The experts break it down.
Despite the fact that over 650,000 legal abortions were performed in the U.S. in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abortions are often treated as taboo. There are still a flood of misconceptions about how they work, where you can get them, and what to expect before, during, and after. (We clear up some of these confusing questions here.)
As such, one question often gets lost in the shuffle: What do you need to know about having sex afterward? How long should you wait? Is it dangerous? Do you need birth control? Given the highly personal nature of the subject, these might not be questions you want to ask your bestie over brunch. That’s why we went straight to M.D.s for the scoop.
To understand what to expect, it helps to first know the difference between the two types of abortions available to women:
Medical abortions account for about a quarter of all legal abortions on record, according to the CDC. Using a combination of two medicines called mifepristone and misoprostol, a medical abortion blocks your body’s natural supply of progesterone, causing the embryo to detach from the uterine wall.
With a surgical abortion, a doctor will open the cervix in order to manually evacuate the contents of the uterus.
“The cervix is narrower than a pencil point,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine. “When we open it, we’re stretching it to about the width of a pencil depending on how far along the woman is.”
Whether the procedure is medical or surgical, here’s what you need to know about having sex after an abortion.
YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE SEX RIGHT AWAY
Doctors officially recommend waiting two weeks after an abortion to have sex. Here’s why: With both medical and surgical abortions, you’ll experience some bleeding and maybe some discomfort similar to cramps. Two weeks gives your bod a nice cushy window to get back to normal.
With surgical abortions, there’s also the added precaution of preventing infection after the cervix has been stretched. “We have tons of bacteria in our vagina so there’s always the possibility of an infection,” explains Minkin. “You want to allow the cervix to scrunch back down basically.” If you do experience any pain, bleeding or fever at any point, get in touch with your doc right away.
That being said, if your body feels like it’s back to normal before the two-week mark, there’s usually no harm in resuming sex early, Minkin says.
This is what a future without legal abortion would look like:
YOU NEED BIRTH CONTROL ASAP
As soon as the pregnancy is terminated, you can technically get pregnant again. “When you have an abortion, that’s day one of your cycle so many women will get their period four weeks later,” says Leah Millheiser, M.D., director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University Medical School. In other words, you need to start using birth control immediately after the procedure.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO WAIT TO GET CONTRACEPTION LIKE THE IUD
Luckily, you can cross birth control off your to-do list in the same office visit as an abortion. “I would encourage people to talk to their provider before the abortion about what kind of contraception you’re going to use after,” says Minkin. Whether you opt for the pill or another form of birth control, your provider can administer contraception or get you a prescription immediately after the procedure—they can even insert an IUD in the same visit. “Especially for women who have gotten pregnant while using other types of contraception, the IUD is a really good option,” says Millheiser.