You may know it as the “morning-after pill” or Plan B. If you occasionally forget to use birth control during sex, or have reason to think your birth control might have failed (perhaps because of a broken condom), you might have considered using emergency contraception—but you have questions.

Talking about it can help. This guide to discussing emergency contraception will make it easier for women to discuss this option with their doctor, their partner and their support group.

Informing Yourself First

Before you consult anyone about your health choices, it’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can. One important fact is, emergency contraception pills (ECPs) are not abortion pills. ECPs are taken to prevent pregnancy, while abortion pills are used after a fertilized egg is attached to the uterus. The medication used in most ECPs is a high-dose of progesterone, while the medication used in pills that can lead to abortion is often mifepristone and misoprostol.

Talking with Your Doctor

Your best strategy is to take a list of questions to your appointment. They should include:

  • Ask your doctor if ECPs are safe. She probably will reassure you that Plan B has been approved by the FDA, and that if you are at least 17 years old, you can buy the pills at a drugstore without a prescription.
  • Ask about the various types of emergency contraception, including not only Plan B, a progestin-only pill, but also the Copper-T Intrauterine Device (IUD), which can be inserted by a doctor up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent a pregnancy. The doctor can then remove the IUD after your next period, or it can remain inside you, serving as your regular birth control for up to 10 years. In some instances, your doctor might also instruct you to take a higher dose of your already-prescribed birth control pills—but this tactic won’t work with every pill at every dosage.
  • Effectiveness of various emergency contraception methods should be discussed. Plan B pills are safe, though they aren’t without side effects: nausea and vomiting are the most common, occurring in about 25 percent of women taking the pills. Other side effects include irregular menstrual bleeding, dizziness and headaches.
  • Taking the pills correctly is critical to preventing pregnancy. They should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, and can be effective if taken up to five days after intercourse.

 Talking to Your Parents

If you are younger than 17 and want to use emergency contraception, you may need a parents’ permission. Talking about such intimate matters can be awkward for both of you, especially if you think they will disapprove. These tips can help you guide the conversation calmly:

  • Know what you want from them. If you’re asking for permission to use emergency contraception, build a foundation by being open with them, over time, about the fact that you are sexually active.
  • Talk about your feelings. If you’re nervous about talking with them, say so. “I need to talk with you about something very personal, but I’m afraid you’ll get upset.”
  • Be prepared. Chances are, your parents will have as many questions about ECPs as you did. Research ECPs online, and consider talking with someone from your local Planned Parenthood office for more information.  

 Talking to Your Partner and Friends

If you are sexually active, you probably have discussed birth control with your partner already. It is important to emphasis that emergency contraception is not a reasonable option for preventing pregnancy. It should only be used if your regularly methods of contraception may have failed, either because you chose not to use them, forgot to use them, had a mechanical compromise like a torn condom, or had unintended sexual intercourse. Emergency contraception should be treated as a last resort to prevent pregnancy; you should explore more consistent birth control options with your partner before becoming pregnant.

If you plan to start using emergency contraception, you’ll want to talk with him about it. As with your doctor and parents, share information with him: how ECPs work, how much they cost, and why you want to use them. If you treat him as a partner in your decision, he is more likely to care that you’re using the pills correctly. Of course, you do not have to tell your partner about your plans to use emergency contraception; you are able to get the prescription without involving your sexual partner in the decision.

You may or may not want to tell other friends that you plan to use ECPs. If you generally talk to them about birth control, then it may come up very naturally in conversation. If you feel torn about ECPs, or just want to “talk it out” with a good friend who understands you, then it might help to share your plans and get some friendly advice. A trusted adult is also a very good resource for you to seek out if you are considering emergency contraception. Your physician, as well as other resources like Planned Parenthood, can offer you good advice on the options for addressing your concerns about unprotected sex.