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Fears over unsafe sex reporting

July 15th, 2006

Dr Petra

The Sun newspaper unfortunately got a sexual health story worryingly confused today.

The paper was covering the launch of website sales of emergency contraception (EC, also known as the morning after pill) with a story entitled ‘Fears over unsafe sex’.

The idea of having behind having EC on sale via a website means that if a woman needs emergency contraception she can access it quickly and privately. It also offers the opportunity for women to order EC to keep at home in case of any accidents – such as a condom splitting.

Sales via the website will offer EC at around £10 less than it costs in pharmacies. Because sales are via a website, this means only those with credit or debit cards can use the site. But it is another place to obtain EC, and a means for women to manage their own sexual health.

Emergency contraception has been available to buy without prescription via pharmacies in the UK for the past few years – with no adverse events noted. It is also free from general practitioners and family planning clinics. New developments in sexual health provision are trying to make EC more widely available to enable women to manage their fertility more effectively.

Not that The Sun mentioned any of this. They failed to cover how EC is already available, or how it is free within many health outlets. Instead they argued having a website selling EC will ‘encourage girls to have unprotected sex’. Various organisations and charities are quoted as saying web sales will lead to girls having more sex, stockpiling drugs, or being given ‘huge doses of hormones’.

Whilst EC does deliver hormones that can make women feel unwell, if it is managed with appropriate advice it can reduce unwanted pregnancy or the need for a more invasive procedure later on. EC is not a form of contraception and should not be used regularly.

It is very unlikely young people will be able to buy via the website since they would need a credit or debit card, and even more unlikely one website selling cut price EC will lead to an epidemic of promiscuity. In fact we should be encouraging young people to use other forms of contraception (particularly condoms), but to be aware if there is an accident that EC taken within 72 hours can prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Which The Sun had an opportunity to discuss. Unfortunately they were happier to spread the wrong message about EC, one that lets young people down and runs counter to existing clinical evidence.

If you need more information about contraception (including EC) visit Family Planning Association and Planned Parenthood.

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