Emergency Contraception — When You Should Use It

Unprotected sex isn’t usually planned, but it’s something most of us have experienced. The good news is that in this day and age, it’s easier than ever to safely get hold of emergency contraception. Read on for an expert guide to using emergency contraception from The Online Clinic.

What’s my risk of pregnancy?

You’re at risk of becoming pregnant if you don’t use any contraception during vaginal sex with a man, or if contraception fails during sex. That includes a condom breaking or slipping off, or a diaphragm or cap being taken out too early. You will also be at risk of pregnancy if you are:

• on the combined pill and have missed two or more in a row

• on the progestogen-only pill and have missed your daily window of 3 or 12 hours

How do I use emergency contraception?

It might go without saying, but the first rule of emergency contraception is that you should only take it if you do not want to get pregnant. Emergency contraception cannot be taken to offer protection against sexually transmitted infections and diseases – so if you think you might have contracted something, you should get a comprehensive STI test.

The second thing to be aware of is that there are three different types of emergency contraception available in the UK:

• Levonelle (morning after pill)

• ellaOne (morning after pill)

• The emergency IUD


Levonelle is the most common type of emergency contraception. It’s a morning after pill, widely available for free from NHS centres such as contraception clinics and GP surgeries. It can also be bought at many high street pharmacies, and through private online pharmacy services.

Following unprotected sex, Levonelle can still be effective if taken up to 72 hours later. However, the sooner you take Levonelle the more likely it is to prevent pregnancy.

Levonelle comes in the form of a single small tablet, and should be swallowed with water as soon as possible after sex (ideally within the first 12 hours). If you vomit within three hours of taking Levonelle you will require another dose of Levonelle or an alternative form of emergency contraception.


The other morning after pill available in the UK is ellaOne. This type is also widely available for free through NHS centres and, like Levonelle, it can also be bought from high street and online pharmacies.

ellaOne can be taken as long as five days after unprotected sex, but it is thought to be more effective the sooner you take it.

ellaOne comes as one small tablet and should be swallowed with water. If you vomit within three hours of taking ellaOne you should take another tablet or use an alternative form of emergency contraception.

The Emergency IUD

Most women are aware of the morning after pill, but it’s the lesser-known emergency IUD that is most effective in preventing pregnancy after unsafe sex.

The emergency coil works in exactly the same way as the normal IUD. It is a small plastic and copper T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus. The copper acts as a contraceptive, and the IUD has been found to be very effective in preventing pregnancy when inserted after unprotected sex.

To be effective, the emergency coil should be inserted within five days of unprotected sex. It must be fitted by a medical professional at a contraception clinic, Brook centre, sexual health clinic or GP surgery.

One main benefit of the emergency IUD is that it can be left in and used as regular, long-term contraception. This makes it a good option for women who haven’t had success with other forms of contraception.

Which is the best type of emergency contraception for me?

There are different benefits to each type of emergency contraception:

• Levonelle is typically the easiest to obtain, but is only effective when taken within three days

• ellaOne is the most effective morning after pill, but is more expensive than Levonelle when obtained privately

• The emergency IUD is the most effective type of emergency contraception, but can be less convenient than the morning after pill as it has to be fitted by a nurse or doctor.

You can find out more about emergency contraception by visiting The Online Clinic