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​What if something goes wrong?

However hard we try, sometimes accidents can happen. You can find out more here about what to do if something goes wrong with your contraception.

Help! I used a condom, but it broke

If your condom broke, or came off, while you were having sex, you may need to take emergency contraception (including what's often called the 'morning after pill') to reduce the risk of pregnancy. This will be the case if you are not using another method of contraception correctly. It's important to take emergency contraception as soon as possible, so try and get advice from a sexual health clinic or Brook service (if you are under 25) or your GP as soon as you can. You can also get emergency contraception from some pharmacies.

You may also have been at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), as fluids could have come into contact with your genitals so it would be a good idea to speak with a doctor or nurse at one of the above services or your local sexual health clinic about getting tested.

Find out what's involved in visiting a service such as Brook, including where to go for emergency contraception and STI testing if there isn't a Brook near you. 

Common mistakes which can lead to the condom breaking include: not checking the condom packet for damage, not checking the expiry date, putting the condom on too late, the wrong way round or incorrectly, and taking the condom off too soon. Also using oil-based lubricants with latex condoms (such as Vaseline or moisturiser) can damage the latex. Read more about the common mistakes

Oops... I didn't use a condom

If you’ve had sex without using contraception – you can usually prevent pregnancy by using emergency contraception (including what's often called the 'morning after pill') if you act fast.

You will also need to find out about STIs and getting tested, and remember that some STIs can have no symptoms so it is important to get tested.

It’s also important to think about why you didn’t use a condom. It could have been a one off and you got carried away, or do you often not use them? Is it you or your partner who doesn’t like using condoms, and how can you talk to them about it? Either way you only need to have sex once to get an STI and condoms are the only method of contraception that protect against STIs as well as pregnancy so it’s important to use them every time you have sex. Read more about condom excuses. Some couples, who are only having sex with each other and who have had tests and know they’re free from STIs, may decide to stop using condoms and just use another method to prevent pregnancy. Explore our section which covers all 15 methods of contraception.

I've missed a pill and had sex, what should I do?

The answer to this question will depend on the type of pill you are using and how many pills you have missed. 

If you are taking a combined pill

One pill missed:

If you have missed one pill, or if you have started the new pack one day late:

  • Take the last pill you missed, now
  • Continue taking the rest of the pack as usual
  • Emergency contraception is not usually required but may need to be considered if pills have been missed earlier in the pack or in the last week of the previous pack

Two or more pills missed:

If you have missed two or more pills or if you have started the new pack two or more days late:

  • Take the last pill you missed, now
  • Continue taking the rest of the pack as usual
  • Leave any earlier missed pills
  • Use an additional method of contraception for the next seven days
  • If you have had unprotected sex in the previous seven days, you may need emergency contraception

If seven or more pills are left in the pack after the missed pill:

  • Finish the pack
  • Have the usual seven day break or take the placebo tablets

If fewer than seven pills are left in the pack after the missed pill:

  • Finish the pack and begin a new one the next day (this means missing out the break or not taking the placebo tablets)
  • Please note if you have missed a pill and need to take two, this is not the same as taking emergency contraception. If you have missed a pill and are worried, you will need to take emergency contraception

The information above does not apply to the combined pill Qlaira. If you use this pill you should contact the doctor or nurse who prescribed it if you are not sure how to take it or read the manufacturer's instructions.

If you are taking a progestogen-only pill (mini pill or POP)

If you are more than three hours late (or 12 hours late if you are taking POPs containing the hormone desogestrel):

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember. If you have missed more than one, only take one
  • Take your next pill at the usual time. This may mean taking two pills in one day. This is not harmful
  • You are not protected against pregnancy. Continue to take your pills as usual, but use an additional method of contraception, such as condoms, for the next two days.

If you are less than three hours late (or 12 hours late if you are taking POPs containing the hormone desogestrel):

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember, and take the next one at the usual time, even if this means taking two pills in the same day. You are protected from pregnancy.

