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What to Do When Your Birth Control Fails


In 2016, Teva Women’s Health, the makers of Plan B One-Step®, sponsored a survey of 3,600 college students ages 18 to 25 to learn about the students’ knowledge of emergency contraception and how they feel about unintended pregnancy. Here are the findings we found most interesting:

  • Unsurprisingly, about 70% responded that an unintended pregnancy would be highly disruptive to their lives.
  • What’s worrying, is that despite the risk and obvious inconvenience of unintended pregnancy, 27% did not believe it was appropriate for a friend, their partner or themselves to take over the counter (OTC) emergency contraception (EC) after unprotected sex.
  • This showed us that there are misconceptions surrounding emergency contraception, especially that students don’t view “oops moments,” like unprotected sex or birth control failure, as reasons to use OTC EC. It made us realize that too many students are missing out on some basic facts about emergency contraception. So, here’s where we want to start.

At Her Campus, we want to help you understand when you should utilize emergency contraception, and why you shouldn’t be in denial of your risk of unintended pregnancy.

Think of this as your crash course for what to do if you have unprotected sex or find out your birth control failed.

Situations that put you at risk of unintended pregnancy

In the survey, Teva Women’s Health found that on average, college students engage in sexual intercourse 5.5 times per month*. Yet 64% of the 2,638 sexually active college students surveyed were using contraception inconsistently, and only 15% of those students sampled believed they were at high risk of an unintended pregnancy*. Anytime there’s the possibility of inconsistent birth control use or contraceptive failure, accidental pregnancy is possible. In those cases, it’s completely rational to seek out OTC EC.

Confused about when you should consider emergency contraception? Here are some common situations that call for EC:

  • If your regular birth control fails, like your partner’s condom broke or slipped off
  • If you missed taking your oral birth control pill
  • If you didn’t use any form of birth control (no condom, no oral birth control pill, etc.)

Think of Plan B One-Step® emergency contraception as a backup birth control method for those “oops moments.”

What you need to know about OTC emergency contraception

According to the survey, Teva Women’s Health found that college students who feel more at risk for pregnancy know less about OTC EC*, so it’s important to be educated on the real information.

Plan B One-Step® is the number one OTC recommended emergency contraceptive brand**, used by millions of women***. It is a backup plan that helps prevent pregnancy when used as directed and taken within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex or birth control failure. The sooner it's taken, the better it works. When used as directed, Plan B One-Step® helps prevent nearly 7 out of 8 potential pregnancies.

Plan B One-Step® contains levonorgestrel, the same hormone used in many birth control pills—just at a higher dose. It should not be used as regular birth control, because it is not as effective as using a regular birth control method correctly and consistently. Again, use as directed.

Plan B One-Step® is not an abortion pill. It will not work if you are already pregnant and will not affect an existing pregnancy. It does not protect you against HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Some women may experience side effects after taking Plan B One-Step®: such as a period that is lighter, heavier, early, or late; nausea; lower abdominal pain/cramps; tiredness; headache; dizziness; breast tenderness; and vomiting.

How to react after unprotected sex or birth control failure

The first step you could take after unprotected sex or birth control failure is to talk with someone you trust. Whether it’s your partner, a friend or a healthcare professional, it’s okay to seek out advice after an “oops moment,” because there is nothing to be ashamed of. Be open to their suggestions and opinions, especially when speaking to a healthcare professional about whether you should take Plan B One-Step®. Make sure to research your contraception options so you can help prevent unprotected sex or birth control failure in the future.

Safe sex is a must, even if you're in a monogamous relationship. Being safe is all about being honest with yourself and your partner, including having an open discussion about contraceptives.

Where to find OTC emergency contraception

Plan B One-Step® is the first FDA-approved emergency contraceptive to be available over the counter. It can usually be found in the family planning aisle at many retail stores when you need it—without a prescription or ID, and with no age restriction. A coupon and mobile rebate to help you save money on your purchase are available at www.PlanBOneStep.com.

We hope that we’ve helped you feel equipped with information, and that any misconceptions you’ve had about OTC emergency contraception have been cleared up. Education is the first step in making smarter choices, and choosing Plan B One-Step® in the future to prevent unintended pregnancy may be a smart choice for you.

*Survey of 3,600 female and male college students ages 18 to 25, November 2016.
**Survey of 1000 OB/GYNs, February 2017.
***FDA drug use review, December 2011. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/PediatricAdvisoryCommittee/UCM288778.pdf

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