Menu

Rape and Emergency Contraception: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on June 08, 2022

If you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, it’s important to get medical care as soon as you can. Some emergency rooms (ERs) or clinics have nurses or doctors with special training for this. They’ll know how to help you with everything from how you’re doing emotionally to collecting evidence (if that’s something you wish for them to do).

If you need help finding a place to go for your care, you can chat with the National Sexual Assault Hotline online at online.rainn.org or call them at 800-656-4673 anytime.

Your risk of getting pregnant after a rape is about 6%. You can get emergency contraceptives – medicine that can help stop a pregnancy after sex – at a drugstore or from a doctor.

If you’re worried you might get pregnant, you’ll want to get access to emergency contraception as soon as possible so it’s more likely to work.

You’ll have more options and access to more effective emergency contraceptives if you see a doctor right away. The specific rules about how emergency rooms offer or inform you about emergency contraceptives will vary according to the laws in your state.

What Are Your Options for Emergency Contraception After Rape?

Emergency contraception comes in two main forms: intrauterine devices (IUDs) or pills.

A doctor or other health care provider can put an IUD into your uterus, the organ in your belly where a baby develops. IUDs are a good way to have birth control for a long time. A copper IUD inserted within 5 days of intercourse is the most effective method of emergency contraception (but not an FDA-approved use). Some studies show that it may also be effective if placed within 10 days after intercourse. Heavy bleeding and cramping can occur in the first 3-6 months following insertion. The downside is that you will need a doctor to put it in and take it back out when you’re ready. They also might cost more than pills. You can choose between an IUD with copper in it or one that will release a hormone. If you decide to get an IUD, your doctor can explain any differences between IUD brands.

Instead of an IUD, you also can choose an emergency contraceptive pill. They either have hormones in them or block hormones. These include:

  • Ulipristal acetate (Ella or EllaOne). This pill doesn’t have any hormones in it. It works by blocking effects of a hormone called progesterone. You can get this as a single-dose pill. A doctor has to prescribe it for you.
  • Levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose). This emergency contraceptive is a hormone. You can get it at a drugstore without a doctor's prescription. You’ll take one or two pills. Especially if you are taking it without a doctor’s advice, make sure to read the directions carefully so you take it the right way.
  • Birth control pills. It’s possible to take regular birth control pills as emergency contraception. But it’s more likely to make you feel sick and doesn’t work as well as other options. If you decide to use your regular brand of birth control for emergency contraception, you will have to take a lot more than you normally would.

Ask your doctor to be sure you’re taking the right amount. You also can find tables online. You’ll take anywhere from 2 to 20 pills of a certain color as soon as you can and then again 12 hours later. The number of pills you’ll take depends on which brand of birth control it is.

How Well Does Emergency Contraception Work?

IUDs work better than pills. Copper or hormonal IUDs can prevent more than 99% of pregnancies.

How well pills work depends on many things, including:

  • How soon you take them
  • Your menstrual cycle
  • Your weight

Emergency contraceptive pills can work if you use them up to 5 days after you were raped. But the sooner you take any pill for emergency contraception, the better. If you take ulipristal acetate within 3 days, your chances of getting pregnant will be 1%-2%. If you take levonorgestrel within 3 days, your chances of getting pregnant will be 1%-7%.

Taking extra birth control pills doesn’t work as well as other options.

What Are the Side Effects of Emergency Contraception?

An IUD might give you some cramps. You may see some spots of blood in your underwear or when you pee. Usually this won’t be too uncomfortable and should go away in a couple of days.

Emergency contraceptive pills might make you feel nauseous. You might throw up. But this happens more from taking extra birth control pills than it does from pills that are intended for emergency contraception. You could take another medicine to help if you’re worried about feeling sick or throwing up.

If you throw up within an hour after taking birth control for emergency contraception, you’ll need to take them again. You aren’t as likely to throw up after taking levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate. But read the directions to find out what you should do if that were to happen.

What If It’s Too Late or Emergency Contraception Didn’t Work?

After using emergency contraception, you should get your period within about a week of the usual time. Ulipristal acetate might delay your period a little. If you haven’t gotten your period when you would expect to, take a pregnancy test at home. If it’s negative and you’re still waiting for your period, take another test.

If you find out you’re pregnant, you still have choices to make. You can take a combination of two drugs (mifepristone and misoprostol) to end a pregnancy as long as it’s within the first 10 weeks. You may need to see a doctor to get abortion pills, but this varies by state. A doctor or clinic also can help you think through your options.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

UpToDate: “Care after sexual assault,” “Emergency Contraception.”

RAINN: “National Sexual Assault Hotline.”

Medscape: “Emergency Contraception After Rape.”

Kff.org: “The availability and use of medication abortion.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info