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Dear Sexpert, 

Is repeated use of emergency contraception safe?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

First, let’s talk about what exactly emergency contraception is and what it is not. Emergency contraception is a special formulation of the standard hormones in birth control that can be started up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy. It is intended for use as a backup method to prevent pregnancy after an unanticipated, unprotected event, or a birth control failure such as condom breakage or missing two or more birth control pills during a monthly cycle. However, it is not an abortion pill, since it prevents conception from occurring instead of terminating a fetus. Also, it does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections. 

One of the most common side effects of the morning-after pill is irregular bleeding. While there are no known serious health risks of repeated use of emergency contraception, if you are sexually active and want to keep from getting pregnant, relying only on emergency contraceptive pills is not as effective as using a birth control method before or during sex, such as the pill, NuvaRing or condoms. The effectiveness of an emergency contraceptive pill such as Plan B One-Step depends on how quickly it is taken after unprotected intercourse. Plan B reduces the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent when started within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse and continues to reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but is less effective as time passes.

If emergency contraception was the only type of birth control you used for an entire year, your annual risk of getting pregnant would probably be about 20 percent with a progestin-only emergency contraceptive such as Plan B. Thus, health care providers generally recommend that, if you are sexually active, you should try to find a regular method of contraception other than emergency contraception that will work for you. If you’d like some guidance in selecting a birth control method, I recommend that you make an appointment with Sexual Health and Wellness Services at McCosh Health Center, where any further questions may be answered. Information about appointments is kept strictly confidential and is not released to family, friends or administration without the patient’s written authorization.

—The Sexpert

Interested in Sexual Health? The Sexpert is always looking for members of the community to join the team of sexual health educators who, along with fact-checking from University health professionals, help write these columns. Email sexpert@dailyprincetonian.com for more information and questions about sexual health. Don’t be shy!

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