How long after sex can you take the morning after pill?

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If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you want to learn more about the morning after pill. Maybe you’re thinking of taking it because you’ve had unprotected sex or experienced a contraceptive failure, or perhaps you want to get the facts now so you know what to do if you find yourself – or someone else – in that situation in the future.

We want to make one thing clear: there is no shame in emergency contraception. In ellaOne’s® 2021 survey of 984 people, we found that 59% of participants had experienced a contraceptive failure and 74% took the morning after pill as a result. Sadly, we also found that 47% had felt judged for taking emergency contraception. 

If you are thinking of taking the morning after pill, you are making a responsible decision to help prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Maybe you want to have kids in the future, maybe you don’t; maybe you already have kids and are not ready for any more. Whatever your circumstances, you know when it’s right and when it’s not. 

One question we are often asked is when is the best time to take the morning after pill. How long after unprotected sex will the morning after pill still be effective? Here’s what you need to know. 

When to take the morning after pill

If you’ve had unprotected sex or experienced contraceptive failure, you should take the morning after pill as soon as possible to help avoid unplanned pregnancy. ellaOne® works by delaying ovulation, postponing the release of the egg (which is released during ovulation) so there is nothing for any sperm to fuse with. 

ellaOne’s® recent survey found that 43% thought the morning after pill would decrease the risk of pregnancy after ovulation. This is incorrect, and it’s important to understand why so you can have a clear idea of how emergency contraception works.

Once you have ovulated, the morning after pill will no longer be able to help prevent pregnancy as it works solely by delaying ovulation. Hormonal emergency contraception cannot remove an implanted egg, it does not cause an abortion and the moring after pill cannot interrupt an existing pregnancy. Misunderstandings about how the morning after pill works help promote a lot of myths and misconceptions, which can lead to unnecessary stress or shame.

The sooner you take the morning-after pill, the sooner it can delay ovulation, whereas the longer you leave it the more of a chance your body has to ovulate if you are close to your ovulation window. This is why the morning after pill is most effective when taken ASAP, ideally within 24 hours.

Remember that sperm can live within the body for up to 5 days, so even if you’re not due to ovulate for a while there may still be some swimmers hanging around when ovulation does occur. ellaOne delays ovulation by approximately 5 days, so any sperm will have died by the time ovulation does occur.

How effective is the morning after pill within 24 hours

ellaOne® is the most effective morning after pill* because it is 2.5 times more effective at preventing pregnancy than levonorgestrel.

 Here’s the data to show this: According to a clinical trial on emergency hormonal contraception an estimated 55 out of 1,000 people will become pregnant if they have sex without contraception. However if they take a morning after pill containing levonorgestrel 23 out of 1000 will become pregnant while if they take ellaOne 9 out of 1,000 will become pregnant.

*Verify at

No contraceptive is 100% effective, but ellaOne® is around 98% effective at preventing unplanned pregnancy when taken within 24 hours. Find out all there is to know about ellaOne®.

*Verify at:


Can you take the morning after pill after 5 days?

Whilst it’s recommended that you take the morning after pill ASAP, it can still effectively prevent unplanned pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex if you have not already ovulated.  Hormonal emergency contraceptives containing levonorgestrel can be effective up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected sex, whilst hormonal emergency contraceptives containing ulipristal acetate (like ellaOne®) can be effective up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. 

When getting the morning after pill – whether you’re buying it at a pharmacy, via click and collect, from ellaOne® Direct or obtained from a doctor or sexual health clinic – you will be asked when the unprotected sex occured, as well as several other questions about other medication and your health to make sure the morning after pill is the right choice for you.

Morning after pill after 7 days

There is no emergency contraceptive option that can be taken more than 5 days after unprotected sex. If it has been longer than 5 days, we advise that you speak to a healthcare professional, like a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or sexual health practitioner for advice.

Did you know you can buy the morning after pill in advance? If you’re going on holiday, or somewhere where it’s less easy to access emergency contraception, or if you just want to be prepared in case you have a contraceptive failure or unprotected sex, you can buy ellaOne® online to help protect against unplanned pregnancy. 

Please note that hormonal emergency contraception should not be used as a regular contraceptive method. Emergency contraception, as the name suggests, is for emergency use only. It is a reactive measure that helps prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, rather than a proactive contraception option that helps prevent unplanned pregnancy on a long term basis. 

The morning after pill will also only help protect you from a single incident, so it won’t continue to protect you from unplanned pregnancy if you have unprotected sex again after taking it.

After reading this, you may be wondering ‘how do I know whether the morning after pill has worked?’. The answer is that you won’t ‘feel’ it working, but getting your period is a pretty good indication that it has worked. Keep in mind that the morning after pill can sometimes delay your period by up to seven days. If your period is later than seven days, or if you have any concerns about pregnancy, then speak to a doctor or healthcare professional.

Have you ever taken the morning after pill? Why not share your story below to help change the narrative around emergency contraception.

ellaOne® 30mg film-coated tablet contains ulipristal acetate and is indicated for emergency contraception within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sexual intercourse or contraceptive failure.