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Will I get pregnant if I only take my birth control pills after sex?

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Anonymous asks:

I often have unprotected sex with my ex-fiance. Stupid I know. But I am supposed to be on birth control pills. In June, after we split I stop taking them. Now in December we have had intercourse multiple time again. I have two questions. If I take a pill every time after our intercourse (which I've been doing), will I get pregnant? And will that mess up my body?

Heather Corinna replies:

For birth control pills to be effective in preventing pregnancy, they have to be used correctly and consistently. Taking a birth control pill after sex won't do anything to prevent pregnancy. And yep: it can sure make you feel a little loopy and confuse the heck out of your cycle.

In order for your pills to be a reliable method of birth control, you need to use them preventatively, taking one pill, as directed, on time every day. You cannot skip days or take pills after the fact. Too, it takes anywhere from around one week to one full cycle of taking your pills daily for them to be fully effective.

Perhaps you're confusing regular birth control pills with emergency contraception? Emergency contraception -- or Plan B, or the Morning-After Pill -- is a different medication than regular BCPs. Some birth control pills can be used as emergency contraception, but the directions for using those pills that way vary by pill, and one pill doesn't cut the mustard for any of them.

If you don't want to become pregnant, you're right, BOTH you and your ex aren't being very smart, or acting in a way which is in line with what you want for yourself. I say both to remind you that all of this isn't just about you, nor should it just be about you. It's incredibly easy and cheap for this ex to be sliding on a condom every time, and that WILL greatly reduce your risks of pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections.

You know, one thing that's easy to notice when people make sexual choices like you're making, risking something they don't really want to risk, is that one scenario in which it often happens is as a sort of self-punishing. In other words, is it possible you feel like you shouldn't be sleeping with this guy in the first place, or that he's treating you carelessly, therefore are also treating yourself carelessly? Or are you irritated with yourself for being careless, and are self-punishing by doing it repeatedly? Just think about it. However you're feeling about yourself and what's going on right now, and unwanted pregnancy or an STI is not likely to make you feel better.

Here's what I suggest. For starters, if your last risk was less than 120 hours ago, you can get and use bonafide emergency contraception and prevent pregnancy for that last risk. If more time has passed than that, you're just going to have to wait things out. If your period is late this cycle, you'll want to take a pregnancy test, and you'll also want to schedule an STI screening for yourself in the next month.

In the interim? If you do not want to become pregnant, it's time to stop gambling. Something that can radically change your whole life and make a new one isn't something to gamble with. If you can't use your pills properly, you should have a chat with your reproductive healthcare provider about finding a method you CAN use properly. The pill isn't the best method for everyone, and if you can't take a pill on time every day, then it's obviously not the right method for you. if you prefer hormonal methods, there are other options that don't require remembering to take pills daily. You only need to change a birth control patch once a week, and change a vaginal ring out once a month. For hormonal methods you have to tend to even less often, you could talk to your doctor about Depo-Provera, an IUD or Implanon, the new birth control implant. As well, if you want a method you only have to use when you're actually going to have sex, you can ask about a diaphragm or cervical cap, and again, your male partners can always use condoms.

In addition, your partner can easily be using a condom, and in my opinion, if he cares at all about you, that's the least he can do. If he's not even offering, or figures all of this isn't his concern, then I suggest you no longer make HIM your concern and stop sleeping with him. And if you have been dishonest and given him the idea you're on the pill when you're not, again, I'd suggest you rethink being with him: honesty about these things is something people who earnestly care for one another -- in the most basic way -- do. Even if this is something you both consider casual sex, that doesn't mean we don't deserve or don't need to issue basic care and respect.

Okay? So, since you know you haven't been making sound choices, all you need to do -- and it really can be that easy -- is step it up for yourself and start making better ones. And if anyone you're sleeping with doesn't support you in those, then one additional better decision you could make is to kick that person to the curb.

Here are a few extra links for you:

Heather Corinna • Scarleteen Founder, Editor & Advice-Slingin' Sister • Author, S.E.X.

written 13 Dec 2007 . updated 10 Sep 2013

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