Emergency Contraception: Where Is It Available?

Get the latest facts on where to find emergency contraception.

By Kimberly Holland

The rules and regulations governing emergency contraception (EC) are changing. In June 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved unrestricted sales of one brand of emergency contraception. It changed the requirements for two others. In most states, women and men have access to several different brands and types of emergency contraception, but who can purchase them and where can vary from state to state.

Two types of EC are available: emergency contraception pills (ECPs) and intrauterine devices (IUDs). ECPs are the easiest to access and most widely available. A doctor has to place an IUD in your uterus.

The sooner you get EC, the more likely it is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Despite sometimes being called “the morning-after pill,” you can take most forms of EC immediately after sex or several days later. Itís most successful if taken within 72 hours (three days) after intercourse, but EC can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. If you decide to have an IUD placed by a health care provider, it is still effective up to five days after unprotected sex.

Where is emergency contraception available?

Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel) is available over the counter at drugstores and at some family planning clinics. As of August 2013, you can purchase Plan B without age restrictions or having to show identification to verify your age.

Generic versions of Plan B (My Way, Next Choice One Dose, and two-dose levonorgestrel tablets) are available without a prescription for women age 17 and up. Women under 17 still require a prescription for these generic options.

ella (ulipristal) is available by prescription only. Your health care provider or a family planning clinic can write you a prescription for ella. You can also get a prescription online through the pillís website. Once you have a prescription, you can get it filled online or at a local pharmacy.

Not all pharmacies carry each type of EC. Be sure to call your pharmacy to see if they stock the EC you want before going.

The T-shaped intrauterine device (IUD) can also be used as EC. Women who have an IUD placed within five days of unprotected sex can still prevent pregnancy. However, not all women are good candidates for an IUD. Women with certain STDs, infections, or a history of specific cancers should not get an IUD. Your doctor will write you a prescription for an IUD and have it at the clinic when itís time to place the device.

In some cases, birth control pills can be used as EC, too. Your doctor will give you instructions on using this method. Birth control pills are available at pharmacies and family planning clinics.

Can I buy emergency contraception online?

Yes, you can buy some forms of EC online. ella is one of them. Once you obtain a prescription from a doctor, family planning clinic, or the ella website, you can purchase ella through KwikMed, an online pharmacy.

You may also be able to purchase Plan B through the Family Planning Health Services (FPHS) of Wisconsin. However, EC is only available through FPHS for women age 17 and older. FPHS does not ship next-day delivery, so you may not want to use this option if you need the EC quickly.

 

An important note:

Do not purchase EC from any website not associated with a health care service or other trustworthy company. Some online outlets sell fraudulent medicine, and these pills can be dangerous to your health.

Do I need a prescription?

You do not need a prescription to buy Plan B One-Step. You only need a prescription to buy My Way, Next Choice One Dose, and generic levonorgestrel tablets if you are younger than 17. Women of all ages will need a prescription for ella and traditional birth control pills. You can get one from your health care provider, a county health department, or a family planning clinic. You can also get a prescription for ella through an online consultation on the companyís website.

You need a prescription for an IUD, but your doctor will acquire the IUD for you in time for your appointment to have the IUD placed.

Do I need an ID?

You do not need to show identification to buy Plan B One-Step. Men and women of any age can purchase Plan B over the counter without verifying their age. You will need to be able to verify your age if you want to purchase My Way, Next Choice One Dose, or levonorgestrel tablets, however. All three are available without a prescription to women over 17 and with a prescription to women under 17.

Do I need my parents’ consent?

No, you do not need your parents’ consent to purchase EC. Before you meet with a health care provider, ask if your discussion will remain confidential. If not, you may want to seek out another health care professional or clinic who will keep your health care needs private.

How much does it cost?

Plan B averages $40 to $50 per dose. My Way, Next Choice One Dose, and levonorgestrel tablets are about $35 to $45. You can order one dose of ella for next-day delivery for $40 through KwikMed. IUDs can be very expensiveóbetween $500 and $1,000. Some brands of traditional birth control are available for free or with a small co-pay if you have insurance.

Your health insurance may cover the cost of all or part of your EC. Before you go to a pharmacy or clinic, call your insurance provider to verify which ECs are covered by your insurance.

Resources

  1. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About How to Get Emergency Contraception. 2013, 31 July. The Office of Population Research at Princeton University. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/get-EC.html.
  2. Looking for Emergency Contraception Now? 2013, 2 August. The Office of Population Research at Princeton University. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://ec.princeton.edu/providers/index.html.
  3. Emergency Contraception Fact Sheet. n.d. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/contraception/emergency-contraception/index.html.
  4. FDA approves Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive for use without a prescription for all women of child-bearing potential. 2013, 20 June. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ ucm358082.
  5. Emergency contraception (emergency birth control) fact sheet. 2011, 21 November. The Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/emergency-contraception.cfm.

 

 

A Woman’s Guide to Safe Sex Basics

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Practice safe sex

As a woman, you shouldn’t be afraid to take control of your sexual health and safety. Being prepared, being ready, and being safe are healthy and wise. Preventing getting or spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV, gonorrhea, or syphilis, helps both you and your partners stay disease-free. Plus, smart use of birth control can help you avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Here, 10 ways you can practice safe sex and better birth control.

