Heather Corinna replies:
My boyfriend and I have been together for about 2 months and we just started having sex. He was my first and I am completely in love with him. We've been protected for 4 of the times with a condom, but tonight we didn't use one. He was about to pull out right before, but he came. I'm really scared that I could become pregnant and I know that one of my friends has the "morning after" pill, but I feel bad taking it. I am so worried and confused. HELP ME!
Why do you feel bad about using emergency contraception?
Just like condoms, how it works is to prevent a pregnancy, and emergency contraceptive pills (Plan B or the Morning-After Pill) work the exact same way any combination hormonal birth control works, it just only needs to be taken after the fact, rather than before, after and every other day like the birth control pill is taken.
People have some pretty weird ideas about emergency contraception, but most of them aren't based on facts. If you feel bad because you don't feel like you could be okay with an abortion, and think EC is abortion, I assure you, it's not. If a woman has already become pregnant, emergency contraception doesn't have the capacity of being able to terminate that pregnancy. It's birth control -- contraception, NOT abortion or termination. Some of why people have inaccurate ideas about EC is because so many people are ignorant (and some try and keep others just as ignorant) about how conception occurs, and in what timeframe. The reason EC doesn't work after 120 hours -- and why pregnancy can be prevented, not terminated within that time -- is that for a pregnancy to complete often takes around 4 - 7 days: it's not something that happens immediately, because there are many steps to that process which require some time.
Here is the serious lowdown on EC: if it doesn't answer all the questions you may have about EC, all the links within it should. If you want to know more about how pregnancy happens, take a look at this: Where DID I Come From? A Refresher Course in Human Reproduction.
But maybe you already know all there is to know about the real way the Morning-After Pill works.
Do you have an ethical objection to any kind of birth control? If so, it might help to know that barrier methods, like condoms, do the same thing, even though they work in different ways: all birth control methods prevent pregnancy. Any method of birth control -- withdrawal, which you have been using, included -- disrupts some part of the process of a possible pregnancy, be that by keeping sperm from meeting an egg (like with condoms, withdrawal or cervical barriers), keeping an egg from being released (like with many kinds of hormonal birth control) or changing the uterus so that an egg is unlikely to be able to implant (like with an IUD). Emergency contraception can also work in any or all of these ways. If, on the other hand, you have an ethical objection to any kind of birth control, that's something else, but I'm also not sure then that I understand why condoms or withdrawal have been okay before.
Perhaps obviously, if you do have an ethical objection to every kind of reliable birth control, then unless you want to be pregnant and are ready to be pregnant, it's not a good idea to be having any kind of sex which creates a risk of pregnancy. Too, unprotected sex also posts risks of sexually transmitted infections, and it's safe to say that almost everyone doesn't want an STI.
Do you feel like at this point, it's up to fate to decide? If that's the case, what I'd say to you is that unless fate is going to provide for you and a possible kid, I'd have to question that logic, as I have before the times when I've heard people voice it. First of all, fate didn't decide anything here: you both made the decision (presuming you two were in agreement on this) not to use a condom. That's you deciding, or if you didn't agree, your partner deciding. On top of that, "fate" or factors out of our control may put us in certain situations, but that doesn't mean -- especially when those situations may result in consequences we don't want or aren't prepared to deal with -- that when we can have some control at some point that it's sage not to take it when we CAN do something to possibly create a better outcome for ourselves and others. With pregnancy, things get even more complicated because there's potentially a whole new person in the mix who we owe the kindness of being sure we can care for them -- emotionally, practically, etc. -- before we make a choice to risk bringing them into the world, you know?
No matter why you'd feel bad about using EC, if it is not the right thing for you to possibly be pregnant right now, and/or you know that isn't something you want, I'd encourage you to reconsider. Abortions are far more costly, and even being pregnant for a month or two until we can get one tends to change our lives, temporarily and emotionally. Legal abortion procedures are not complex procedures, nor are they horribly painful, but they are emotionally difficult for many women and do present some health risks which using EC does not. Suffice it to say, having a kid is a FAR larger thing than that in every arena of your life: for your body and health, your finances, your interpersonal relationships, your life goals, your sexuality, your mental health, the works. As I mentioned, it also impacts another life: a fetus and then kid doesn't get to make their own choices, they rely on the soundness of the choices you make for them.
So, now it's up to you as to what you want to do about this, and the only thing I can encourage you to do is whatever it is that you think is the most right for you and the whole of your life. And that's something only you are the expert on.
No matter what you do this time, though, if you're going to keep having intercourse and don't want to become pregnant, you're going to need to find and agree on a reliable method of birth control, and both commit to using it properly and consistently. We can help you figure out what method that is here: Birth Control Bingo. We strongly discourage our users from trying to use withdrawal as a sole method of contraception. When practiced perfectly, it does have the capacity to be very effective, but that is ONLY for couples where the male partner has EXCELLENT control over his ejaculation and a lot of practice having sex to be super-familiar with his own sexual response cycle. And for younger men, not only do they usually lack that experience, control over ejaculation is something that younger men simply are rarely developmentally capable of. In other words, their bodies can prevent them from practicing it perfectly even when in their minds, they very much want to. To give you an analogy, the birth control pill would be a very bad choice for someone who compulsively vomits: their bodies would keep them from being able to use the pill properly. Make sense? Too, since you're the one taking the big risks, having a method which you have NO control over isn't always so wise, and there are a lot of other methods which you can control and which are far more goofproof.
If you want to reduce your risks of sexually transmitted infections -- especially if you are not his first, or if either of you have had any other kind of sexual partnership before this -- you'll need to practice safer sex, including using condoms. And since it may take you a little while to get another method of reliable birth control, sounds to me like it might be smart to just re-commit (both of you) to condoms for now no matter what, if you're going to keep having sex.