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Ages & Stages

When Should Teens Use Emergency Contraception?

When should teens use emergency contraception? When should teens use emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception―commonly known as the "morning after pill" or the copper IUD―helps reduce the risk of pregnancy after unprotected or under-protected sex and is safe for teens.

Contrary to many beliefs, it does not disrupt an implanted pregnancy in the uterus. It won't, however, stop sexually transmitted infections.

Teen pregnancy is 100% preventable.

Sexually-active teens should always use two forms of birth control. One form is a condom, which helps protect against infections. The other form is a method to prevent pregnancy; here are possible types.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends an emergency contraception prescription or supply be given to teenagers in advance. That way, they can use it as soon as possible if needed. 

The AAP also strongly supports health and sexuality education in schools, abstinence, and the right to seek an abortion.

Here are some situations when taking emergency contraception would be useful:

  • The teen did not use birth control.

  • The teen missued a dose (or doses) of birth control pill (or was late applying a new patch, inserting a new ring, or getting the next injection).

  • The condom broke or slipped.

  • The teen threw up after taking her birth control pill.

  • The teen was sexually assaulted.

There are 3 emergency contraception methods:

  • IUD. The most effective method is to have a doctor insert a copper intrauterine device (IUD) within five days of sexual intercourse. It can help prevent pregnancy and stays in place. It also is a long-term birth control method. The copper IUD does not contain hormones.

  • Pills. Another option is oral emergency contraceptive drugs. The generic names are ulipristal acetate and levonorgestrel. 
    • NOTE: Emergency contraception pills should be taken within 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected or under-protected sex to help prevent pregnancy.
    • Levonorgestrel is approved to be sold without a prescription to individuals of all ages.It is important to note that secret shopper studies indicate some pharmacies continue to enforce age restrictions, and the cost of the over-the-counter product can be prohibitive―especially for teens.
    • Ulipristal acetate (sold under the brand name Ella) is available by prescription only. Studies have shown, however, that many pharmacies do not stock it.

All teens should be counseled about how and when each method can be used. This includes those with physical or cognitive disabilities. Youth with disabilities are at higher risk to be sexually assaulted than their peers, according to the AAP.

Frequently asked questions:

What if teens cannot get emergency contraceptive drugs?

  • If access is a problem, teens should ask their pediatrician about how to use oral contraceptive pills within 120 hours (5 days) of sex to help prevent pregnancy.

What should teens do after taking emergency contraception? 

  • After taking emergency contraception, it is important to visit the pediatrician and talk about more effective options to prevent pregnancy in the future. While there, teens can also be tested for sexually transmitted infections and ask about immunizations. For example, the AAP recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine to protect against sexually transmitted infections that cause cancer.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Adapted from AAP News (Copyright © 2019 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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