Emergency Contraceptive Statistics 2023

Emergency Contraceptive Statistics

Although it’s rarely talked about openly, emergency contraception is more widely used than many might think. Despite being an urgent option for preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, for many, the topic can feel uncomfortable or sensitive, leading to a hesitancy to discuss it openly. This silence often surrounds the use of emergency contraception with a sense of secrecy or embarrassment. 

At Click2Pharmacy, we want to encourage open discussions about sensitive topics, particularly sexual health. We’ve explored the latest statistics and trends around emergency contraception use in England for 2023 to shed light on the reality of emergency contraception use in the UK.

To find this data, we collected emergency contraception statistics from multiple sources. This includes NHS statistics on Sexual and Reproductive Health and OpenPrescribing. We also used other reliable sources to ensure our data was accurate and up-to-date, which are mentioned throughout our findings.

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception is a method of contraception used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. People often use emergency contraception in situations where their regular contraceptive method failed or wasn’t used.

Since 2001, emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) has been available for purchase over the counter from UK pharmacies without a prescription for women aged 16 and above.
There are two main methods of emergency contraception:

Emergency Contraceptive Pills: These are taken after sex and work best when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Common emergency contraception pills are Levonorgestrel and ellaOne

Copper IUD: This is a small device a GP or nurse places in the womb. It can be used as emergency contraception and for regular contraception for long-term prevention of pregnancy.

Oral contraceptives are the most used form of emergency contraception, making up 90% of emergency contraception prescriptions.

Our Findings

We detail all our emergency contraception statistics findings in this blog post, but if you’re looking for a summary, here’s what we learned:

  • Oral emergency contraception continues to be the most used form of contraception.
  • Women aged 25-34 were most likely to enquire with a Sexual Reproductive Health Service(SRS) but were fourth most likely to be prescribed emergency contraceptives. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected the reasons for taking emergency contraceptives, and the prescription rate dropped in these years. 
  •  People from the UK are most likely to search ‘emergency contraceptive pills’ online. 

Emergency Contraceptive Statistics: 2023

According to NHS Digital, 3 per 1,000 of the female population were provided emergency contraception by a Sexual Reproductive Health service in 2023, with 83,235 forms of emergency contraception issued. When reviewing the data for previous years, we found that:

  • In 2019, 80,962 emergency contraception medications were issued.
  • In 2020, with 45,554 emergency contraception items provided, COVID-related restrictions impacted public interaction and service provisions. (-43.7% from 2019).
  • In 2021/22, 54,826 items were prescribed. (+20.3% from 2020).

Despite the decrease of 43.7%, birth rates did not spike in 2020/2021. In fact, they had an average decline of 0.5%. This suggests the reduction in the use of emergency contraception was not due to a lack of access to services from COVID-related restrictions but potentially as a result of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

Emergency Contraceptive Statistics

Source: NHS Digital

Emergency Contraception Prescriptions by Age

The likelihood of a female obtaining emergency contraception varies with age.

Statistic: Rate Of Women Who Were Provided Emergency Contraceptives By Sexual And Reproductive Health Services In England In 2022/23, By Age (Per 1,000 Population) | Statista

Source: NHS Digital & Statista

When reviewing this data, we discovered that: 

  • Women between the ages of 18-24 are most likely to be prescribed emergency contraception. 
  • Women aged 45 and over are the least likely to be prescribed emergency contraception.

Based on our findings, we explored other age-related data for emergency contraception and found women aged 25-34 are the most likely to contact an SRS for emergency contraceptives but are the fourth most likely to be provided emergency contraceptive prescriptions. 

We could infer from this that women of this age group decided against the use of emergency contraceptives, e.g. chose to go through with the pregnancy, or no longer required the use of EC, e.g. were not pregnant or lost their pregnancy. 

Statistic: Number Of Contacts Made With Sexual And Reproductive Services For Emergency Contraception In England In 2022/23, By Age (In Thousands) | Statista

Source: NHS Digital & Statista

Historical Emergency Contraception Prescription Statistics: 2004-2023 

Since 2004, the rates of oral emergency contraception items provided to women have fallen consistently. The number of emergency contraceptive prescriptions issued in 2022/23 (76,200) is over half that in 2004/05 (174,000). 

