10.1  Definition of emergency contraception (EC)

A girl sits on the floor sobbing.
Fig 10.1  I had sex, but the condom broke. What shall I do?

Emergency contraception (EC) is a method used to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and is usually effective up to five days following unprotected sexual intercourse. Unprotected sexual intercourse means that either the woman did not use any contraceptive method to prevent pregnancy, or the birth control method failed (for example, a condom broke, Figure 10.1). The use of emergency contraception should be the last option for a woman who has experienced accidental and unprotected sexual intercourse, or whose birth control method has failed, or for whom abortion is not acceptable or accessible.

Emergency contraception can involve the use of either hormonal pills, or a copper-bearing intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD). However, neither method is a substitute for the correct use of other regular contraceptives. See Box 10.1 for a summary of situations where emergency contraception can be appropriate.

Emergency contraception can prevent 95% of expected pregnancies, providing it takes place within the first 24 hours after intercourse.

Box 10.1  Situations when emergency contraception is appropriate

Emergency contraception can be appropriate:

  • in cases where the woman has not used contraception
  • in cases where sex has been forced or coerced, or the woman has been raped
  • when a woman must deal with a contraceptive mistake, such as a condom breaking or used incorrectly, an IUCD dislodging, a diaphragm removed too early, or the man failing to withdraw before ejaculation.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 10

10.2  Types of emergency contraception