Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if the contraception used has failed.

Emergency contraception can be used if contraception hasn’t been used when having sex or if it has failed, e.g. the condom has split or a pill has been missed.

There are three types of emergency contraception: two versions of the emergency contraceptive pill (so called ‘morning-after pill’) and the emergency intrauterine device (IUD).

Emergency hormonal contraception

Emergency hormonal contraception can be taken up to three to five days after having unprotected sex. The sooner it is taken the more effective it is. It can be bought over the counter from many pharmacies if you are over 16, or free from GPs and young person’s clinics, some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, NHS walk-in centres, NHS minor injuries units or hospital emergency departments. Some schools may also be able to provide it via the school nurse. It does not have any long-term side effects and is very safe.


A copper IUD can be used as emergency contraception up to five days after unprotected sex (sometimes even longer), as long as you’re certain that you’re not already pregnant. It needs to be fitted by a specially trained nurse or doctor.

Emergency contraception doesn’t provide any protection against sexually transmitted infections so it’s a good idea to get tested if you’ve had unprotected sex.