Let’s face it, unprotected sex does happen and sometimes, with a bit of bad luck, condoms can break and situations can arise where a woman may need emergency contraception. This kind of contraception is used after sex but before you are pregnant. If you are unsure about talking with the pharmacist or GP for any reason – don’t be. It’s nothing to get nervous about. In fact, 3 out of 4 unwanted pregnancies could be prevented if all women used emergency contraception after unprotected sex, and many abortions could also be avoided. The power is yours.
Eggs over easy: The right time to use it
Did you know there is a small time period after sex in which a woman is not yet pregnant? This happens for several reasons. An egg can only be fertilised when it leaves the ovaries and reaches the womb. So even though wily sperm can loiter around the womb, flowers in hand, for up to five days after unprotected sex, the egg still needs to show up for the date in order for conception to occur.
And even if an egg does become fertilised, it needs to become implanted into the womb wall, which only happens several days after the egg is fertilised. Many fertilised eggs do not implant in the womb, and when the egg does not implant within a seven-day timeframe, the woman does not become pregnant.
How do they work?
There are three types of emergency contraceptive, and they work in slightly different ways.
The morning after pill contains oestrogen and/or progesterone, the same hormones contained in the contraceptive pill or injection, just in a much greater dose. They work by preventing ovulation (meaning they prevent a woman’s egg from leaving her ovaries), so the egg cannot be fertilised and the sperm are jilted at the altar. However, it’s only effective in the first half of your menstrual cycle because you haven’t yet ovulated.
The intrauterine device is inserted inside a woman’s uterus or womb to cause the lining of the womb to change so that it is not receptive to a fertilised egg. If the egg can’t get comfortable in the womb, then you cannot get pregnant.
Only the morning after pill and the IUD are available as emergency contraception in Australia. To receive a prescription for mifepristone, you must talk to your GP.