Progestin for Emergency Contraception and Birth Control

Progestin is the generic name for synthetic progesterone. A woman's body naturally produces this steroid hormone during the menstrual cycle.

Oral contraceptives, some intrauterine devices (IUDs), and other medications contain this synthetic form.

Progestin therapy is not recommended for women who've had a hysterectomy.

Morning after pill
Peter Dazeley / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception

The brand-name product Plan B One-Step and the generic form, Take Action, are both progestin-only morning-after pills you can purchase without a prescription at your local, or online, drugstore. They contain a type of progestin called levonorgestrel.

Over-the-counter emergency contraception pills are about 88 percent effective at preventing pregnancy after sex. The morning-after pill prevents you from getting pregnant and does not cause a miscarriage or an abortion.

It's important to take the morning-after pill as soon as possible after your chosen method of birth control fails. Emergency contraception works up to 120 hours after you and your partner have sex, even though the label says to take it within 72 hours. Anyone, male or female, can buy the morning-after pill at the drugstore without showing proof of age.

Prescription Emergency Contraception

Ella is a prescription morning-after pill that can be taken up to 5 days after sex and is the most effective emergency contraception available in the United States. The active ingredient, ulipristal, works on the progesterone receptor to inhibit ovulation.

Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills and Implants

Pharmaceutical companies produce some progestin-only contraception, although a combination of progestin and estrogen is more commonly prescribed.

The mini-pill is a progestin-only oral contraceptive given as an alternative to progestin-estrogen pills when you cannot tolerate extra estrogen, usually due to concerns about an interaction with a pre-existing condition or medication. Implanon and Nexplanon are progestin-only implants, which are about the size of a matchstick and inserted under your skin.

Progestin-only contraceptives prevent pregnancy by:

  • preventing ovulation
  • thinning the lining, called the endometrium, of your uterus
  • thickening your vaginal mucus

Alternate Uses for Oral Contraceptives

Your healthcare provider may prescribe birth control pills for reasons other than avoiding pregnancy, including treating acne and to alleviate the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS.

Some IUDs Contain Progestin

An intrauterine device is one of the most effective birth control methods. Inserted into your uterus by a medical professional, you can leave it in for 3 to 10 years, depending on the brand and your health. The modern IUD is plastic and T-shaped.

IUDs contain the active ingredient progestin or copper, which prevent the sperm from joining with the egg and prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of your uterus. Brand names for IUDs containing progestin include Mirena, Liletta, and Skyla.

Progestin Is an Out-Dated Treatment for Menopause

Only 7 to 9% of women have menopause symptoms serious enough to disrupt their quality of life.

Hormone regimes using estrogen-plus-progestin or only estrogen are outdated treatments for hot flashes and night sweats, known as vasomotor symptoms. Clinical trials supported by the Women's Health Initiative found these "old school" hormone regimes increase the risk of:

  • breast cancer
  • blood clots and stroke
  • heart disease
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Endocrine Society. Progesterone and progestins.

  2. Chau V, Stamm CA, Borgelt L, et al. Barriers to single-dose levonorgestrel-only emergency contraception access in retail pharmacies. Womens Health Issues. 2017;27(5):518-522. doi:10.1016/j.whi.2017.03.010

  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Emergency contraception (practice bulletin No. 152). Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126:e1–11.

  4. MedlinePlus. Birth control pills - progestin only.

  5. MedlinePlus. Birth control - slow release methods.

  6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC): intrauterine device (IUD) and implant.

  7. Our Bodies Ourselves. Progesterone-alone for hot flashes and night sweats?

  8. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health. Largest women's health prevention study ever – Women's Health Initiative.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.