Read our section on tips for remembering to take your pill

I've been sick or had diarrhoea

If you are taking an oral method of contraception (such as the combined pill or the progestogen only pill) these can be affected by vomiting or diarrhoea depending on whether they have had time to be absorbed by the stomach.

If you vomit within two hours of taking either type of pill this will not have had time to be absorbed by the stomach. You should take another pill straight away, and as long as you are not sick again you will still be protected against pregnancy. Take your next pill at the usual time.

If you have very severe vomiting or diarrhoea that lasts more than 24 hours you will need to follow the instructions above for missed pills. Each day you are ill is classed as a missed pill day - you should still continue to take your pill each day if you can, but you will need to use an additional method of contraception such as condoms. If you have had sex in the previous seven days, you may need emergency contraception. Find out more about how to get emergency contraception (including what's often called the 'morning after pill').

If you are using any other method of contraception such as condoms, internal or female condoms, the injection, patch, implant, IUD, IUS, vaginal ring, diaphragm or cap - these will not be affected by vomiting or diarrhoea as they do not rely on the hormones being absorbed by the stomach.

My contraceptive patch fell off

If you are using the contraceptive patch, this should stay on as it is very sticky. However, if falls off, what you need to do next depends on how long it has been off for and how many days you were wearing the previous patch for before it fell off.

  • If it has been off for less than 48 hours, stick the patch back on as soon as possible. If it doesn't stick don’t try to hold it in place with anything else – replace it with a new patch. You can now continue to use your patch as normal and change to a new patch on your usual change day. No additional contraception is required as long as there has been consistent and correct use for seven days prior to the removal/detachment.
  • If the patch has been off for 48 hours or more, apply a new patch as soon as possible and start a new four-week patch cycle. Then use another form of contraception, like condoms, for the next seven days. If you had unprotected sex in the previous few days you may need emergency contraception and will need to speak to a doctor or nurse.

Read more about the contraceptive patch

I forgot to change the contraceptive patch on time

If you have forgotten to change your contraceptive patch, what you need to do depends on where you are in the four-week patch cycle, and how long you have forgotten to take the patch off or put a new one on for.

After week one or two:

  • If it has been on for less than 48 hours longer, take off the old patch and put on a new patch. Continue to use your patch as normal, changing it on your normal change day. You don’t need to use additional contraception and you are protected against pregnancy.
  • If it has been on for 48 hours or longer, you will need to start a whole new four-week patch cycle by applying a new patch as soon as possible. This is now week one of the new cycle and you will have a new day of the week as your start day and change day. Use another method of contraception, such as condoms, for the next seven days. If you had unprotected sex in the previous few days you may need emergency contraception and will need to speak to a doctor or nurse.

After week three:

  • Take the patch off as soon as possible and start your patch-free break. Start a new patch on your usual start day, even if you are bleeding. This means that you will have less patch-free days than usual. You will be protected against pregnancy and do not need to use additional contraception. You may or may not bleed on the patch-free days.
  • If you are more than seven days late in removing your patch you may not be protected against pregnancy. Put on a new patch – this is the beginning of a new patch cycle. You may need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, or use emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days (speak to a doctor or nurse).

After the patch-free week:

  • Put on a new patch as soon as you remember – this is now the beginning of your new four-week patch cycle and you will have a new day of the week as your start day and change day. If you put the new patch on 48 hours late or less, you will still be protected against pregnancy as long as you wore the patch correctly before the patch-free interval.
  • If you put the new patch on more than 48 hours late you may not be protected against pregnancy and will need to use additional contraception, like condoms, for seven days. If you had unprotected sex in the previous few days you may need emergency contraception and will need to speak to a doctor or nurse.

Read more about the contraceptive patch

My contraceptive vaginal ring fell out

The contraceptive vaginal ring is held in place by the muscles of your vagina, but sometimes occasionally it may come out (this is known as ‘expulsion’). What you need to do depends on how long the ring has been out for, and where you are in your ring-cycle.

