Here's the thing about the idea of safe sex: no sex is 100% safe. There is such a thing as practicing safer sex — which includes anything you do to lower your risk of infection or conception — but even if you and your partner do use a condom, accidents happen. A condom that's expired or worn incorrectly can tear or fall off, putting you at greater risk for STIs and — if you're not using another method of birth control — pregnancy. Luckily, if your partner comes in you and you're not on birth control, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of becoming pregnant.
According to Danielle M., a certified obstetric nurse, pregnancy occurs much more easily than you might think. "If someone with a penis ejaculates in or near your vagina (or even enters your vagina before ejaculation occurs — pre-cum can carry sperm from a previous ejaculation through the urethra), you are at risk for being pregnant," she explains. Even if your partner attempts the pull out method, pregnancy is possible — according to Planned Parenthood, withdrawal results in pregnancy for about one in every five people who use that as their only form of birth control.
Once unprotected sex takes place, your best defense against unwanted pregnancy is taking an emergency contraceptive. Danielle says that an emergency contraceptive (such as Plan B One-Step, which is also sold as Next Choice One Dose) can be taken up to 120 hours (or five days) after unprotected sex, though it's most effective if taken within 24 hours. Unfortunately, Plan B is not effective for everyone.
According to Julia Huff, a women's health nurse practitioner at New York University, Plan B is "much less effective in people who have a BMI over 25, which is the majority of Americans for sure." As Julia suggests, "If possible, you should reach out to your gynecologist to get a prescription for ella (ulipristal acetate), which is a morning-after pill that is believed to be effective in people up to a BMI of 35."
All morning-after pills use the same active ingredient as daily birth control pills — a hormone called levonorgestrel — but at a much higher dose, which "works by preventing the release of an egg from the ovary," according to MedlinePlus. The goal of emergency contraception is to prevent or delay ovulation, so that's why it only works if you take it before ovulation has occurred.
Morning-after pills aren't the only ways to lower your risk of unwanted pregnancy and, in fact, are not even the most effective method. Both Julia and Danielle say that the the copper IUD is actually the most effective means of emergency contraception when inserted within five days of unprotected sex. As well as serving as an effective non-hormonal birth control method, the copper IUD can help prevent conception even after unprotected sex has taken place and has been shown to be 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Julia.
As Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D. and host of the Drive Him Wild With Pleasure video course, previously explained to Elite Daily, "...[the copper IUD] is inserted by a medical practitioner into the uterus and the copper changes the way the sperm cells move to reduce the likelihood of their making it to the egg." Copper IUDs release copper into the uterus and fallopian tubes, "which acts as a spermicide," according to Healthline. Of course, this means that only copper IUDs, such as Paragard, are effective as emergency contraception, not hormonal IUDs.
If you miss that five-day window period where emergency contraception can be used effectively and suspect you might be pregnant, you should visit a healthcare provider to determine this for sure. "You should also be screened for STDs and discuss future birth control options," says Danielle. Julia also suggests taking a pregnancy test two weeks after unprotected sex regardless of any bleeding you may have, as emergency contraception can contribute to irregular bleeding that is not a true period.
When it comes to STI testing, Julia says that the earliest testing should be done is "two weeks after exposure for gonorrhea and chlamydia, 10 days after exposure for syphilis, and four weeks after potential exposure for HIV." She adds, "Syphilis and HIV testing are most accurate 90 days after exposure, though can be detected before then." Therefore, you should plan to see your gynecologist to have testing done both two weeks and three months after unprotected sex, as additional medical risks develop the longer an STI is present and untreated.
Try to practice safe sex, friends, but remember: Accidents can and do happen, but if you take immediate action, you can still prevent pregnancy from happening.