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Dealing with Condom Malfunctions

By Karen Keller
Quick Tips

  1. Don’t panic – Broken condoms seem a lot more common than the manufacturers would have you believe, and there are plenty of remedies. Just act within 72 hours of the emergency.
  2. Know your options – The three most popular options include regular birth control pills, Plan B (aka “the morning after pill”), and an intrauterine device. Only Plan B is over the counter.
  3. Is this an abortion? – None of the morning after solutions induce abortions, they only prevent egg fertilization. If it’s been more than 72 hours, call a doctor for other solutions.
  4. STDs – You shouldn’t only be thinking about pregnancy; also consider STDs. After the malfunction, call your doctor and get tested. If there are any complications, the sooner you know the better. However, you should wait at least 1-3 months before getting tested for HIV.
  5. Planned Parenthood – If you need help and don’t want to speak to your doctor, call a non-profit such as Planned Parenthood. They can help with a range of issues from providing morning after pills to dealing with abortions and STDs.

So, the condom broke. Or, let’s get real: there was no condom handy and he was just too sexy to pass up. The next morning, sunlight filters through chintzy Venetian blinds, and you pry open your eyes. And then you really wake up.

Uhh. Did I really let him? When was my last period? Could I be pregnant? (Cue phantom labor cramps.)





Option 1 – Plan B

Plan B, the only morning-after medication sold in the U.S., is available over-the-counter for people 18 and over. It was FDA-approved to be made available without a prescription in August 2006. Score, federal government! It’s two pills – the first, taken immediately, the second, 12 hours later.


Plan B is more effective at preventing pregnancy than birth control pills. It’s also slightly cheaper ($10-$45) and therefore a better option for those of us either without health insurance, or still on our parent’s insurance. No health insurance bill means no paper trail for parents and boyfriends to find.


Potentially awkward pharmacy run-in; chance of nausea (under 1 in 4 women feel sick after taking Plan B).

Option 2 – Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills are generally used before you get into a dicey situation, but it can also be used as an emergency contraceptive. You need to start within 120 hours after tthe "incident," but sooner is better. To see how many pills you need to take of different brands, refer to this Planned Parenthood page (scroll down a tiny bit). It’s usually two to five pills. A pack of pills costs $20-$50. Birth control pills still aren’t available over-the-counter, so this option doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve already got them on hand.


Can be taken immediately, in the comfort of your own home (or shoebox apartment).


Slightly less effective (75%) than Plan B (89%). See Planned Parenthood’s page on Effectiveness. Also, more women experience nausea after taking birth control than do after taking Plan B.

Option 3 – Intrauterine Device

Get an intrauterine device inserted by a doctor. It’s a form of birth control – a piece of plastic that’s put up inside the uterus. Reduces risk of pregnancy if inserted within five days by 99.9 percent.


It’s the most effective morning-after method, and it gives you a larger time window to work with. A bonus: It’ll work as birth control for up to 12 years (you can always get it taken out if you want to get preggers).


It’s expensive, costing around $400 for the product (Para-Guard is the most common brand), including doctor insertion.

The Final Word

Remember that time is of the essence, so make a decision ASAP about whether you want a bun in the oven. After five days, you're decision becomes a lot more difficult. Also, don't forget that pregnancy's probably not your only concern. Get test for STDs, chica!

How It Works

In all three cases (Plan B/birth control pills/IUD) the methods work by preventing egg fertilization or ovulation. It’s NOT an abortion – these options don’t “kill” or remove a fertilized egg from the uterus. Plan B uses the hormone progestin; birth control pills use the hormones progestin and estrogen.

These methods (“Emergency Contraception” or EC) shouldn’t be confused with RU-486 (mifepristone), a pill that does cause abortion in pregnant women within 49 days from the first day of their last period.

Side Effects

It’s normal for some women to get irregular periods or experience unexpected bleeding. Women who don’t get their periods within three weeks should see a health care provider.

Some side effects of EC include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pains
  • Breast tenderness
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Depression



Intrauterine devices sound kinda scary, but the fact that its so effective and lasts 12 years seems awesome. Does anyone know how unpleasant/expensive this method really is?

That baby is adorable. If you really want me to use birth control you should put up a picture of an uglier baby.

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