Plan B One Step. The morning-after pill. Levonorgestrel. Emergency contraceptives. Whatever you decide to call it, when the condom breaks or when other birth control methods fail, this medication can be a viable back-up to preventing pregnancy after sex.
Plan B is just one of a few emergency contraceptives available on the market, but it is the most widely known and easily obtainable. With it come a slew of myths and fables about how it works, when to take it and how to get it. So, let’s dispel some rumors and get into the cold, hard facts.
To start, let’s talk about biology. In order to become pregnant, the ovary of the biological female must ovulate an egg, and that egg must encounter a sperm in the fallopian tubes. Ovulation in women occurs once per 28-day cycle, 12 to 14 days in, which is about 2 weeks after the period starts, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
During penis-in-vagina intercourse, unless the sperm is blocked by a barrier method such as a condom, or is killed by spermicide or otherwise prevented from entering the uterus, it can reach that egg and fertilize it. Sperm can live up to 6 days inside the body, according to Planned Parenthood.
However, if the body doesn’t ovulate in the first place, that can’t happen. This is where Plan B comes in. The pill contains compounds that inhibit luteinizing hormone (LH), which is the hormone that induces ovulation, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine. Without LH, ovulation cannot occur.
When a woman takes Plan B within 72 hours of intercourse, ovulation can be delayed long enough for the sperm to die in the fallopian tubes, waiting for an egg that will never come. Thus, fertilization can be prevented.
Now, let’s talk about some common myths associated with Plan B.
Myth: Plan B is 100 percent effective.
No birth control method other than abstinence is 100 percent effective (though this doesn’t mean you can’t have safer sex with contraceptives!) Plan B is only 88 percent effective with proper use, according to Princeton University.
Myth: Plan B is a replacement for regular birth control.
Plan B is meant as a backup, when primary birth control methods fail. Because it prevents ovulation and has a short window to work in, there are many ways for it to fail, especially if ovulation has already occurred. Regular birth control methods such as an implant, birth control pills, condoms or IUDs are more reliable, according to the CDC. As well, Plan B does nothing to prevent STI-transmission, unlike condoms.
Myth: I need a doctor’s prescription to get Plan B.
Plan B is over-the-counter, which means that you can buy it without a prescription. While some pharmacies may keep it behind the counter in order to prevent shoplifting, simply ask the cashier for the box and you should be able to purchase it with no hassle. As well, federal laws protect your identity when buying this product. The cashier, legally, cannot tell anyone–not your parents, your roommates, your professors, anyone–that you bought Plan B.
Myth: Plan B has no side effects.
Unfortunately, no. Side effects of Plan B can include nausea or vomiting, dizziness, light bleeding or spotting, lower abdominal pain or breast tenderness, according to Princeton University.
Myth: Plan B is the same as an abortion pill.
Nope! Remember, Plan B prevents ovulation. It doesn’t kill the egg–it just delays it, like a bus that’s a bit late. As well, it doesn’t cause the uterus to reject a fetus, according to Princeton University, unlike abortion pills.
Myth: Plan B is for everyone.
It isn’t a catch-all-cure-all. Plan B becomes less effective the longer you wait after sex to take it, or if you have a BMI of 35 or higher, according to Planned Parenthood. As well, certain medications such as carbamazepine or supplements such as St. John’s Wort can decrease the pill’s effectiveness, according to the FDA. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure.
Myth: I have to wait until the morning after to take Plan B.
Despite the name, this isn’t the case. Planned Parenthood recommends that you take Plan B within 72 hours of intercourse–the sooner, the more effective. If you’re worried about your primary birth control failing, keep some on hand as a backup so you can take it right away.
With this, I hope you’re a little more informed about the drug. Remember, knowledge is power, and the best kind of sex is passionate, safe and consensual.
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.