Spread the Health

Ask the Sexpert: Plan B

Welcome to Ask the Sexpert! This blog series focuses on sex, sexuality, and relationships. Read on for BU Sexperts Sophie Godley and Dr. Teri Aronowitz’s honest, truthful answers to students’ scandalous questions.

Dear Dr. T:

Can you overuse Plan B? Does it become ineffective or have bad side effects if you use it too much?

-Past Plan A

sexpert_PLAN B copy

Dear Past Plan A:

Plan B One-Step – a form of Emergency Contraception (EC) – is birth control that prevents pregnancy after sex, which is why you’ve maybe heard of it as ‘the morning after pill.’ You can use emergency contraception up to five days after sex if you think your birth control failed (i.e. the condom broke or slipped off), if you didn’t use a form of protection, or if you were made to have sex against your will. Any man or woman can buy Plan B without a prescription at a pharmacy or drug store.

Emergency contraception makes it much less likely you will get pregnant after having unprotected sex, but it’s not as effective as birth control that’s used before or during sex (like the pill or condoms). So if you are sexually active or planning to be, don’t use emergency contraception as your only protection against pregnancy. EC does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like HIV. Only condoms prevent transmission of STIs – so it’s best to use one.

Emergency contraceptive pills have no long-term or serious side effects and EC is safe for almost every woman to use. In general, progestin-only pills (like Plan B) have fewer side effects than combined emergency contraceptive pills (ones that contain both estrogen and progestin, such as regular birth control pills used as EC).

So what about the short-term side effects? You might find yourself feeling queasy and some women throw up after taking emergency contraceptive pills. If you happen to vomit within 1 hour of taking a dose of either type of emergency contraceptive pills, some health care providers recommend repeating that dose just in case your body didn’t have a chance to absorb all of the medication. You may also get a headache, feel tired or dizzy, have some lower abdominal pain, or find your breasts are more tender than usual. If you do feel this way, it should stop within a day or two. Some women also find that the pills cause unexpected bleeding; this is not dangerous and should clear up by the time you have your next period. EC might also cause your next period to come early or late.

Let me make this clear: emergency contraceptive pills will not cause an abortion. Sometimes people confuse abortion pills and emergency contraceptive pills, but they are not the same thing. There is no point in a woman’s cycle when emergency contraceptive pills would end a pregnancy once it has started. Hormonal emergency contraceptive pills don’t have any effect if you are already pregnant.

To learn more about Plan B and other emergency contraceptive pills, check out Bedsider’s 5 Myths about the Emergency Contraceptive Pill, Busted.

Dr. Teri Aronowitz has a PhD in Nursing and completed post-doctoral studies at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Her clinical and research interests focus on sexual health and she has authored many publications on this topic. She is an Assistant Professor at UMass Boston College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, and is a Nurse Practitioner at BU Student Health Services.

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