Emergency Contraception

If you have had sex without contraception, or if your contraception has failed, you can take a pill to prevent getting pregnant - but you need to act as soon as possible
Young man and young woman visiting a fairground

Every time a man and a woman have (PIV) sex, there is a chance the woman may become pregnant. Most people use contraception to stop conception (getting pregnant).

But sometimes people have sex without using contraception to stop conception. Sometimes contraception may fail, for example if:

  • A condom splits or breaks
  • You are sick or have an upset stomach while taking the contraceptive pill

If this happens, you can take emergency hormonal contraception (EHC). The most common kind of emergency contraception must be taken within 72 hours of having sex. But there are other kinds of contraception you can take up to five days after having sex. If you take EHC you have a much lower chance of becoming pregnant.

You can get EHC from these places for free.

Crucial: Pharmacy opening hours may be different during the Christmas break but you will still be able to access Emergency Contraception. Christmas and New Year 2020/21 Bank Holiday Pharmacy Opening Times.

Crucial: During Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions you can still access EHC by a variety of routes, including the School Health Nurse Service, via the Sexual Health Services, from your GP and at pharmacists. Find out more about Getting EHC in Oxfordshire during coronavirus restrictions. If you are a young person aged under 19 and need a school nurse during the holidays or when schools are closed, you can contact the Contraception Outreach Service - call or text 07920 470 529  Mon-Fri 9-5pm or email Contraception.outreach@oxfordhealth.nhs.uk

Getting EHC free from a pharmacy

You can buy EHC at a pharmacy. But young women aged 21 and under can get EHC free of charge from pharmacies (also called chemists) on the below list. If your local pharmacy cannot offer this service, they will tell you where you can access free EHC. EHC, including free EHC, will continue to be available during Coronavirus restrictions.

Download the list of Pharmacies in Oxfordshire which provide free EHC to young people aged 21 and under. This list is updated regularly (last update Oct 2020) and includes information about other ways to get EHC. Remember that during Coronavirus restrictions it is crucial to phone ahead as well as check websites. Pharmacy opening hours for August Bank Holiday Monday 31st August 2020.

Not just the morning after

EHC is sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’. It does not have to be taken the morning after, but it will work better if you take it as soon as possible after having sex:

  • In the first 24 hours after unprotected sex it is 95% effective.
  • In the first 48 hours it is 85% effective.
  • In the first 72 hours it is 58% effective.

If you think you may need to take EHC, but it is more than 72 hours since you have had sex, you can still take one of two other kinds of emergency contraception. But for these you will need to go to your Doctor or a Sexual Health Clinic.

Crucial: You can get EHC from your GP (Doctor). But make sure you tell them that you need Emergency Hormonal Contraception when you call to make the appointment. That way they know you need to be seen as soon as possible.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

If you have had sex without a condom or the condom split or have had sex with a new partner, it might be worth thinking about whether you might have been in contact with a sexually transmitted infection such as Chlamydia.

For more information about this go to the Oxme page on sexual health or the Sexual Health Clinic

Experience: ‘Everyone was friendly at the clinic’

‘On my first visit to the clinic I saw Carrie, the nurse. She was friendly and explained everything. She said she would not write to my doctor if I didn’t want her to. I didn’t have to give my name and address, but I didn’t mind because they said they wouldn’t write home. She asked a lot of questions about my health and my family to make sure that if I went on the Pill I wouldn’t have dangerous side effects. Then I saw the doctor. I was glad it was a lady doctor. She gave me the pills and told me how to take them and when. She said I could ring or come back if I had any problems. If you are thinking about going to a Sexual Health Clinic, don’t worry. Everyone is nice to you.’ – Rebecca

Emergency Contraception is not abortion

Emergency contraception may stop ovulation (releasing the egg), fertilisation of an egg (when the sperm and egg meet), or a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus (womb).

Medical research and legal judgement are quite clear that emergency contraception prevents pregnancy and is not abortion. Abortion can only take place after a fertilised egg has implanted in the uterus

Instant expert: Get details about all the emergency contraception options available, and find out how they work, from Emergency Contraception on NHS Choices

Find out more

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