"The big finding in our study is that young men had
a lot less knowledge about emergency contraception than the young
women that we surveyed, and even among the young women, knowledge
wasn't great," Sheree Schrager, a member of the study team, told
"About half of the women understood basic facts about emergency
contraception, how you get it, how you use it, and the fact that
male partners were also able to buy it over-the-counter for their
female partners," added Schrager, a researcher at Children's
Hospital Los Angeles, California.
"But young men had significantly lower knowledge then the young
women did, and this is an opportunity for providers to reach out to
young men in the hopes of reaching more young women to use emergency
contraception," she said.
Emergency contraception, sometimes called "the morning after pill,"
prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or when barrier methods of
contraception fail. Currently, nine U.S. states allow pharmacists to
dispense emergency contraception without a prescription under
certain conditions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Unplanned pregnancies happen at higher rates in poor communities,
and their health and economic consequences may be greater, the
researchers write in The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive
Levonorgestrel (Plan B) has been the primary agent used for
emergency contraception since its introduction in 2000, they note.
But it's promise for preventing up to half of unwanted pregnancies
has gone unfulfilled, in part because of lack of knowledge and
access to the drug.
To gauge how much older teens and young adults know about emergency
contraception, the researchers enrolled 101 males and 97 females
ages 18 to 25 into the study during 2008 and 2009. The participants
were either patients at a free health care clinic in Los Angeles or
had received physical screenings as part of their training for the
Los Angeles Job Corps.
Most of the participants were Hispanic — about 61 percent. Another
13 percent were White and 16 percent were African American. The
remaining 6 percent identified themselves as belonging to "other"
ethnic groups. Almost three quarters had not completed high school.
About 36 percent of sexually experienced young women had used
emergency contraception previously, while 18 percent of the sexually
experienced males had partners who had used it.
The participants answered questionnaires that included items
measuring their knowledge of facts about emergency contraception
attitudes about using it. Composite scores were determined from the
number of correct answers and ranged from 0 to 4.
The women's average score was 2.85, while the men's average score
About half the women and a third of the men knew that emergency
contraception was available at pharmacies without a prescription.
Only 18 percent of the women and 8 percent of men knew that
emergency contraceptives were available to women under the age of
A few more men than women (26 percent versus 21 percent) knew that a
man can purchase emergency contraception for his female partner.
"We also found that the young men and young women were really
interested in learning about emergency contraception and other forms
of contraception from their primary healthcare providers, and so
despite the fact they mostly get the knowledge from their friends,
in the future they'd much rather be hearing about it from the
doctor," Schrager said.
The findings might not apply to all young people, the authors point
"These were young people who are receiving medical screenings either
because they were enrolled in job corps looking for training and
education because they were attending Saban Clinic — a free clinic
for young people who don't have money to access other kinds of
care," Schrager said.
[to top of second column]
Schrager added that her group's report was targeted to healthcare
providers who may have overlooked young men when thinking about
pregnancy prevention in their practices.
"Physicians can do a good job of reaching out to not only to
young women who could potentially get pregnant, but to their
potential partners and it's another way to reach young women who may
have been missed by someone else somewhere along the line," Schrager
Dr. Paula Adams Hillard told Reuters Health that the ideal way to
educate young men about emergency contraception would be if all
school systems provided comprehensive sexuality education.
Hillard provides pediatric, adolescent and adult gynecology services
at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Stanford Hospitals and
Clinics in Palo Alto, California.
"It happens in some schools, but obviously not very many, and
certainly not as many as we'd like," said Hillard, who is also a
professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
"There are really excellent programs for sex and sexuality education
through a number of organizations but they're outside the school
systems," Hillard said. She pointed to an emergency contraception
information website run by Princeton University here: http://bit.ly/1eVVTi1.
Hillard said that as a gynecologist, she's always talking to young
women, but also encourages them to talk to their partners about
"There is a dedicated emergency contraceptive product that is now
available to all ages over-the-counter, called Plan B One-Step,
which is just one of several different emergency contraceptives, but
it is available without a prescription over-the-counter to all
ages," Hillard said.
A second study of contraceptive use published in the same issue of
the journal looked at the possibility that pharmacists could play a
bigger role in helping women gain access to effective contraception
so they might avoid the need for emergency methods.
Dr. Lucy Michie of the Chalmers Sexual and Reproductive Health
Centre in Edinburgh led the study that included 211 women who
requested emergency contraception at one of nine pharmacies in
The women were given questionnaires about their contraceptive use,
including ongoing and emergency methods.
The researchers found that a third of the women needed emergency
contraception due to unprotected sex and half reported condom
Of those women, about half expressed interest in starting ongoing
contraceptive methods such as the birth control pill.
The women also said they would welcome it if during their visit to
purchase emergency contraception, the pharmacist also provided a
limited supply of The Pill, giving the woman time to make an
appointment with her physician to find the right long-term
contraceptive method for her.
Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive
Health Care, online Jan. 24, 2104.
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