Fact Vs. Fiction: How Does Plan B Really Affect Your Body?

Since its approval by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999, Plan B has been rife with controversy. Despite the fact that Plan B is in no way related to the abortion pill, the fact that it empowers women to take control of their reproductive system has made it a hot bed of myths: Myths that have been, in some cases, outright lies so as to scare people away from using it. As of October 2020, only 30 states and the District of Columbia required sex ed be taught in public schools, so it's no great feat to pull the wool over so many people's eyes (via National Conference of State Legislatures).

"It's easy to understand why there's so much ambiguity around fertility when you consider the fundamental lack of proactive sexual health education in our adult lives," former head of clinical research at Modern Fertility Erin Burke, Ph.D., tells The Thirty. "The bulk of reproductive health education occurs in sex-ed at a young age, and focuses almost entirely on preventing pregnancy and STIs... Instead, there's a lot of misinformation, or a gap in information entirely."

But while we can't sweep the internet away or rewrite every piece of misinformation out there, we can at least add our voice to what Plan B is, and what it does and doesn't do to your body. Hopefully, knowing the facts and fiction will dispel any lingering suspicion you might have about this medication.

The fiction

In 2009, an article by the BBC inaccurately stated that emergency contraception may cause "infertility and in some instances increase the risk of cancer." This is categorically wrong. According to a 2010 study by the journal Bull World Health Organ, the morning-after pill doesn't contribute to infertility or the risk of any type of cancer. As the same research found, the media and internet as a whole continue to play a major role in the fictional tales that are attached to Plan B.

"The contraceptive hormone in Plan B — progestin — leaves your system within days and doesn't affect ovulation, tubal function, the uterus, or cervix in the future," associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine Kate White, M.D., tells Insider. In other words, there is absolutely no evidence that emergency contraception, even if you take it as your usual form of contraception (although you shouldn't because it can be a hassle and there's regular contraception for that), will cause cancer or infertility issues.

Another persistent myth is that Plan B will cause your body to terminate a pregnancy — again, not true. The abortion pill is a completely different set of hormonal pills: mifepristone and misoprostol, per Planned Parenthood. When the first pill is taken it stops a pregnancy from continuing, and the latter pill is taken to empty the uterus of the fetus, as well as any accompanying blood. Plan B, on the other hand, either stops the fertilization of an egg or, depending on your menstrual cycle, stops the release of an egg from an ovary (via Mayo Clinic). While these pills can produce similar bodily effects, like bleeding and cramping, they are in no way the same thing and do not produce the same end result.

What are the facts?

While Plan B won't cause cancer or infertility, it can affect your body in ways you may not want it to. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common side effects that come with taking Plan B are headaches, nausea, fatigue, cramps, dizzy spells, and disruption to your menstrual cycle. However, despite the disruption, within a month your body will readjust and your menstrual cycle will be back on track (via Medical News Today).

But what's important to keep in mind is that not everyone who takes the morning-after pill will experience all, or even any of, these side effects. For example, clinical trials found that menstrual changes only happened in 26% of those who took Plan B, and nausea and abdominal pain occurred in 23% and 18%, respectively (via RxList). So the whole notion that Plan B can make you very sick is untrue. It can, in some people, cause discomfort for a few days, but in others, there may be no issues at all. 

Wherever you find bodily autonomy, fiction will follow. That's why it's so important to rely on reputable sources for information about Plan B or any other medication related to reproductive rights. If you come across something that seems either too good or too outlandish to be true, it probably is. If you have any questions about this completely safe medication, instead of letting the media spoon-feed you inaccuracies, Planned Parenthood's site is just a keystroke away.