A new report published today in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research revealed some uncomfortable statistics about the limited knowledge teenage girls have about their sexual health.
According to the survey, which was conducted in 2017, two-thirds of respondents were not aware the emergency contraception, commonly known as the “morning after pill” could be obtained without a prescription. Furthermore, less than 20% of respondents knew it remained effective up to 120 hours after intercourse in preventing pregnancy.
Denise Hope, the lead author of the report who lectures at Griffith University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology said that the casual term for the contraception “Morning After Pill” is a “misnomer and potentially misleading”. She believes it contributes to the fact that 50% of respondents, average age 17, think the pill is only effective for 12 to 24 hours after intercourse.
It seems this is not a recent phenomenon. A 1995 report from Princeton University revealed similar findings; that specific knowledge among college-aged students on appropriate use of the pill, such as the time limit for use, is lacking.
Hope wants a campaign to change the colloquial term “Morning After Pill”.
“Generally awareness around emergency contraception is pretty poor,” Hope told The Guardian. “Our interest in this cohort is that they were more of an at-risk group and arguably more likely to be involved in unprotected intercourse than older people who may still have poor awareness.”
A Preliminary Drug Arm Schoolies study from 2011 found that almost 30% of participants had sex during the three-week celebrations – 16.8% of them, without a condom. Hope also said that awareness of emergency contraception did not improve with age.
It seems that general awareness among women regarding contraceptive methods is rather blurry. A 2017 study from The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK found that 60% of women aged 18-24 incorrectly believed that the emergency contraceptive pill is the most effective method for preventing pregnancy.
In 2017, roughly 13,000 high school graduates congregated in the Gold Coast for Schoolies. The celebrations take place each year during the first 3 weeks following graduation, starting in mid-November. The occasion is associated with heavy drinking, reckless behaviour and sometimes, the consumption of mood-altering substances. And of course, where ever young people gather, sex is likely to be pursued. So what’s contributing to this wide knowledge gap and lack of awareness?
Hope lists three reasons – a lack of sex education in high school, a lack of a consistent sex education program, and lack of advertising about the drugs. I might add another reason: film and television. Hazel Cillis argued in Jezebel last year that popular shows like ‘Black Mirror’, ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘Veronica Mars’ are misrepresenting facts regarding the emergency pill. She notes the dangers of “diminishing the complexity of women’s experiences for the sake of riveting entertainment.”
When it comes to sexual health, the onus is apparently on us, women.
According to Hope, the boys who were asked to complete the survey on the Gold Coast in 2017 redirected attention away from themselves and towards the girls around them. They thought it was a “female issue.”
If it’s a female issue, I’m not sure how they think babies are made.
Again, issues pertaining to sexual health have been sidelined, relegated to the edges of discussion because the individuals that take on the entire burden, typically, remain women. Like abortion, these topics are marginalised and slotted neatly into the category of “Women’s Issues.”
“It’s really important that young men know as well. This information and awareness should not be just the domain of women,” said Hope.
She hopes that emergency contraception will be taught as part of a broader safe sex curriculum.“Contraceptive failure happens. Sexual assault happens. We want people to know that there are options afterwards if that happens to be the case.”