This September, ellaOne—a leading brand for the morning-after pill in the UK—released their #MyMorningAfter campaign to dissolve negative preconceptions of emergency contraception and flatten the slut-shaming stigma surrounding it.
Heading to summer festivals like Bestival and Leeds, the movement reported that 46% of women surveyed had unprotected sex at least once during the year, but less than a third of those had used the morning-after pill to protect themselves. Why are over 70% of women putting themselves at risk of unwanted pregnancy?
Shame might be the first reason. Inconvenience may be the next. Even fear of infertility or repercussions may become a deciding factor in not taking Plan B. The campaign statistics show that only 1 in 10 feel comfortable taking emergency contraception. The pill that gives us autonomy over our sexual freedom is something that 90% of women don’t confidently choose.
Licensed for UK use in 1984, Emergency Hormonal Contraception has become more accessible. It is available as ellaOne or Levonelle through the NHS, in sexual health clinics, online, and even at high street pharmacies like Superdrug and Boots. In 2015, progresses allowed the pill to be used for up to five days, giving women more time to take control than the mere 72 hours in place before.
Despite these developments, the morning-after pill is not the most convenient contraception. Where condoms are thrown out and given away at freshers’ fairs and student unions for free, the MAP is more of a pursuit. It can be heavy on the pocket, costing up to £30. When going into high-street stores or pharmacies, you may be snuck into the back room with a questionnaire about your experience. Not so reassuring.
Rumours and misguided knowledge burden women as well. It is commonly believed that using the MAP puts your womb at risk. According to the Family Planning Association, two thirds of women believe that emergency contraception jeopardises fertility. In fact, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that it stops your ability to become pregnant. It’s a myth. MAO is not a form of abortion. They are preventative. Whilst sperm can live in the uterus for up to five days, the morning-after pill stops ovulation and prevents potential conception. Sufficient education of young females and males about MAP and other forms of contraception is lacking, and the psychological burden following the use of MAP is often overlooked and unspoken.
At the University of Kent, the morning-after pill was previously offered at the 24/7 University Nursing Services. Last year, when legislation restricted administrable bodies, students in freshers week could no longer simply take it from the nurses. Kent students today have to talk to three different people before obtaining the pill. You have to be referred by nurses in Keynes, grab your prescription from the Medical Centre, and pop to the University Chemist to collect it. If your accident happened on Friday night, you may face rushing around on Monday morning, while the pill loses its effectiveness over time. Although attainable, a once comforting service at university is now an extensive, and often upsetting trip.
Disapproval of sexual liberty is still a pressure that many women face. The NHS was recently criticised for its advert concerning emergency contraception, which patronisingly asked: ‘Would you give up heels and lipstick for a baby?’ How can women’s liberation grow when even national health services are giving an ultimatum between sexist stereotypes or the autonomy of childbirth?
It should be pointed out that amongst these anxieties over the morning-after pill, there are a few things that are true. It doesn’t protect against STIs, nor is it 100% effective—just like any other form of contraception—and some people face side effects. The stigma, rumours, and misconceptions, however, are forms of distraction from the problem at stake: our sexual protection.
The truth is, accidents happen. Your morning-after shouldn’t ruin your night before. Women should be celebrating the chance to take back our autonomy. Reclaim your body, reclaim your protection, and reclaim your sexual freedom.
Need some help getting protected? #ThisGirlCan. The morning-after pill is available online, over-the-counter and through the NHS with prescription or for free through student services.