency option if placed by your doctor within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Aside from the immediate efficacy, it can provide you with continuous birth control for as much as the next 10 years. As an intrauterine device though, it cannot protect you or your partner from getting sexually transmitted diseases so it’s still a good idea to use a condom.
Alternatively, you can take a powerful dose of OCPs (oral contraceptive pills) following the Yuzpe method. Depending on the type of pill, you usually take several pills in two doses to boost the contraceptive effect. This is best done within 24 up to 72 hours after sex and with your OB-GYN’s guidance to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The sudden surge in hormones can result in some side effects like nausea and vomiting so do make sure to contact your doctor if this happens, as the vomiting may cause you to throw up the pills and render this option ineffective.
You can check the different doses for different types of pills here. The easiest to access birth control pill which you can use for the Yuzpe method is Nordette, four of which you can take 12 hours apart (total of eight pills). Nordette can be purchased in most drugstores in the Philippines. Please do make sure to contact your health care provider for advice before doing this, especially if you have an existing condition.
The A Word
So much controversy surrounds the nature of emergency birth control, especially in our country where a strong opposition to artificial contraceptives can lead to fear-mongering and misinformation. Let’s address the burning question: are emergency birth control methods considered an abortifacient? The answer is NO. “With the morning after pill, IUD, and Yuzpe method, you want to prevent implantation. Abortion only occurs when implantation has already taken place,” explains Dr. Rivera.
If implantation has already occurred or if the pregnancy is already underway, taking birth control pills or even the morning after pill will not harm the developing baby. “The pill is proven to be without effects on the implanted embryo,” she clarifies.
In the case of IUDs, they will also not disrupt an implantation that has already taken place. However, early detection of the pregnancy is a must as there are cases where an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage can occur because of the presence of IUD. If this happens, the doctor will advise you whether to leave the IUD in or have it taken out, depending on the condition of the embryo.
If you find yourself in need of emergency birth control, it’s very important for you to take a proactive stance in finding safe and medically-proven solutions rather than looking online for sketchy DIYs.
- Keep calm and don’t panic but understand the urgency of the situation. Emergency contraceptives only have a small window of time to be effective, so act fast but stay smart. Think about the options available to you and consider which one may suit you best.
- Call the doctor very quick. Self-medication can lead to some serious consequences so don’t try to Yuzpe all on your own. Get yourself an appointment with your OB-GYN ASAP. If you decide on an IUD, let them know in advance so they can order the implant and have it ready for when you visit.
- Get support. This is naturally a nerve-wracking experience, so the presence of your significant other or a friend during the doctor’s appointment and through the entire ordeal can help keep things in perspective.
- Prepare for sudden changes. If taking pills, higher doses of hormones are involved, so your body might be put through the wringer. We’re talking sudden mood swings, headaches, and the tendency to feel ill. Your doctor should advise you on how to handle them, and which side effects may require you to give them a call or schedule another visit.
- Check back. To be sure, you may want to purchase a pregnancy test to use a few weeks after your close call.
- Plan for the future. If you plan to continue to be sexually active, talk to your doctor about getting on regular contraception. You may want to continue to take pills, or get an injectable or an implant if you tend to forget to take them.