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Debunking Emergency Contraceptive Myths

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

This article mentions sexual assault, infertility, abortion, and emergency contraception. We understand that this material may be triggering. If you need additional resources please reach out to support services.

Do you remember when someone would tell you something in school and you didn’t have any other information to disprove it so you just went with it and still kinda believe it to this day? Well...maybe some of you were also told this in high school, but I was convinced that if you took

Plan B more than three times that it would result in infertility. Now obviously as a well-educated university student, I know that there’s no way that could be true, but I’ve never actually gotten the cold, hard facts to discredit this dangerous myth. So please sit back, grab a cup of tea, (or if you’rebasic like me, a pumpkin spice latte), and let me bring you (and my younger self) up to speed on all the ins and outs of emergency contraceptives.

Just an FYI y’all, emergency contraception (EC) is not synonymous with Plan B or the ‘morning-after pill’. There are actually a few different types! We have various oral emergency contraceptives (ECPs), some common shelf names are, Plan B, Norlevo, Option 2, and Next Choice, and ella. The first ones listed are effective for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, whereas ella is effective up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. However, all pills are most effective if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

There is another option as well - a copper IUD. If inserted up to 5-7 days after unprotected sex, a copper IUD will prevent the egg from becoming fertilized or implanting in the womb. The IUD is said to be the most effective form of emergency contraception, less than 1% of women get pregnant while using the IUD. But there are some reasons why the IUD is not as commonly used as oral forms of emergency contraception….

  • It can be hard to get an emergency IUD inserted within the time window. The pill is likely more accessible and convenient for most people.

  • IUD insertion isn’t everyone’s cup of tea… it can be a painful process. Not to mention you will need to consider the side effects of continuing to use a copper IUD as your primary form of birth control if it’s not removed.

Now that you know what emergency contraceptives are, let’s dive into the reasons people use them. Not a single one of these reasons or any other reason that is on the list gives someone the right to judge you for taking an emergency contraceptive. Especially not the pharmacist.

Emergency contraceptives are used after unprotected sex. Maybe a condom broke or you forgot to take your birth control pill that morning. Maybe you weren’t using birth control. There are so many reasons why someone may need to use emergency contraception, no one should be judged or shamed for seeking emergency contraception.

If you were sexually assaulted, using an emergency contraceptive can decrease your chances of getting pregnant even if you were using another form of birth control. Please consult this website for further resources

Regardless of your situation, here are some things you should know about emergency contraceptives. I really wish someone taught me about this maybe in, uh, high school? Oh but wait! High school sex ed. sucked (more on this in our previous blog post).

Myth #1: There is a weight limit for emergency contraceptive pills.

The evidence that a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) results in levonorgestrel (the main ingredient in Plan B) ineffectiveness is limited and inconclusive. A study in 2011 concluded that obese women taking ECPs had a greater risk of pregnancy. Yet, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada state that there is not enough research to suggest that higher weight decreases effectiveness of ECPs. Women with a BMI over 30 should never be discouraged from using ECPs. Even if effectiveness does decrease with weight, there is no conclusive evidence to discredit its efficacy.

Myth #2: You need to be 18 to purchase EC pills.

Anyone can purchase an EC pill from the pharmacy in Canada. Yes, this means if you’re a teen under 18 you can get the “morning-after pill” over the counter! You should not be made to feel ashamed or uncomfortable when purchasing this drug (if someone does - that’s their problem, not yours).

Myth #3: If you take Plan B more than 3 times, you will be infertile.

Um, NO! Using an ECP more than once will not affect your fertility or your chances of getting pregnant in the future.

Myth #5: Taking an ECP causes an abortion.

Also not true. The physiological mechanisms of medicated abortions and emergency contraceptives are very different. Oral emergency contraceptives delay or prevent ovulation, and if there’s no egg then there can’t be a pregnancy. Medically induced abortions reduce the thickness of the uterine lining so that an embryo can no longer stay attached. Access to both of these options is a basic healthcare right, but it’s still important to know the difference between the two. Emergency contraception does not work if pregnancy has already occurred, that’s why the sooner it’s taken after unprotected sex the better!

Myth #6: Using emergency contraceptives long-term is the same as using regular contraceptives.

Although using EC pills long-term will not affect your health, it’s not as effective as using a regular contraceptive option. EC can add up to be more expensive than other contraceptives and will likely cause you a lot more stress than using regular contraception. Plan B doesn’t offer monthly subscriptions for a reason y’all…

Myth #7: The more you take emergency contraceptive pills the less effective they are for you.

This is simply a probability game. The effectiveness of taking an ECP does not matter if it’s the first time you’re taking the pill or the 10th time. However, if you’re taking ECPs frequently, chances are you are having more unprotected sex, and this fact could be the culprit that's putting you at higher risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

Also, if you find yourself in a situation where you are using emergency contraceptive pills as a frequent method of birth control - it might be time to think about other options that are cheaper and maybe less stressful.

If you need help finding a contraceptive method that works for you, Reya’s got your back!

Side Effects:

When a drug is intended to change the way our bodies operate - ahem, prevent ovulation for instance, it can often have an effect on how we feel. Emergency contraceptive pills can cause some temporary side effects such as:

  • Nausea

  • Headaches

  • Tiredness

  • Spotting

  • Breast tenderness

The copper IUD can also come with it’s own side effects like cramping, bleeding and abdominal pain.

This is not to say that everyone experiences the same, all or any of these side effects but it’s important to be prepared.

To wrap things up, emergency contraceptives have their benefits, but it is important to be educated on how they work. It is so easy for myths and misconceptions to spread when we are not properly educated, especially regarding sexual health and wellness as it’s still a taboo topic. You should never feel ashamed of using emergency contraceptives. Can someone please let my pharmacy cashier know that….?

Editors: Lisa Hou, Dallas Barnes

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