Let’s say, hypothetically, you’ve just had unprotected sex with Kyle (again!) and let’s say Kyle didn’t pull out quite in time (again!). Let’s also say this is the third time in three weeks that this little snafu has happened, and you find yourself rolling up to the pharmacy, where the morning shift guy knows you, trolling for some Plan B. Is this...too much?, you may be wondering in this purely hypothetical situation. Is this stuff bad for me, or am I overdoing it on the ol’ “emergency” contraception?
The short, simple answer is no; it’s not possible to take emergency contraceptive pills “too much,” to the point that they’re no longer effective and/or bad for you, as long as you follow the directions on the box. What this means for you is, if you have unprotected sex four times in a month, you can go ahead and use emergency contraception four times in a month. It won’t be less effective on time four, it won’t destroy all your remaining eggs, and you won’t even be punished by your seventh grade health teacher for not using a condom a few times here and there (though, in the interest of preventing the spread of STIs, you should perhaps reconsider your policies on condom usage).
But! As Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist in New York, emphasized, that doesn’t mean you should stockpile emergency contraceptive pills to swallow every single time you have sex. The first, most practical reason is that emergency contraception is way more expensive than regular birth control. Name brand pills like Plan B typically cost somewhere between $40–$50 a pop, and while generic pills can be cheaper—around ten bucks—$40 for four morning-after pills is still more expensive than most other forms of birth control, thanks to the ACA.
Emergency contraceptive pills are also slightly less effective than traditional birth control methods. They’re great in a pinch! All of them are available over the counter (minus the ella pill; the copper IUD, can also work as emergency contraception, but is obviously not a pill). The pills are around 90 percent effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. But that’s still less effective than condoms (98 percent effective) or hormonal birth control pills (91 percent effective with typical use).
The third caveat, which both Dweck and Brightman mentioned, is that emergency contraceptives can cause irregular bleeding and throw your period a bit out of whack, which isn’t dangerous, but can be unnerving. As Dweck explained, irregular bleeding happens (sometimes) because emergency contraceptives work by blocking ovulation. Depending on where you’re at in your cycle, blocking ovulation may mean your period comes later or earlier than usual.
With all those points in mind, emergency contraception is great and wonderful, especially now that almost every option is available OTC. As Rebecca Brightman, a gynecologist in New York, told VICE, the olden days, pre-emergency contraception, were bleak: “For a very, very long time, we would give patients high dose birth control pills,” Brightman said. “We would call in a high dose pill and have somebody take one, and then another 12 hours later.” Now things are much easier: You show up to the pharmacy or grocery store (or even log onto Amazon or Seamless) and buy what you need.
But keep in mind that the most popular form of emergency contraception is literally called “Plan B,” which implies that there’s a Plan A. Plan A probably looks more like getting a traditional form of birth control, especially if you’re buying so much emergency contraception that you’re starting to worry if you’re overdoing it. Once again, you’re not! But there’s likely a more economical way to go about things and to put your mind at ease.
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