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8 Things to Do After You’ve Had Unprotected Sex

Unprotected Sex

It’s a moment that can make your heart sink and send you into a panic. You’ve just had sex, and the condom broke. Or maybe you intended to use a condom, but you got caught up in the moment. Whatever the reason, you’ve had unprotected sex. Now what?

First things first: Try to stay calm. Remember you aren’t the only person to ever be in this situation. Your main concerns now are pregnancy and possible exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do at this point to safeguard your sexual health. Read through this list to be sure you’re not overlooking anything.

1. Use Emergency Contraception

When it comes to pregnancy prevention, there is a little wiggle room. You have up to five days to use emergency contraception, but that doesn’t mean you can dawdle. The sooner you take it, the better it will work. Keep in mind, these types of birth control can only prevent pregnancy — they don’t impact an existing one.

Emergency contraception pills are available to patients either over the counter or online. Most pills work best within 72 hours. One pill, ella, is effective for up to five days, but it requires a prescription. Plan B and its generic counterparts can be obtained without one. 

Another option is to have a copper IUD (Paragard) inserted — it’s more than 99.9% effective at preventing a pregnancy up to five days after sex. Plus, it’s a good option if you don’t want to worry about pregnancy for a while (say, up to 12 years).  

2. Go to the Bathroom

This is probably something you do after sex anyway, but going to the bathroom is more important after unprotected intercourse. Begin by wiping away any traces of semen. Then push down with your abdominal muscles to expel as much of the remaining fluids as you can.

You’ll be more comfortable after using the bathroom, and there’s a health reason to head there as well. Urinating after sex can flush away bacteria that might otherwise give you a urinary tract infection (ouch!). 

3. Ditch the Douche

Even if you’ve heard it’s a good idea to douche after unprotected sex, don’t do it. Roughly 20% of women between ages 15 and 44 douche regularly, but the benefits of doing so are a myth.

Instead, douching can cause vaginal irritation and inflammation. That increases your risk of getting an STI. Instead, to clean yourself after unprotected sex, take a shower and gently wash off with lukewarm water. 

4. Head Off HIV

If you’re concerned about HIV exposure, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment can significantly lower your chances of getting infected with the virus, but it’s not 100% effective. It is time-sensitive, though.

You must start treatment within 72 hours of unprotected sex, or it likely won’t work. Your doctor can tell you which PEP medication is right for you. It’s a 28-day treatment course, and you have to take the medication every day. Be aware that it can make you nauseated, but that’s a small price to pay for staving off HIV. 

5. Get Tested for STIs

STIs are common — the CDC reported 26 million new cases in 2018 alone. So you’ll need to get tested and watch out for any symptoms that may appear. Determining whether you have any STIs will take a few weeks, though. That’s because it takes longer for the symptoms of some conditions to show up. 

Within a week, you can get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis. In roughly three weeks to a month, you can find out whether you’ve contracted syphilis, herpes, HPV, and/or hepatitis B and C. After 10 days to one month, you can get tested for HIV. 

Don’t stop with one test, though. For curable infections, you’ll need to retest after treatment, so talk with your doctor about the timeline. If you have sex in the meantime, be sure you’re protecting yourself and your partner.

6. Test Again … for Pregnancy

Even if you take emergency contraception, there’s still a chance — even a small one — that you could be pregnant. Missing your period doesn’t mean you’re definitely pregnant. But it’s still a good idea to take a pregnancy test to put your mind at ease. 

Testing a day or two after having unprotected sex won’t tell you anything. These tests detect human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the pregnancy hormone, and only work when there’s enough hCG in your blood to register. So before you pee on the stick, you should wait for three weeks.

7. Check In on Yourself

Being proactive in the days and weeks after unprotected sex isn’t just about your physical health. You need to check in on your mental health, too. It’s OK to feel sad, nervous, or scared — you don’t know what the future holds yet.

Take some time to talk with a friend you trust. Share your thoughts about what worries or scares you the most. There’s a good chance they’ve had a similar experience. If so, they could offer advice or at least give you a shoulder to lean on. 

8. Plan for Next Time

You might not feel like it now, but you will be ready for sex again sooner than you think. Make a plan so you can avoid similar scares in the future. You’ll be relaxed and have more fun.

Consider using two forms of birth control. Always use condoms to protect yourself from STIs, and be sure you use them correctly to avoid any slips or breaks. If you want long-term pregnancy prevention, think about that IUD (either copper or hormonal). Keeping some emergency contraceptive pills on hand can also help you if a condom fails. Just be sure to check the expiration date frequently.

Knowing you’ve had unprotected sex can be a scary thing. Before you freak out, take a deep breath and map out what to do next. By following the steps outlined here, you’ll know that you’re doing your part to protect your future sexual health.

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