Less than three hours:

  • Rinse the ring (cool or lukewarm water) and re-insert the same ring 
  • You are protected from pregnancy and don’t need to use any additional contraception 

More than three hours in the first or second week of use:

  • Rinse the ring and put it back in as soon as possible
  • You will need to use additional contraception until the ring has been in place for seven days
  • You may also need emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days and will need to ask your doctor or nurse for advice 

More than three hours in the third week of use:

Throw the ring away and either:

  • Insert a new ring straight away and start a new ring cycle. You may not experience a withdrawal bleed but you may have some breakthrough bleeding or spotting 
  • Do not insert a new ring. Start your seven day, ring-free interval. You will have a withdrawal bleed. Then insert a new ring seven days from the time the previous ring came out of the vagina (you can only choose this option if the ring was used continuously for the previous seven days)

In either case you will need to use additional contraception (such as condoms) until the contraceptive vaginal ring has been in place for seven days. You may also need emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days and will need to speak to your doctor or nurse.

If you lose the vaginal ring, insert a new one and continue with the cycle that you were on.

Read more about the contraceptive vaginal ring 

I forgot to change my contraceptive vaginal ring

If you forget to take the contraceptive vaginal ring out:

If you forget to take the contraceptive vaginal ring out after it has been in for 21 days, what you need to do depends on how much extra time the ring has been in for.

If the ring has been left in for up to seven days after the end of week three (up to four weeks in total), remove the ring as soon as you remember. Don’t put in another ring, but start your seven day ring-free interval. Insert the new ring after the seven day interval and start your new cycle. You don’t need to use any additional contraception and you will be protected from pregnancy.

If the ring has been left in for more than seven days after the end of week three (more than four weeks), remove the ring and insert a new ring as soon as you remember. You will need to use additional contraception such as condoms until the new ring has been in place for seven days. You may also need to use emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days and will need to speak to your doctor or nurse.

If you forget to put a new contraceptive vaginal ring in:

If the ring-free interval was 48 hours longer than it should have been, insert a new ring as soon as you remember and use an additional method of contraception, like condoms, for seven days. You may also need to use emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days and should speak to your doctor or nurse.

Read more about the contraceptive vaginal ring 

I think I need the morning after pill (emergency contraception)

If you’ve had sex without using contraception in the last five days, or you think your contraception may have failed don’t panic – you can usually prevent pregnancy by using emergency contraception if you act quickly.

There are two types of emergency contraception: the emergency contraceptive (EC) pill (also often called the 'morning after pill') and the intrauterine device (IUD).

The emergency contraceptive (EC) pill - often called the 'morning after pill'

  • Emergency contraceptive pills work by preventing or delaying ovulation
  • There are two types of EC pill, Levonorgestrel (LNG) which can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, and Ulipristal Acetate (UPA) which can be taken up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex
  • The EC pill is more effective the sooner you take it

The intrauterine device (IUD)

  • The IUD is designed to stop an egg from implanting in your uterus (womb)
  • The IUD must be fitted within five days of unprotected sex, or five days after the earliest time you could have ovulated by a specially trained doctor or nurse 
  • If you have the IUD fitted as emergency contraception you can then continue to use this as your regular method of contraception – read more about using the IUD as your regular method of contraception
  • The IUD is also known as ‘the coil’ and is a plastic and copper t-shaped device  

Remember, emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can read our section about STIs and getting tested, and remember that some STIs can have no symptoms so it is important to get tested.

Read more about emergency contraception.

Who can help if I need more advice?

If you need to speak to someone to can visit Brook.

You can search for you nearest sexual health service on NHS Choices or visit SXT.

If you need help when Ask Brook is closed, you can contact:

  • Sexual Health Line. Free confidential information and advice on sexual health on 0300 123 7123
  • Worth Talking About. Mon-Fri, 2pm-8pm Sat-Sun 2pm-4pm on 0300 123 29 30
  • NHS 111 (for all ages). Medical advice is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 111. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones
  • In Scotland you can call NHS 24 on 0800 22 44 88 (8am to 10pm, seven days a week).

Page last reviewed: November 2015
Next review due: November 2017