Emergency Contraception: A Guide

Emergency Contraception: A Guide

Emergency contraception is contraception used following unprotected sex to avoid becoming pregnant. In 2016/7, over 260,000 emergency contraception items were dispensed from pharmacies and sexual health centres in England . Though overall there has been a decrease in the number of women seeking out emergency contraception – in 2005/6 over 484,000 items were dispensed – thousands of women across the country still rely on its widespread availability in pharmacies, NHS clinics, and online.

To learn more about how emergency contraception works and where you can get it, read on.

The Morning After Pill

The most popular form of emergency contraception is the morning after pill, a tablet taken after unprotected sex.

There are two types of emergency contraceptive pill currently available in the UK: Levonelle and ellaOne.

Levonelle contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of progesterone, and is thought to work by delaying ovulation. Levonelle is the most well-known version of this pill, but others (containing the same active ingredient in the same dose) are also available.

EllaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which prevents progesterone from working normally; like Levonelle, it is thought to work by delaying ovulation. EllaOne is the only morning after pill available in the UK that contains this active ingredient.

Levonelle must be taken within 72 hours (three days) of unprotected sex; ellaOne must be taken within 120 hours (five days) of unprotected sex. You should aim to take the morning after pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

There are several benefits to using the morning after pill as a form of emergency contraception. The first is that it is easy to obtain, as it is available for free from:

  • contraception clinics
  • GUM and sexual health clinics
  • GP surgeries
  • NHS walk-in centres

You can also get the morning after pill over the counter in pharmacies; some pharmacies will supply the emergency contraceptive pill for free. In most pharmacies you will have to pay for the morning after pill.

Another key benefit is that the morning after pill is easy to take. However, you should bear in mind that if you vomit within three hours of taking it you will need to take another one to remain protected.


The other form of emergency contraception is the emergency IUD, or coil. An IUD is a small T-shaped device made from plastic and copper that is inserted into the uterus by a doctor or nurse. It works by releasing copper, which prevents an egg from implanting in the womb and becoming fertilised.

Following unprotected sex, the IUD can be inserted up to five days later. It must be inserted by a medical professional in a GP surgery or sexual health clinic; you cannot insert the IUD yourself. The process of having an IUD inserted can cause pain and discomfort, but once it is inside your uterus it can be left there and used as ongoing contraception.

You can get the IUD fitted for free at NHS centres and clinics. Before attending a clinic it’s best to check whether they can provide the IUD, as some only offer the morning after pill.

The two key benefits of the IUD are that it is the most effective form of emergency contraception, and that it can be left in and used as long-term contraception .

Long-Term Contraception

The IUD can be used as long-term contraception, but the morning after pill is not designed for regular use. If you are concerned about pregnancy, you should talk to a doctor about your contraception options.

Long-term contraception options include:

  • The combined pill
  • The mini pill (progesterone-only)
  • The IUS (hormonal coil)
  • The implant

If you need the emergency contraceptive pill, you can obtain it safely through The Online Clinic. Sources: