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The Emergency Contraceptive Vending Machine

March 4 2021 | Written by Miranda Van Haarlem (She/Her)

The other day I was searching through my explore feed on instagram when I saw something that I will argue is the best invention since sliced breadā€¦ an emergency contraceptive vending machine. As shown Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho installed emergency contraceptive vending machines outside three of their locations. Let's be real, walking up to a pharmacy, asking for an emergency contraceptive, only to be given the side eye, isnā€™t my favourite experience ever. The autonomy this gives emergency contractive users is indescribable. When I saw this image, many experiences and thoughts rushed to my mind. I remembered all the myths and lies I was told growing up about emergency contraceptive, and thought to myself that I had no one, besides Google, to debunk these myths and give me some actual facts. With this blog, I hope to give you what I didnā€™t have growing up and answer all your burning questions surrounding emergency contraceptives.Ā 

An emergency contraceptive vending machine installed by Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho (@ppgwni).

An emergency contraceptive vending machine installed by Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho (@ppgwni).

What are emergency contraceptives?

According to The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, emergency contraceptives are used to prevent pregnancy after an unprotected or inadequately protected act of sexual intercourse. Emergency contraceptive can be used if another contraceptive methods fails (example: a condom breaking), after unprotected sex or in the case of a sexual assault.

Are there different types of emergency contraceptives?Ā 

Yes! There are currently two types of emergency contraceptives used in Canada. The more known one being emergency contraceptive pills and the lesser known method of the Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD).Ā 

Emergency Contraceptive PillsĀ 

Also known as the morning after pill, this pill works by delaying or preventing ovulation. As mentioned in one of our previous blogs on period sex, pregnancy usually occurs during or around ovulation (day 13-16) but studies have found that sperm can survive for up to 5 days in a femaleā€™s reproductive tract. There are multiple types of emergency contraceptive pills but they work in two main ways.Ā 

  1. Emergency contraceptive pills delay the increase in the hormone that starts ovulation and thus delays or stops the ovary from releasing an egg (ovum). No ovulation = no egg for sperm to come in contact with = no pregnancy.Ā 

  2. Emergency contraceptive pills also thin the lining of the uterus making it harder for a fertilized egg to implant and thus grow.Ā 

The catch with emergency contraceptive pills is that they need to be taken before the hormone surge occurs in order to delay and/or stop ovulation.Ā 

The Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

IUD? Say what? Although it is not talked about alot, the copper IUD is surprisingly the most effective form of emergency contraception. We talked a little bit about the copper IUD in our previous blog on birth controlĀ but they by altering the biochemical environment of the uterus, thereby hampering a sperm's ability to move. A copper IUD can be used as an emergency contraception if they are inserted into the uterus up to five days after unprotected sex.Ā 

When should I take an emergency contraceptive?Ā 

It depends on which method of emergency contraceptive you decide to use.When it comes to an emergency contraceptive pill, the sooner it is taken after unprotected sex, the more effective it will be. It has the ability to prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours but it is preferably taken within 12 hours of unprotected sex. As noted above, the copper IUD should be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex.Ā 

What are the side effects of emergency contraception?

Emergency Contraceptive PillsĀ 

According to The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology there can be multiple side effects of the emergency contraceptive pill. For example, your next period may not start at the expected time due to a delay in ovulation. These are some short-term side effects you may notice after taking an emergency contraceptive pill;Ā 

  1. Nausea and/or vomitingĀ 

  2. Breast tenderness

  3. HeadachesĀ 

  4. DizzinessĀ 

  5. Abdominal pain/crampingĀ 

  6. Tiredness

The Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

Due to the fact that the copper IUD gets inserted into oneā€™s uterus, it is possible that you may experience greater symptoms. The most common symptoms after insertion of the copper IUD include the following;Ā 

  1. Irregular periodsĀ 

  2. Heavier/longer periods - IUDs can cause an increase in bleeding and cramps during your period.Ā 

  3. Cramping during periodsĀ 

  4. Pain after insertionĀ 

Where can I get emergency contraceptives?Ā 

Unfortunately, I haven't seen any emergency contraceptive vending machines in Ontario yet, a girl can dream, but most emergency contraceptives are available over the counter in most pharmacies. When it comes to the copper IUD, a prescription is required. In order to get a prescription or to have the copper IUD inserted, call your health care professional or go to a family planning clinic in your area. Unsure of where your closest family planning clinic is? We got you! Go to this website and fill in your postal code to find the closest one to you - https://sexualhealthontario.ca/en/find-clinic.

I hope this blog post provided you with some valuable information surrounding emergency contraceptives. As always, at Marlow we strive to create a stigma free safe place to learn new things and expand our knowledge on sexual health and wellbeing! Now, for the fun part, letā€™s look into some common misconceptions surrounding emergency contraceptives.Ā 

Let's Debunk Some Myths

Myth One: I Canā€™t Use Emergency Contraceptive More Than Once

Oh my was this a big myth for me growing up. I thought the morning after pill was equivalent to The Genieā€™s Magic Lamp in Aladdin and I was only allowed 3 wishes (or in my case 3 morning after pills). But this is completely false. It is completely safe to take emergency contraceptive pills as many times as you need to but Planned ParenthoodĀ stresses the importance that it is not the best way to prevent pregnancy long-term.Ā 

Myth Two: Taking Emergency Contraceptive Will Harm My Fertility

False, false and false again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that emergency contraceptive has an adverse effect on an individualā€™s ability to get pregnant in the future.

Myth Three: Emergency Contraceptive Causes an Abortion

Look here, another myth. Emergency Contraceptive pills should not be confused with ā€œthe abortion pillā€. Mifepristone, also known asĀ RU-486, is a type of medication typically used to bring about an abortion during pregnancy. This pill works by ending a pregnancy after a fertilized egg has been implanted in the uterine wall. Emergency contraceptive works by preventing fertilization and implantation after unprotected sex. Simply put, emergency contraceptive doesnā€™t cause an abortion or miscarriage because there is no pregnancy to begin with.Ā 

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