We’ve all been there at one time or another. Sometimes, it might be that you have unprotected sex. It happens. The key is what to do next, so that you can protect yourself and get peace of mind. But what should you do first? We asked Sarah Welsh, Co-founder of HANX, the sexual and intimate wellness brand building for women. She is also an accomplished medical doctor, with experience in gynaecology and sexual health and has all the answers for you.
Easier said than done, but once you realise you’ve not used a condom after sex, you might be anxious about STIs or an unplanned pregnancy. It can be daunting but stop, take a deep breath and focus on the actions you can take.
Pee After Sex
Although this doesn’t mean you won’t get an STI, peeing after sex does reduce your risk of getting a UTI (urinary tract infection), as it can help to flush bacteria out of the urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the vagina). This is especially helpful for women whose urethra is short and it’s therefore easier for bacteria to enter. If you do find yourself with stinging when you pee, you can get a relief with HANX’s cystitis relief sachets.
Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy
If you are not taking any contraception (such as the pill, or have the implant or coil inserted), or if the contraception you were using failed, such as missing a pill (hey, it happens!), or your condom split and you do not want to fall pregnant – you need to consider emergency contraception.
This can be prescribed from your sexual health clinic, GP, pharmacist or an online pharmacist- the sooner you access it the better! This might not be doable in the wee hours (the twilight zone between midnight and business as usual) but set an alarm to get the medication as soon as you can. If you’re wanting to avoid pregnancy, the sooner you seek emergency contraception the more effective it is likely to be.
There are two types, including the emergency contraceptive pill, commonly known as the morning after pill, of which there are two types (Levonelle and ellaOne), and also the intrauterine device (also known as the IUD or copper coil).
The two main morning after pills (Levonelle and ellaOne) work by delaying ovulation, and therefore avoiding pregnancy in most cases. The main difference is that Levonelle’s window to work is only three days, whereas ellaOne can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. You can buy ellaOne over the counter, but will need a prescription for Levonelle.
The copper coil is another emergency contraceptive method, which is a small T-shaped copper device that can be inserted into your uterus up to 10 days after unprotected sex and can stay in as a contraception for up to 5-10 years. The copper is released slowly into the womb, and acts to change the mucus at the cervix (neck of the womb), which makes it difficult for sperm to survive or to reach an egg, as well as preventing a fertilised egg to implant into the womb lining. All NHS sexual health clinics offer the morning after pills as well as the copper coil as emergency contraception options, and some GPs and practice nurses can also insert copper coils too.
What to Expect If You Have Taken The Morning After Pill
The morning after pill is very safe to use, but like all medication, some people experience side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tiredness, breast tenderness, headaches and abdominal pain. It is very common to have an irregular menstrual cycle after taking a morning after pill, and this should return back to normal by 3 months.
What to Expect If You Have The Copper Coil Inserted
The copper coil can be uncomfortable when first inserted, as your body adjusts to having it in place, but this should settle after a few days. Your health provider will explain how to check for the strings to ensure it is still in place. You may also experience heavier periods with the copper coil, but if this becomes unmanageable, see your doctor to discuss other contraceptive options.
Looking After Your Sexual Health & Avoiding STIs
It’s not just unwanted pregnancy that you need to consider if you’ve had unprotected sex. You may also have been exposed to sexually transmitted infections. Keep an eye out for any changes down there to discuss with healthcare provider, such as unusual discharge, pain, sore, abnormal smells, or itching.
Ask your partner if they have any known STIs, or when they were last checked and talk to your doctor about STI exposure. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV you can have post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to help prevent the transmission of HIV. There are many types of STIs, and some, such as chlamydia, do not have any symptoms, so make sure you get tested even if you feel absolutely fine.
Sometimes you can have vaginal thrush or bacterial vaginosis after sex with a new partner, so make sure you listen to your body and any changes that are happening.
Finally, stock up on condoms for next time!
Consider Taking A Pregnancy Test
Not all emergency contraception is 100% effective, so it is worth considering taking a pregnancy test if your period is late or delayed or even if it is a little lighter or shorter than normal for you.
Talk to Someone
Look after yourself mental health and talk to someone. Situations like this can lead to anxious and/or spiralling thoughts, so do confide in a trusted friend or therapist as sharing the load can really can take some of the weight off your mind. You’re not alone.
Emergency contraception should not be something that is used regularly, but can be used as a fallback for when other methods of contraception fail.
It’s important to remember that emergency contraception does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections, so you must protect yourself with condoms and ensure you get an STI check if you have unprotected sex or your condom breaks.
How will you prevent this happening again? Do you need to get into the habit of carrying condoms? Why not have them in your bag? HANX are very discreet and there’s zero shame in keeping condoms with your ‘just-in-case’ essentials.
If you’re continuously forgetting pills, then why not consider a long-term method of contraception? There are many options, but make sure you chat over your options with your doctor or practice nurse before committing.