Emergency contraception & unplanned pregnancy

If you’ve had unprotected sex (sex without a condom) or your method failed (missed pill or a split condom) you may be able to prevent pregnancy by using emergency contraception within the first five days.

The sooner you access emergency contraception, the more effective it will be.

If you have had unprotected sex or your method failed, you also need to consider STIs.

What options are there for emergency contraception?

There are two types of emergency contraception: the emergency hormonal contraception (sometimes called the morning after pill or emergency contraceptive pill) and the IUD (intrauterine device - also known as the coil).

Which method you use depends on your preference and the risk of falling pregnant.

  • You are most at risk of falling pregnant when there is sperm in the vagina at the same time you release an egg. When you release an egg (ovulation) you are the most at risk and up to one in three women can fall pregnant at this time.
  • At ovulation, the most effective method of emergency contraception is the IUD, which is 10x more effective than the morning after pill.
  • In addition, the copper intrauterine device lasts up to five or ten years depending on the device used and you can have it removed at any time after fitting.

Your pregnancy risk depends upon where you are in your menstrual cycle and you work this out yourself using a simple calculator.

How soon after unprotected sex do I need to use emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is most effective if you take it as early as possible.

If you visit a clinic, the nurse or doctor you see will help you assess the best type of emergency contraception for you.

It will depend on your preference and the risk of falling pregnant. You can assess your risk of falling pregnant now by using a simple calculator. Make sure you send the result to yourself by text or email so that you can discuss the results with the healthcare professional at the clinic.

The options are:

  • The IUD: this is the most effective emergency contraception and can be fitted up to 120 hours or 5 days after unprotected sex. The IUD is a small plastic and copper device that is fitted in your uterus (womb) by a specially trained doctor or nurse.
  • The emergency contraceptive pill Levonorgestrel (LNG): this can be taken within 96 hours (four days) of unprotected sex, however it is most effective within the first 72 hours (three days).
  • The emergency contraceptive pill Ulipristal Acetate (UPA), also known as Ellaone: this can be taken within 120 hours (five days) of unprotected sex.

Our staff will always discuss and offer an ongoing method of contraception as well as tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Where can I get emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is provided by all our clinics and is free for all ages. It is also available for free at most GP surgeries, NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units.

You can also access emergency hormonal contraception from a number of pharmacies across Cornwall:

  • If you are 25 and under, many pharmacies that offer emergency hormonal contraception will do so for free. However, some still charge between £14-30. To check, you can call in advance and ask if the pharmacy is signed up to a PGD. If they say yes, hormonal contraception will be free for people 25 and under.
  • If you are over 25, you can buy the emergency contraceptive pill online or purchase it from a pharmacy (usually £14-30)

Find a service

What if I’m under 16?

All contraception and sexual health services are confidential, including for people under the age of 16.

Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you’re at serious risk of immediate harm.

Could I be pregnant?

If you’ve had vaginal sex without a condom or if your method fails, then there is a risk you could be pregnant. If this happened within the last five days, you can usually prevent pregnancy by using emergency contraception if you act fast.

If it happened more than 5 days ago then you will need to do a pregnancy test. This usually involves testing your wee for the pregnancy hormone HCG.

To get an accurate result you need to test three weeks (or 21 days) after unprotected sex or immediately after when your period should have been due (whichever is sooner). If you test before this, there maybe not be enough HCG to show up in your urine.

Our services can help you with the support and advice you need and provide pregnancy tests.

More information about pregnancy tests.

I’m definitely pregnant and it’s unplanned

If you are pregnant and it is not planned, there are three options and you have the right to choose any one of them:

For some people, making this decision is easy and for others, it might be very difficult, but it is yours to make.

We can support you with whatever you need. We are here to listen, answer any questions and give you lots of information and support to help with a decision that feels right for you.

There are also many other organisations that can help you such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes UK.

If you decide that ending the pregnancy is the right choice for you, we can refer you for a termination of pregnancy (abortion).

Alternatively, you can self-refer directly to the Cornwall Abortion Service by emailing

More information