Abbey Francis on the Morning After Pill
To me, “The Morning After Pill” has always sounded like it should be some sort of miracle hang-over medication—pop one and alcohol-induced headaches, vomiting, and memory lapses disappear. Unfortunately for college students the world-over, such a miracle drug does not exist. Similarly, there is no true cure for bad one-night stands or sexual assault. But just as coffee and aspirin mitigate the stomach-churning effects of regretted evenings, so too can emergency contraception help limit the potential consequences of bad decisions, accidents, and rape.
Approved by the FDA in 1999 as a prescription medication and in 2006 as an over-the-counter medication for women over the age of 18, Plan B has had a lot of press over the years, both good and bad. Myths have been circulated, facts have been twisted, and many young women have come away with mistaken impressions about the drug. Here are the facts about “The Morning After Pill” and where you can get it on Wesleyan’s campus.
What it is
Any emergency contraception drug is essentially a high dose of birth control, particularly the hormone progestin, used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Like normal birth control, it prevents a woman from ovulating, thickens cervical mucus (to block sperm from entering the uterus) and thins the lining of the uterus, which could prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, a necessary step of pregnancy.
Emergency birth control is not an abortion, as it will not remove an already-fertilized egg from the wall of the uterus (the stage that most pinpoint as the moment of conception). It will—of course—not protect against STIs.
How to use it
It’s nicknamed “The Morning After Pill” for a reason—take it as soon as possible! The drug reduces the risk of pregnancy by about 89 percent, but only if taken within 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex. It can be taken up to five days after but is less effective the longer you wait. Emergency contraception comes in two forms: two-pill varieties (like Plan B and Next Choice) and one-pill varieties (like Plan B One-Step). The two-pill varieties can be taken a few hours apart (to reduce the risk of nausea) or at the same time. If you take the pills separately, set an alarm for yourself so that you don’t forget to take the second one.
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms, and can make for a very unpleasant morning-after experience. However, this symptom affects fewer than one in four women and can be alleviated by taking the drug on a full stomach or by taking an anti-nausea medication an hour after ingestion of the pill. If you do throw up within an hour of taking emergency contraception, you need to take it again. You can also expect your period to be wonky for a while—it may be earlier, later, heavier, or lighter. But in this case, weird periods seem infinitely preferable to no periods.
Because emergency contraception is essentially a high dose of birth control, women with certain daily prescriptions can take extra pills if they are worried about pregnancy. All birth control pills are different in their hormone levels and require different numbers of pills to act effectively as emergency contraception. The Planned Parenthood website’s Emergency Contraception page includes a link to dosage instructions for daily birth control as emergency contraception.
Davison Health center at Wesleyan offers Plan B for $22, which is cheaper than basically any other option in the area (with the possible exception of Planned Parenthood, which charges on a sliding scale based on income). Plan B and the new generic option, Next Choice, are also offered over-the-counter at most pharmacies (like Walgreens or CVS) for varying prices to those 17 and older.
Whether the condom broke or you woke up in someone else’s dorm unable to remember the night before, emergency contraception can be a life-saver. Though it won’t erase the mistake (and you should still get tested for STIs), the morning after pill is a great back-up plan to prevent pregnancy.
But remember—it is for emergencies only and is not a method of regular contraception. Not only is it not as effective as condoms or daily birth control, but it can change the patterns of a woman’s menstrual cycle if used regularly. If you’re sexually active, keep condoms by your bed and in your bag and consider getting a prescription for daily birth control (only $20 at the health center).
Meet Abbey Francis ’14, the Argus’ Sexual Health Columnist.