So, you had sex without using a condom or other barrier method. Maybe you forgot about the whole condom thing in the heat of the moment, or maybe the condom slipped or broke.
These things happen, and they can be scary AF. You might be worried about pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or both.
That’s why having a morning-after game plan is essential. Here’s what you need to know to take charge of your health after it goes down.
In the moments after sex without a condom or other barrier method, understandably you might be nervous about having acquired an STI or unplanned pregnancy. But it can help to focus on the actions you can take.
Take a trip to the restroom
Although it won’t reduce your risk for acquiring an STI, peeing may reduce your risk of a UTI.
“Some women are simply more prone to acquiring an infection, but one of the most effective ways for anyone to avoid a UTI is to pee shortly after sex,” says Kat Van Kirk, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical sexologist.
It clears out the urethra, sweeping bacteria along with it. Drink water to encourage your need to go.
Make a plan for the next day
You might have engaged in an afternoon delight, but sex without a condom or other barrier method often happens after dark. That means you may not have access to a pharmacy or your doc right away.
Although a long night ahead might bring on worry, stamp down anxiety by taking back some control. One way to do that is to make a plan. Set a notification on your phone to call your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
You can also keep an eye out for anything different down there. Write down how you feel so you can monitor any changes and report them to a healthcare provider if necessary.
Your next steps will depend on your situation and whether you’re on birth control.
Consider emergency contraception
If pregnancy is a concern and you’re not on birth control, now’s the time to prevent conception.
One option is to get the morning-after pill. Over-the-counter (OTC) choices include Plan B One Step, Take Action, My Way, AfterPill, and more.
These types of emergency contraceptives are most effective when you take them within 72 hours of sex without a condom or other barrier method, but you can also take them up to 120 hours (5 days) after sex. Sooner is always better.
Another morning-after pill, called Ella, is available with a prescription, and according to Planned Parenthood, it’s the most effective. Plus, it works just as well whether you’re taking it within 24 hours or up to 120 hours post-sex.
If you goofed with your regular hormonal birth control method — hey, it happens — OTC options, rather than Ella, will be your best choice to avoid any interactions.
The morning-after pill, whether OTC or prescription, does show a slight decrease in effectiveness in women who have a BMI of 30 or greater.
A copper IUD will also work as emergency contraception. The Paragard IUD is 99.9 percent effective at preventing pregnancy if you can get it inserted within 5 days of your encounter.
You’ll have to make an appointment with your healthcare provider or a Planned Parenthood clinic. As a bonus, Paragard will continue to prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years.
Talk to your doctor about STI exposure
If you think there’s any chance you’ve been exposed to HIV, alert your healthcare provider or a doctor at an emergency room or walk-in clinic.
You might be prescribed post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a 28-day treatment that may prevent an HIV infection from taking hold.
Although more research is needed, one study also associated a single dose of PEP taken within 24 hours of sex without a condom or other barrier method with a reduced risk of bacterial STIs.
Take stock of your mental state
It’s not unusual to feel a little down after having sex without a condom or other barrier method. If you’re feeling blue, talk it out with a trusted friend. Chances are they may have gone through a similar experience.
Only about 20 percent of men and women ages 15 to 44 report using condoms every time they’ve had sex over the course of a month.
Don’t let worry override important next steps like getting tested for STIs or pregnancy. If you’re reeling from the incident, it might be helpful to talk to a counselor or therapist.
If you’ve taken the steps above, you’ve done your due diligence. The next steps might be waiting for your period to show up or following up on any STI concerns you have.
Take a pregnancy test
While an at-home pregnancy test is most accurate 1 week after your missed period, many brands offer tests that are more than 99 percent accurate even sooner.
The First Response Early Result test, for example. will give you an answer 6 days before your missed period.
But if you want to know for sure — and ASAP — schedule an appointment with your doc, who can test for the markers in your blood. You can also get services at a Planned Parenthood, usually on a sliding fee scale and sometimes for free.
See your OB-GYN or primary care physician
It’s a good idea to get tested 2 weeks post-hookup, says Fahimeh Sasan, DO, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Mount Sinai Health System in NYC. That’s when you can get a preliminary all-clear on STIs.
Most STI tests look for antibodies, and your immune system may not have necessarily produced these 14 days after the fact.
But a negative result provides a little peace of mind to get you through to your follow-up a few weeks later.
Watch for symptoms
Many STIs won’t show obvious symptoms. But one sign to look out for is a herpes sore outbreak.
This could occur any time from 10 days to 10 years after acquiring the infectious agent, but it’s crucial to get to the doc as soon as you spot one, Van Kirk says.
“You have to actually swab an open lesion to confirm that it’s herpes, so once the sore heals — which can be within just a few days — there’s nothing to test for,” she explains.
If a questionable bump pops up down there or around your mouth, call your doc that day. Most clinics will squeeze you in if you tell them you’re worried you have a herpes sore, she adds.
Any unusual discharge, painful urination, genital itching, or bleeding not related to your menstrual cycle is also a reason to contact your doc.
Several weeks or months after you’ve had sex without using a condom or other barrier method, the incident may feel like nothing more than a pothole in your rearview mirror, especially once pregnancy test results are in.
Unfortunately, you may not get the same quick answer about STIs. “People can have contact, get exposed to an STI, but not have it manifest,” Sasan says.
If your tests show a negative result at your 2-week visit, going back a month later will confirm these results. And while you’re probably fine, it’s a good idea to get another check.
It takes longer for your body to create antibodies against HIV in particular. More time increases the likelihood that, if the virus is in your body, your immune system will have reacted enough for a test to pick up on it.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the earliest an antibody test will detect HIV is 3 weeks. And if you get the all-clear at the 3-month mark, you can be confident you don’t have it.
When do you get confirmation that you’re free and clear of any and all worry? You don’t, really. (Sorry!)
Since some STIs stay dormant in your system for years, it’s crucial to check for them at every annual visit and use condoms or other barrier methods with all future partners.
So, what should you do differently next time?
It may be helpful to keep the morning-after pill on hand in case of another mishap. It has a long shelf life — just check the expiration date.
Plus, always have condoms or other barrier contraception handy — here’s a size guide for condoms and advice on dental dams — and know the best practices to avoid breakage or slippage. Never hesitate to insist on using a condom or other types of barrier contraception to keep yourself and your sexual partners safe.
And here’s more help: We have some excellent text templates you can use to have the STI convo with your future partners.
Most importantly, remember not to panic.