Why are some women embarrassed to find out more about emergency contraception (EC), let alone ask for it? Would they rather risk pregnancy or is there still a huge stigma around the issue, meaning they choose to ignore the topic altogether? Maybe some worry that using EC involves terminating a pregnancy?
Some women may think that using EC is equivalent to having an abortion. However, EC works by preventing a pregnancy, whereas an abortion will end a pregnancy. Others mistakenly think that taking emergency contraception has harmful long-term effects on health and fertility.
Women may also be concerned that health professionals will view them as reckless when they try and obtain EC. The fact is that no method of contraception is effective 100% of the time, and mistakes can happen. No one should judge you for seeking to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, as this is a responsible action to take.
As part of Sexual Health Week 2014, these concerns have been put under the spotlight by leading sexual health charity, the Family Planning Association. The FPA work to help women and men avoid unintended pregnancies by campaigning for better sexual health education. They recently carried out a survey involving over 2,500 women, to find out what UK women understand about their options regarding emergency contraceptives. The results were rather worrying.
In the UK, a third of women aged between 16-54 confessed to having had unprotected sex over the last 2 years, and the vast majority, 83%, did not use an emergency contraceptive afterwards.
Some of these women felt embarrassed asking for emergency contraceptives, stating there was still a social stigma around it. More than 1,000 participants said they weren't sure about how and where to get their emergency contraception if needed.
According to FPA's Director of Health and Wellbeing, Natika Halil, some women hold mistaken beliefs about pregnancy. Some wrongly believe they are protected against falling pregnant due to their age while others think pregnancy is impossible during particular stages in their menstrual cycle.
Further results from the survey give greater cause for concern. Nearly 60% of participants said they knew very little about EC, while 3% were completely clueless. Only 1 in 6 said medical professionals offered sufficient information on the different forms of EC.
Despite the overwhelming majority (76%) agreeing that using EC does not make women irresponsible, almost 40% felt that obtaining EC is embarrassing. It was women aged 16-24 who felt most uncomfortable.
The FPA wants people, in particular the younger generation, to talk about sex and not feel embarrassed about seeking treatment for sexual health issues. Their vision is "of a country where talking sense about sex is the norm, not the exception".
This will lead to fewer stigmas around EC, and most importantly, more women will feel confident about seeking treatment. They need to be made aware that there's more than one option available to obtain EC – you can get a prescription from your doctor, visit a sexual health clinic or order your treatment online from a registered pharmacy.