african american couple in bed

Romance is in the air. Flowers, chocolates, condoms, and lube are in demand, and you’ve got a hot date.  This weekend, you and your Valentine might want to try something new – did someone say surfboard!  But what do you do if you get too drunk in love and something rips or slips, and not in good way? 

Don’t worry.  Back-up birth control, often referred to as emergency contraception, can keep you or your partner protected from unintended pregnancy.  Now, thanks to a recent court ruling, the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B One-Step® is more widely available than ever and anyone (ladies and gents) can pick it up from the store shelf and purchase it without having to show identification. 

EBONY.com contributor Dr. Aletha Maybankon explains how Plan B One-Step®, available for $50 on average, actually works to prevent pregnancy.  It must be taken within 3 days of unprotected sex and works by preventing ovulation or by stopping sperm from reaching an egg.  Emergency contraception will not end or harm an established pregnancy. 

The downside?  It may not work in women weighing more than 165 pounds.  This could be a major issue for Black women, whose average weight is 187 pounds.  The average weight of all American women is 166 pounds. 

The maker of a European product identical to Plan B One-Step®, a levonorgestrel-based pill called NorLevo®, recently changed its label to say that the pill is less effective in women weighing over 165 pounds and the product is completely ineffective in women weighing over 176 pounds.  While some are shocked by this new information, some aren’t, and consider it another failure of the medical research system to include all women – especially those that are Black, brown, and bootylicious.

Black women are more likely to have a little more jelly than the average American woman, more  likely to be excluded from important clinical trials, and more likely to lack financial access to highly effective contraceptive methods.  Fortunately, the new health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act or ACA, is making more contraceptive options more affordable than ever - $0.

All women seeking emergency contraception, especially those over 165 pounds, should consider using the ParaGard® copper intrauterine device (IUD) – a little plastic “T”-shaped method that is inserted into the uterus.  The ParaGard® IUD is 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy when inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex and works in women of any weight.  It must be inserted by a health care provider and requires at least one office visit. 

Another type of emergency contraceptive pill made from compound ulipristal acetate, ella®, is thought to be more effective than levonorgestrel-based emergency contraception – overall and in women of higher weights – and may be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.  This prescription-only product must be obtained from a health care provider.  It is also available at online pharmacy KwikMed  where a physician will consult with women seeking ella® online and provide the necessary prescription. You won’t be able to use your insurance card at KwikMed, so ella® will cost you $40 upfront but your health insurance company should reimburse you – keep the receipt!

Thanks to ACA, these contraceptive methods, counseling, insertion, removal, and all related services must be completely covered by health insurance without a co-pay or deductible.  If your health insurance provider won’t cover your regular birth control or back-up birth control method, contact the National Women’s Law Center hotline at 1-866-PILL-4-US or info@nwlc.org.  They’ll help you navigate the system.

And while you’re picking up the things you need to make this Valentine’s Day sensational and worry-free, you can get emergency contraception ahead of time so you have it in case you or a friend need it in a pinch.  You might also consider making an appointment to get any one of these contraceptive methods to match your needs. Why not? The ACA has got you covered.

Still, remember to use condoms and get tested for sexually transmitted infections.  In the words of Lil’ Wayne, “Safe sex is great sex, better wear a latex, ‘cause you don’t want that late text, that ‘I think I’m late’ text.

So, tell your driver to roll up that partition, get grindin’ on that wood, and have a very sexy---and safe---Valentine’s Day. 

Elizabeth Dawes Gay, MPH is a health and social justice advocate and member of the Echoing Ida writing collective, a project of Strong Families.  She is the founder of Black Women For… and works as a Senior Associate at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project.