Statistic: Number Of Emergency Contraceptives Provided By Sexual And Reproductive Health Services In England From 2004/05 To 2022/23, By Type (In Thousands) | Statista

 Source: NHS Digital & Statista

When reviewing data from Statista, we found that:

  • In 2008/09 and 2009/10, there was a spike in the number of emergency contraceptives provided to women. This could be explained by Ulipristal acetate, also known as ellaOne, which was approved for use in Europe in 2009.
  • In 2015, emergency contraceptives were licensed for under 16s in the UK, which caused controversy in the UK due to campaigners’ opinion that children should not have access to them.
  • However, the statistics show that the number of emergency contraception items fell after 2015.
  • There was a dramatic fall in oral contraceptives being dispensed in 2020/21, which we can assume was due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
  • IUDs for emergency contraceptives have risen, with their peak in 2019/20.
  • Since 2017, the copper IUD has been available to use as a form of emergency contraception in the UK, which is evident from the rates steadily increasing since then.

Contraception Prescription Statistics: 2012-2023 

Based on our findings, we explored prescription data from NHS Digital for normal contraception to see if we could find an explanation for why emergency contraception rates have fallen so dramatically in recent years. 

Emergency Contraceptive Statistics

Source: NHS Digital

In 2022/23, there was a 55% uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) in women in the UK and a 27% uptake of the contraceptive pill. These are consistent with the previous years and are representative of those reaching an age where they engage in sexual activity and those who have stopped using contraceptives. 

Condoms are the second most used user-dependent methods of contraceptives, following oral contraceptives (including emergency oral contraceptives). 

Almost all contraceptives provided to men by SRH services were male condoms (94%). 

Contraception Methods by Age

Emergency Contraceptive Statistics

Source: NHS Digital

From this chart, it can be seen that user-dependent contraceptives, such as oral contraceptive pills, are more frequently used by those 24 years old and younger, and LARCs, such as IUDs, are used more regularly by those 25 and older. This can be due to the side effects of user-dependent contraceptive methods (e.g. increased chance of pregnancy and hormonal imbalances) and LARCs (longevity and reduced human error). 

What is the Most Popular Emergency Contraception Option in the UK? 

There are three main options for those who wish to use emergency contraception in the UK: 

  1. Levonorgestrel pill: An emergency contraceptive pill, also known as Levonelle, containing the hormone levonorgestrel, taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex.
  2. Ulipristal acetate pill: Known as ellaOne, this emergency contraceptive pill is effective if taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex.
  3. Copper IUD (Intrauterine Device): A device inserted into the uterus by a GP or pharmacist, effective if used within 5 days after unprotected sex.

We wanted to find out which emergency contraception provision is the most popular in the UK: to do this, we used Open Prescribing to analyse the prescription rates for ‘Levonorgestrel’, ‘Ulipristal’ and ‘Copper Intrauterine Contraceptive Device’ in the UK in 2023. 

  • Ulipristal – otherwise known by the brand name ellaOne – is the most popular emergency contraceptive in the UK, amassing 25,229 prescriptions in 2023 
  • Levonorgestrel is the second most used emergency contraceptive (22,916 prescriptions in 2023).
  • Copper IUDs are the third most popular option.

When considering Copper IUD use as an emergency contraceptive, there is no distinction in prescription between those having a copper IUD fitted as their usual method of contraception or as an emergency contraceptive, so we have not included this data as it would not be accurate to emergency contraception use cases only.

How Often Emergency Contraception Was Searched for in the UK in 2023

We used SE Ranking to explore search volume data for popular emergency contraception search terms, such as “emergency contraceptive pill” and “morning-after pill.” In 2023, these were searched 110,000 per month in the UK, which is the most globally. This is nearly double that of the second-ranking country (USA 60k).

We also found that “buy morning after pill online” receives 880 searches per month, as opposed to “buy morning after pill over the counter”, which receives an average of 480 searches per month. 

This difference can be due to the shame and stigmatisation that women face when looking for emergency contraception. 

This number of search engine users in the UK looking to buy emergency contraception online also indicates that figures of women taking EC could be much higher if we had access to data from all private prescribers.

More facts & figures about emergency contraception 

  • Emergency contraception (EC) can prevent up to over 95% of pregnancies when taken within 5 days after intercourse.
  • EC can be used in the following situations: unprotected intercourse, concerns about possible contraceptive failure, incorrect use of contraceptives, and sexual assault if without contraception coverage.
  • While trials for the morning-after pill took place in the 70s, it wasn’t until 1984 that the emergency contraceptive was finally licensed for use and made available from pharmacies.