Use of the morning-after pill may be on the rise, but few really seem to understand how it works.
More and more U.S. teens are using the morning-after pill, the Guardian reported last year. According to a recent survey, more than one in five sexually active teen girls have used it — compared to just one in 10 teen girls a decade ago. Hooray for preventing unintended pregnancies!
But as Broadly pointed out, rumors about the morning-after pill still remain — chief among them, "the big, bad, I'll-never-get-pregnant one that plagues forums all over the internet."
It's a common concern: Some folks fear that taking the morning-after pill too many times can hinder your ability to get pregnant in the future. "Can taking the morning-after pill (Plan B) too many times make you infertile, or less able to easily conceive?" a Tumblr user asked Planned Parenthood. "I had never heard this until some friends said so recently, and it is horrifying me!"
The answer is no, according to Dr. Charlotte Wilken-Jensen, head of the gynecology and obstetrics department at Denmark's Hvidovre Hospital. "The morning-after pill definitely won't affect your chances of getting pregnant later on in life," she told Broadly.
"Every formula of the morning-after pill advises you to take it only once every cycle, but really, you can safely take it any time you have unprotected intercourse," Wilken-Jensen said.
Or, as Planned Parenthood puts it: "Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy after one act of unprotected sex. Period."
How the morning-after pill works
Scientists don't fully understand how the morning-after pill works, according to Wilken-Jensen; but we do know the effects it produces.
Here's what you need to know: After you have unprotected vaginal intercourse, your partner's sperm can live inside your body for up to six days while it looks around for an egg to fertilize, according to Planned Parenthood. If you ovulate during that time, you could become pregnant.
That's where the morning-after pill comes in. It temporarily stops your body from ovulating, meaning your ovaries won't release any eggs for the lingering sperm to fertilize.
Plan B, a popular over-the-counter morning-after pill, works best when taken within 72 hours — ideally within 12 hours — of unprotected sex. The sooner you call off ovulation, the smaller the window the sperm have to fertilize one of your eggs.
That brings us to another myth: that the morning-after pill is the same thing as the "abortion pill" — a set of two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, used to terminate a pregnancy.
"It's very important to stress that it's not an abortion tool," Wilken-Jensen told Broadly. "If your egg has already been fertilized, the morning-after pill won't work."
In other words, when you use the morning-after pill successfully, you're not ending a pregnancy — you're preventing a pregnancy from happening in the first place.