I'm sure I was drunk, but I'm not sure if I had sex

Dear Alice,

I was really drunk and don't remember the night clearly, but I think I may have had sex. Now I don't know if I could be pregnant or not. I had never had sex before this. Help me please!

Dear Reader, 

You’re brave to write in about such a personal topic. It can be unsettling if you’ve had experiences where you can’t remember what happened the night before, but there are a number of ways to get support. You may be juggling a lot of questions related to this experience, between having sex for the first time and the potential outcomes of that event. With your lack of memory, you may find it difficult, or potentially impossible, to find some of the answers you’re seeking. You may also find that it brings a wide variety of emotions, all of which are valid. That being said, there are still steps you can take to care for yourself in the aftermath, both physically and emotionally. These steps can address a potential pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STI), and the emotions you may be experiencing as a result of the night. 

The scenario you described seems to present some unknowns. Questions you may choose to consider to help you explore these gaps in knowledge might be: What information do you have that leads you to believe you may have had sex? Was anyone else with you who may be able to provide additional context or information? To the best of your ability, answering some of these questions may help you determine how you would like to proceed. However, for some people, asking these questions may be more harmful than helpful. You may have also asked these questions and found that you didn't have any new information that clarifies that night for you. In either of these situations, you may choose to move forward as though you did have sex and take the steps to address your health accordingly. 

If it has been less than five days since that night, you may talk with a health care provider to determine if emergency contraception (EC) is an option for preventing pregnancy. It’s important to note that EC pills can’t reverse pregnancy after it has already occurred. Instead, pills work to prevent pregnancy by delaying or preventing ovulation—the release of an egg—from occurring therefore leaving sperm with nothing to fertilize. There are a few different types of EC, including EC pills or a copper intrauterine device (IUD). There are currently two types of EC pills available: ulipristal acetate and levonorgestrel. The ulipristal acetate pills can be used up to five days after sex. This is the most effective option on the market, but it does require a prescription. The levonorgestrel pills, on the other hand, work best if they are taken within three days (though they can be taken up to five). They don’t require a prescription and can be purchased at most pharmacies or online. For both forms of EC pill, the sooner they're taken, the more effective they can be. 

If you’re interested in a form of EC that can continue to provide protection against pregnancy beyond its initial use, you may find the copper IUD to be of interest. Similar to EC pills, the copper IUD can’t reverse pregnancy after it has occurred. However, the copper IUD prevents pregnancy by preventing fertilization of an egg and therefore can be effective even after ovulation has occurred. It's a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) that's placed in the uterus by a health care provider and can remain there for up to ten years. It does require a medical visit, but it's an effective option that can provide longer-term protection than EC pills.  
If it has been a few weeks since this incident, you may consider taking a pregnancy test if you’ve had a missed period. You can buy pregnancy tests at most pharmacies, drug stores, and even grocery stores. You may also consider visiting a health care provider who can order a blood test. 

While these methods may address how to handle a potential pregnancy, they don’t account for any encounters with STIs. Since you’re unsure about the types of experiences you may have had, seeking care from a health care provider to get an exam and get tested for any STIs may also be beneficial. Talking with a health care provider can also help ensure that you’re getting tested at the correct time as different STIs vary in how long it takes to show symptoms, so their symptoms may appear at different times. 

In addition to considering these steps to protect your physical health, you may also want to take some time to think about your emotional health through this experience. Consent is a key component in sexual activity and occurs when a person participates in sex freely, willingly, and knowingly. People who are intoxicated are unable to provide consent. Additionally, you mentioned that you’ve never had sex before. Some people have certain ideas about what having sex for the first time means to them or what they want the experience to be like. Processing how you feel about this may come with a variety of emotions, especially if it’s different than you hoped it would be. Thinking about how you define this experience may bring up some confusing and complicated feelings, especially when you aren’t entirely sure what happened. Whether or not you had sex, not being able to remember your experiences can also bring up many feelings that you may want to discuss. 

Speaking with a mental health professional or a survivor advocate may be helpful to process your experience. If you’re a student, you may have a counseling or rape crisis center available to you on your campus. Even if you aren’t a student, there are resources available to you such as FindTreatment.gov to find a mental health professional near you. Alternatively, you can reach out to RAINN through phone or online to find additional support. 

Take care, 

Last updated Apr 14, 2023
Originally published Jun 07, 2002

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