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How Can We Avoid Pregnancy if a Condom Breaks?

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If a condom broke and I had ejaculated, could a pill help my girlfriend not get pregnant?
- Jack*

Yes. Condoms rarely break, but it does happen occasionally. In that case, emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) may help your girlfriend avoid pregnancy.

There are different types of ECPs, often called the morning-after pill. One type, levonorgestrel (brand names: Plan B and Next Choice), has been on the market for a while. It works up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex.

The other type, ulipristal acetate (brand name: ella), was recently approved for use in the United States and can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse.

Levonorgestrel ECPs are often available without a prescription to those 17 years and older (a prescription is required for those 16 and younger). Prescriptions are required for all ages for ulipristal.

If you're interested in ECPs, your best bet is to call a doctor, nurse practitioner, or health clinic right away. Or, if your girlfriend is 17 or older, you can buy levonorgestrel ECPs over the counter at a pharmacy.

To find out who can provide or prescribe ECPs in your area, visit the website for The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.

Emergency contraception is most effective when taken as soon as possible after intercourse, although some studies have shown that ECPs can still work up to 120 hours after intercourse.

Taking ECPs is not a guarantee against pregnancy — about 1 or 2 in every 100 women will still get pregnant despite taking the pill. And ECPs don't prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). So if a condom breaks (or a couple has unprotected sex), it's a good idea to get tested for STDs.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: March 2011

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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