 

Research your birth control options

Birth control options are expanding. Today, daily pills, monthly injections, vaginal rings, and intrauterine devices are all options for preventing pregnancy if you are sexually active. Talk with your health care provider about your birth control options if you are or may become sexually active. At each yearly check-up, discuss your lifestyle changes and decide if your birth control option is still the right one for you. Also, if your birth control is causing unwanted side effects (such as dizziness or decreased sex drive), work with your doctor to find a birth control option that works better.

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Know your status

If you are sexually active or have been in the past, it’s important you are checked regularly for STIs. Some diseases that are contracted through sexual encounters do not cause significant symptoms or signs until several weeks, months, or even years after you’ve contracted them. By the time you find out you have the STI, you may have unknowingly shared it with someone. Likewise, a partner may unknowingly share an STI with you. That’s why you should be tested often. It’s the only way you’ll know for sure if you—and your partner who is tested with you—are clean. Your general practitioner can conduct the test. You can also visit your county’s department of health or a local family planning clinic.

Use protection every time

It might seem like trite advice, but the best way to prevent pregnancy and lower your risk for getting an STI is to use barrier protection correctly every time you have a sexual encounter. Male condoms are the most common form of protection. If your partner does not want to use a male condom, you can use a female condom. (More is not better—using both a male and female condom can cause one or both to break.) (1) If you or your partner is allergic to traditional latex condoms, polyurethane condoms are available. Also, natural condoms, often made from lambskin, can prevent pregnancy, but they do not protect against HIV or other STIs. You can purchase condoms at most any pharmacy or mass-market retailer. Your doctor’s office or local health department may offer free condoms.

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Communication is key

Be honest about your sexual past, your preferences, and your decision to practice safe sex. This way, you and your partner can communicate openly. It’s important that the two of you share your sexual histories so that you can find out about potential STIs or diseases. Some STIs are not curable; you will want to use protection to prevent receiving any incurable STIs from a partner. Also, discussing your past opens up the path to talk about testing for STIs.

Abstain from sex

You can contract STIs from vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The only way to be 100% sure you’ll prevent an unplanned pregnancy or an STI is to not have sex, or to abstain. Make a decision to abstain from sex until you’re emotionally and physically ready. Share this decision with any partners, too, as a way to keep yourself accountable. Sharing your decision to abstain from sex until you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship opens up channels for discussion with your partner and can help the two of you be more honest about your sexual health.

Limit your number of partners

This fact is simple: The more people you are sexually involved with, the more likely you are to get an STI or to get pregnant. Limit your number of sexual partners. Each new partner brings a history of other sexual partners, sexual encounters, and potential infections. If you’re not in a monogamous relationship, being smart about your sexual encounters can help keep you safe.

Or better yet, be monogamous

Apart from abstinence, the best way to prevent contracting an STI is to be part of a long-term, one-partner relationship. As long as the two of you remain faithful to one another, you may reach a point in your relationship where you decide to have sex without barrier protection. (If one of you has an STI, you may want to continue using barrier protection, even if you’re monogamous, to prevent transmitting the infection.) However, this pact only works if both of you remain monogamous. If your partner begins having sexual encounters outside your relationship, you may contract STIs without knowing it.

Use protection for all sexual encounters

You can only get pregnant from vaginal sex, of course, but you can contract an STI from vaginal, anal, and oral sex. For that reason, protection is a must at any sexual encounter. Using male condoms or dental dams can help keep you from contracting an STI, such as HIV, during oral sex. Male condoms can also prevent sharing an STI during anal sex. Both female and male condoms are good for vaginal sex, but do not use them together.

Be careful of the products you use

Don’t be quick to use a douche or vaginal wash. These products can remove normal, healthy bacteria—bacteria that could actually help prevent an infection. If you use these washes frequently, you increase your risk of getting an STI.

Use a lubricant when you have sex. Condoms can tear or rip if you or your partner is not properly lubricated. Lubricants can also prevent skin tearing during sex. Open skin is an avenue for sharing STIs. Use water- or silicone-based lubricants, not oil-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can actually increase the risk of a condom tearing. Read all directions on the condom box to make sure you’re using it properly.

Clean sex toys, too

You and your partner may turn to sex toys as a way to add interest to your relationship. These devices cannot get you pregnant, but they can still spread STIs and other infections. Wash and sterilize any sex toys between uses. You can also use latex condoms on sex toys. This will help keep them clean and reduce the likelihood you’ll get an infection. Read the directions that come with the device to learn the best way to clean it. Different materials require different cleaning methods.

Safe sex is healthy sex

Sex is not always the easiest topic to bring up with a new partner—or even a partner you’ve had for a while. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s important. Safe sexual practices keep you and your partner healthy. Before your first sexual encounter, it’s smart to have a discussion about your behaviors, preferences, history, and choices for protection. Being proactive about this talk helps prevent heat-of-the-moment decisions that can lead to long-term regrets.