You can use emergency contraception to prevent becoming pregnant if you have had sex without using contraception, or you think your contraception may have failed. There are different types of emergency contraception available:
- the emergency intrauterine device (IUD), sometimes called ‘the coil’;
- the emergency contraceptive pill with the active ingredient ulipristal acetate, e.g., ellaOne;
- the emergency contraceptive pill with the hormone levonorgestrel, e.g., Levonelle.
An emergency IUD involves a small plastic and copper device that is fitted in your womb up to five days after unprotected sex, or up to five days after the earliest time you could have ovulated. This is the most effective form of emergency contraception and can be accessed at some GP practices or by contacting a sexual and reproductive health clinic within your Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust.
If you chose to take the emergency contraceptive pill, ellaOne is more effective at preventing pregnancy than Levonelle. However, there may be times when Levonelle is more suitable to take. ellaOne can be taken within five days of unprotected sex whereas Levonelle should be taken within three days. The sooner you take the medication, the more effective it will be.
Can it fail?
Some people become pregnant even though they took an emergency contraceptive pill correctly. If you vomit within three hours of taking the emergency contraceptive pill speak with a GP, pharmacist, or a healthcare professional working within a sexual and reproductive health clinic as you will need to take another dose. Alternatively, you could have an emergency IUD fitted.
Where can I access emergency contraception?
The emergency contraceptive pill is can be accessed for free in participating community pharmacies across Northern Ireland through the Pharmacy First scheme; online via SH:24; on prescription; or from a sexual and reproductive health clinic. Sexual and reproductive health clinics also offer an IUD, as do some GP practices.
An interactive map showing all pharmacies across Northern Ireland which provide free emergency hormonal contraception can be viewed here.
There are many different forms of contraception and different methods will suit different people. Sexual and reproductive health clinics offer a full range of contraceptive services including long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) such as coils and implants, which are the most effective methods.
GP practices can prescribe contraception, with some practices providing a full range of contraceptive services.
As well as the emergency contraceptive pill, SH:24 offer online access to the combined contraceptive pill (‘the pill’), the progesterone only pill (‘mini pill’) and repeat supplies of the self-injectable Sayana Press.
The C-Card (Condom Distribution) Scheme is a confidential sexual health service for young people aged 16 – 25 years. This initiative provides free condoms, lubricants, information support and advice at convenient times and in a variety of locations across local communities.
Progesterone only pills (Hana and Lovima) are available to buy in pharmacies and online without prescription.
Common Youth offer advice and contraception to young people aged under 25. For more information, email email@example.com or call 028 9032 8866.
Central booking numbers – contraception
028 9504 5500
Monday to Thursday 9am to 11.30am and 1.30pm to 3.30pm
Friday 9am to 11.30am
028 2826 6163
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 9am to 4.30pm
Tuesday and Friday 9am to 3pm
South Eastern Trust
028 9041 3796
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9.00am to 12.30pm
028 37562 200
Times vary – answer machine will advise
028 7161 1269
Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Having sex without using a condom can put you at greater risk of contracting an STI. STIs are passed to another person through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, by genital contact and through the sharing of sex toys. You don’t need to have multiple sexual partners to contract an STI.
Testing for STIs
The length of time it takes from contracting an STI to it showing up on a test varies depending on the type of infection. This is often referred to as the ‘window period’. The window period for chlamydia and gonorrhoea is two weeks. This means a test taken less than two weeks after unprotected sex might not pick up these infections. So, you should wait two weeks after unprotected sex before testing. For a blood test, the window period is longer, seven weeks after potential exposure for HIV, and 12 weeks for syphilis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. However, Hepatitis C can sometimes take up to six months to
show in a test.
If you are worried that you may have contracted an STI but don’t have any symptoms you can order a free home test kit at www.sh24.org.uk. If you have symptoms, e.g., pain during sex, irregular bleeding, pain when passing urine or unusual discharge, you should arrange an appointment in a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) service. Until you’ve had a check-up you should not have sex, including oral sex, without using a condom. Sexual health screening is available across Northern Ireland. You can attend a clinic in a different HSC Trust to the one you live in. By doing so you may be able to get an earlier appointment.
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, contact a GUM service or your nearest Emergency Department within 72 hours of exposure to seek advice as you may be eligible for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP is medication that can help prevent the development of HIV.
Central booking numbers – STIs
028 9615 2111
Monday to Friday 8.15am to 11.00am
The Belfast Trust also runs a clinic every Wednesday from 2-5pm in the Crumlin Road Health Centre. This is open to anyone under the age of 25, with no appointment necessary.
028 7034 6028
Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm
South Eastern Trust
028 4483 8133
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm
028 3756 2080
Monday to Friday 9.00am to 12pm
028 7161 1269
Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm
Common Youth run an STI service for young people under 25 in their clinics in Belfast and Coleraine. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 028 9032 8866.
There is also a walk in GUM clinic in QUB Students Union during term time on Mondays 10-3pm. This offers sexual health advice, testing, vaccines and some treatments.
Accessing abortion will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are, and which area of Northern Ireland you live in.
For information on accessing abortion services please see our Abortion Care – Northern Ireland page.
For further information please call the Sexual Health Helpline on 028 9031 6100.