Don’t listen to Coach Carr from “Mean Girls”: having sex won’t really make you “get pregnant and die.” Still, it’s not always as simple as popping a pill and climbing into the sack risk-free.
After starting birth control, you may have to wait anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks before you hop into the sheets without an additional method like a condom.
Aside from condoms, most birth control methods don’t protect from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). (Psst: it’s totally cool to talk to your partner about STIs before sex.)
So, unless you’re using a backup, listen up. Here’s how long you can expect for your birth control method to take effect.
Shout out to the pill for preventing unwanted surprises on pregnancy tests. When taken correctly, oral contraceptives are 99 percent effective. To get it right, plan on taking the pill every day, or as instructed by your doctor.
So, how long do you have to play the waiting game? That depends on the type of pill you take:
The combination pill
Just had your period? If you start your combination pills within the first 5 days after it starts, you’re in luck: You’ll be protected from pregnancy instantly.
If you start the combination pills during any other time of the month, hang on a minute! You need to take it for at least 7 days to ensure you’re protected. Until then, use a backup method, such as a condom, or abstain.
The progestin-only pill
Also known as the mini pill, progestin-only pills start protecting from pregnancy after 48 hours.
In the meantime, a backup form of BC will have your back.
IUDs are becoming increasingly popular. They’re also more than 99 percent effective, thanks in part to the low risk of pesky human error.
So, how long after your IUD insertion appointment can you get down to business?
The copper IUD kills sperm in the uterus by spurring a local inflammatory effect that is hostile to sperm. As soon as the doctor inserts it, it starts working its magic and remains effective for up to 12 years.
Hormonal IUDs like Liletta, Mirena, and Skyla prevent pregnancy by emitting progestin in the uterus, which thickens the cervical mucus and thins the lining of the uterus.
If inserted within 7 days after the first day of your period, it starts working straight away. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait a full week to depend on it.
Birth control injections, like the Depo-Provera shot, work by circulating progestin into the bloodstream and preventing ovulation. In order to keep doing their thing, you’ll need another shot every 3 months.
If you get the first shot within 5 days of the first day of your period, you’ll be protected from pregnancy within 24 hours. Otherwise, it takes 7 days.
The transdermal contraceptive patch works by releasing hormones directly into the skin of your belly, arm, back, or booty.
After you apply your first contraceptive patch as directed, you’ll be protected against pregnancy in 7 days. On day 8, switch to a new one to remain protected.
Hormone-emitting implants like Nexplanon are placed discreetly beneath the skin of the upper arm.
If implanted within the first 5 days of your period, it takes effect right away. If inserted after this time frame, you won’t be completely protected against pregnancy for 7 days.
Birth control implants are effective for up to 3 years.
The NuvaRing, which is inserted into the vagina, works by emitting hormones that prevent ovulation, which the vaginal lining absorbs.
If it’s inserted on the first day of your period, you’re instantly protected from pregnancy. Otherwise, wait at least 7 days before making any magic happen.
When used properly, barrier methods have the advantage of taking effect right away.
Male and female condoms
Like superheroes, male and female condoms take action immediately, making them an ideal addition for purses and pockets all over. Plus, they have the advantage of protecting against STIs.
Diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges
Diaphragm, cervical caps, and sponges work as soon as you place them. They should feel snug and comfy to guarantee the best protection. If you’re not sure how to attain a perfect fit, arrange a chat with your doctor.
For those who want protection for life, sterilization offers an attractive permanent option. There are three main types of sterilization to choose from, and all are more than 99 percent effective.
Nicknamed the “little snip,” a vasectomy prevents sperm from wriggling into the semen.
Those little swimmers typically won’t disappear from the semen for at least 3 months post-surgery, though. To ensure the semen’s completely in the clear, it’s recommended that doctors schedule a semen test about 8 to 16 weeks post-op.
A tubal occlusion permanently closes the fallopian tubes through surgery. Afterward, try as they might, the eggs can’t get in, which prevents fertilization.
Since it takes time for the tubes to seal, you’ll need a backup form of birth control for 3 months after surgery — or until your doctor gives you the green light.
Known as having your “tubes tied,” tubal ligation blocks the fallopian tubes by tying or cutting them.
It takes effect right away, but the doctors from the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend waiting at least a week to have sex to avoid discomfort.
All forms of birth control are most effective when used correctly. Depending on what method you use, that might mean taking your pill on time (apps and alarms FTW) or visiting a doctor to ensure your diaphragm fits like a glove. So, what else might mess things up?
For the pill:
- severe vomiting or diarrhea
- the antibiotic rifampin
- the antifungal griseofulvin
- some HIV medications
- some anti-seizure medications
- the sleep disorder drug Modafinil
- the herb St. John’s wort
For the patch:
- weighing more than 198 pounds
For barrier methods:
- not getting the fit quite right
- As a general rule, nonhormonal methods (the copper IUD and barrier methods like condoms) protect from pregnancy instantly.
- Hormonal methods (oral contraception, the hormonal IUD, NuvaRing, the implant, and the patch) require patience (up to a week). Following proper instructions is essential.
- Hormonal methods can sometimes take effect straight away — but that depends on the date of your last period. Track your cycle and talk to your doctor to be safe.
- Surgical methods of sterilization, such as vasectomy and tubal occlusion, can take months to offer full protection. (Technically, you can have sex right after tubal ligation, but it might not feel nice for a week or so).
- While you wait for your birth control to take effect, rely on a barrier method like condoms.
- Remember, there’s no such thing as 100 percent effective birth control. Only abstinence.