indications for emergency contraception

Last reviewed 03/2021

Emergency contraception after unprotected sexual intercourse should be offered when:

  • no contraception has been used

  • failed coitus interruptus (e.g., ejaculation in vagina or on external genitalia) (1)

  • barrier methods fail
    • dislodgment, incorrect use or breakage of a condom
    • a diaphragm or cervical cap is incorrectly inserted, damaged dislodged or removed within 6 hours of intercourse

  • regular oral contraceptive pills have been missed or taken incorrectly
    • in combined oral contraceptive pills (21 active tablets) -
      • if three or more 30-35 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol (EE) pills, or two or more 20 micrograms of EE pills have been missed in the first week of pill taking (days 1 to 7) and
      • unprotected sexual intercourse occurred in week 1 or during the pill-free week
    • in progestogen-only pills
      • if one or more progestogen-only pills (POPs) have been missed or taken more than 3 hours late and
      • unprotected intercourse has occurred in the 2 days following this (2)

  • medroxyprogesterone acetate injection is late
    • if overdue for more than 14 weeks from the previous injection for medroxyprogesterone acetate or more than 10 weeks for norethisterone enantate and unprotected intercourse has occurred

  • expulsion of IUD
    • complete or partial expulsion is identified or mid cycle removal of an IUD/IUS is deemed necessary and unprotected sexual intercourse has occurred in the last 7 days

  • contraceptive patch lifts
    • for 48 hours or more o if there is a delay of >48 hours in changing patches at the end of week 1 or 2
    • if there is a delay of more than 48 hours in applying a new patch after the patch-free week (3)

  • woman is taking liver enzyme-inducing drugs e.g. - St John's Wort
    • emergency contraception is indicated in case of unprotected sexual intercourse or barrier method failure or in the first 28 days following the use of liver enzyme inducing drugs
    • an additional barrier method is recommended if oral contraceptives, progestogen implants or contraceptive patch and liver enzyme-inducers are taken concurrently

  • following rape or sexual assault (1)


  • emergency contraception is not indicated in case of unprotected sex or failure of barrier method occurring less than 21 days postpartum (4)


  • 1. World Health Organization (WHO) 2005. Emergency contraception
  • 2. Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care Clinical Effectiveness Unit. FFPRHC Guidance (April 2006). Emergency contraception. J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care. 2006;32(2):121-8
  • 3. Family Planning Association (FPA) 2009. Your guide to the contraceptive patch.
  • 4. Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) 2009. UK medical eligibility criteria for contraceptive use.